May 14, 2008—A senior legal adviser to the Bush-Cheney 2004 reelection campaign is working behind the scenes to help enact a Missouri state constitutional amendment that critics say would suppress the vote in the key battleground state this November by requiring voters to show proof of citizenship.
Mark “Thor” Hearne, Bush-Cheney’s national counsel in 2004 and now a partner in the St. Louis, Missouri, firm of Lathrop & Gage, has been collaborating with Missouri’s Republican state Rep. Stanley Cox, the sponsor of the constitutional amendment, Cox’s office confirmed this week.
For years, Hearne has been a leading Republican figure demanding stricter voter-identification laws and popularizing claims about widespread voter fraud, although many election experts dismiss such alarms as hyperbole.
During the 2004 campaign, Hearne reportedly worked with White House political adviser Karl Rove on “voter fraud” issues and spearheaded GOP efforts to challenge voter-registration drives by pro-Democratic groups.
According to a posting at his law firm’s Web site, “Hearne traveled to every battleground state and oversaw more than 65 different lawsuits that concerned the conduct of the election.”
Hearne also has shown up as a background figure in the Bush administration’s scandal that erupted over the firing of nine federal prosecutors, some of whom came under White House criticism for not seeking pre-election voter fraud indictments in 2006.
More recently, Hearne has been instrumental in pushing state lawmakers to pass strict voter identification laws in Missouri, New Mexico, Indiana and other states. The Indiana voter-ID law recently was upheld by the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Hearne conducted much of this work through his now defunct organization, the American Center for Voting Rights (ACVR), which called itself a non-partisan group defending voter rights and seeking to enhance public confidence in the fairness and outcome of elections.
However, an investigation into ACVR by blogger Brad Friedman reported that it concentrated on stricter voter-ID laws. “Thor Hearne helped to write that Indiana law, then Thor Hearne submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court on behalf of Republican U.S. Congress members in support of it.”
Rather than an epidemic of illegal voters casting ballots, some election experts point to a nationwide Republican strategy of exploiting those concerns to depress the voting of low-income and minority citizens and thus boost the chances of GOP candidates.
Joseph Rich, formerly chief of the voting section in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, said that under the Bush administration the department “shirked its legal responsibility to protect voting rights.”
“Over the last six years, this Justice Department has ignored the advice of its staff and skewed aspects of law enforcement in ways that clearly were intended to influence the outcome of elections,” Rich wrote in a March 29, 2007, op-ed in The Los Angeles Times.
“From 2001 to 2006, no voting discrimination cases were brought on behalf of African American or Native American voters. U.S. attorneys were told instead to give priority to voter fraud cases, which, when coupled with the strong support for voter ID laws, indicated an intent to depress voter turnout in minority and poor communities.”
One of the chief advocates for tilting the Justice Departments scales in the direction of voter fraud was Hearne, who has testified widely urging that voter fraud, not voter suppression, should be the government’s priority.
However, Justin Levitt, an attorney and an expert on voting issues who teaches at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, wrote last year that "the notion of widespread voter fraud ... is itself a fraud. Evidence of actual fraud by individual voters is painfully skimpy."
The numbers are fairly small. From October 2002 to September 2005, 95 people were indicted for federal election related crimes, according to figures compiled by the New York Times last year. Seventy resulted in convictions. Only eighteen of those were for ineligible voting.
In March, the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration held a hearing to determine whether voter fraud is a “myth” and if voter identification laws actually disenfranchise legitimate voters.
Former New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, who was one of nine prosecutors fired around the 2006 election, told the panel that he established an election fraud task force in September 2004 and spent more than two months probing claims of voter fraud in his state.
"After examining the evidence, and in conjunction with the Justice Department Election Crimes Unit and the FBI, I could not find any cases I could prosecute beyond a reasonable doubt," Iglesias said. "Accordingly, I did not authorize any voter fraud related prosecutions."
Iglesias said he is certain that his firing was due, in part, to the fact that he would not file criminal charges of voter fraud in New Mexico.
Iglesias added that, based on "Karl Rove's obsession with voter fraud issues throughout the country," he now believes GOP operatives wanted him to go after pro-Democratic organizations in an attempt to swing the 2006 midterm elections to Republicans.
Iglesias said in an interview that Hearne’s associate, Pat Rogers, a Republican attorney in Albuquerque, and Mickey Barnett, a Republican lobbyist, pressured him to bring charges of voter fraud. Iglesias also came under pressure from Sen. Pete Domenici, R-New Mexico.
After Iglesias was fired, Rogers, the former chief counsel to the New Mexico Republican Party, emerged as Domenici’s favorite to be the new U.S. Attorney for New Mexico.
In previous e-mails exchanges, Rogers insisted that he did not play a role in Iglesias's firing and categorically denied that he pressured Iglesias to bring charges of voter fraud against Democrats.
Shortly after details of Iglesias’s firing surfaced, Hearne’s ACVR Web site was dismantled.
The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility, which is still investigating the U.S. Attorney firings, interviewed Rumaldo Armijo, Iglesias's former executive assistant, to find out whether he was pressured by Rogers, Barnett or Hearne to file criminal charges of voter fraud in the state in 2004.
During his tenure in the U.S. Attorney's office, Armijo was in charge of voter issues and worked with Iglesias's task force to probe the matter, Iglesias confirmed.
In Missouri, U.S. Attorney Todd Graves was another federal prosecutor who fell into disfavor with the Bush administration because of alleged inaction on voter fraud issues.
Graves would not file criminal charges of voter fraud against four employees of ACORN, a group that registers low-income individuals who tend to cast votes for Democrats, according to documents later released by the Justice Department in connection with the fired-prosecutors probe.
Graves also resisted pressure from Justice Department official Bradley Scholzman to file a civil suit against Robin Carnahan, Missouri's Democratic Secretary of State, on charges that Carnahan failed to take action on cases of voter fraud, Graves testified last year before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Graves was forced to resign in March 2006 and was replaced by Schlozman, who as head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division's voting-rights section had clashed with Graves.
John McKay, the U.S. Attorney from Washington State who also was ousted in the purge, said "many U.S. attorneys were concerned when Mr. Schlozman was appointed" to replace Graves.
Schlozman “was the deputy in the [Justice Department's] civil rights division, but I don't think he had the sort of background and experience we would have expected as a United States Attorney,” McKay told me in an interview last year.
"So I would say it would be true that many eyebrows were raised when he was first appointed. Of course, we didn't know that Todd Graves had been forced to resign ... and it appears that he was forced to resign at least in part because Mr. Schlozman himself was trying to push the prosecution of voter fraud cases."
Schlozman filed federal criminal charges of voter fraud against members of ACORN only days before the November 2006 mid-term elections. The case was later dismissed and Schlozman came under criticism for breaking with longstanding Justice Department policy against bringing voter fraud charges close to an election.
Schlozman testified before a Senate committee last year that he received approval to file the voter fraud charges from a Justice Department official who was instrumental in drafting the guidelines urging that U.S. Attorneys avoid filing charges claiming voter fraud at the height of an election.
At the time, Iglesias stated that he had worked with the same Election Crimes Unit attorney and simply did "not believe" Schlozman's testimony.
The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division also filed a civil suit against Missouri’s Secretary of State Carnahan but it was dismissed by a federal court judge who ruled, "The United States has not shown that any Missouri resident was denied his or her right to vote as a result of deficiencies alleged by the United States. Nor has the United States shown that any voter fraud has occurred."
Hearne took part in a conference call during the 2004 presidential campaign with several high-ranking Bush administration officials who discussed strategies for suppressing votes in battleground states, such as Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania, where Bush was in tight races with Democratic nominee John Kerry.
An e-mail dated Sept. 30, 2004, and sent to about a dozen staffers on the Bush-Cheney campaign and the RNC, under the subject line "voter reg [sic] fraud strategy conference call," describes how campaign staffers planned to challenge the veracity of votes in a handful of battleground states, such as Ohio, in the event of a Democratic victory.
E-mails among Ohio Republican Party official Michael Magan, national field director of the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign Coddy Johnson, and close Rove associate Timothy Griffin reveal the men were given documents that could be used as evidence to justify widespread voter challenges if the Bush campaign needed to contest the election results.
The documents, which Hearne and his counterparts had obtained, were lists of registered voters who did not return address confirmation forms to the Ohio Board of Elections. The Republican operatives compared this list with lists of voters who requested absentee ballots.
In the opinion of one strategist, the fact that many names appeared on both lists was evidence of voter fraud.
"A bad registration card can be an accident or fraud. A bad card AND an Absentee Ballot request is a clear case of fraud," former Bush-Cheney campaign staffer Robert Paduchik wrote in a 2004 e-mail.
Bush-Cheney field director Johnson called the documents a “goldmine.”
But Christopher McInerney, a RNC researcher, warned his colleagues at the time that if "other states ... don't have flagged voter rolls, we run the risk of having GOP fingerprints."
As it turned out, the Ohio documents were not needed since the official tally put George W. Bush narrowly ahead and – despite allegations of Republican misconduct – Kerry chose not to demand a statewide recount.
In mid-2006, Griffin expressed an interest in becoming the U.S. attorney in Arkansas. The Justice Department then forced out Bud Cummins, the state's U.S. attorney, to make room for Griffin, who subsequently resigned amid the fired-prosecutors scandal.
Since the 2006 elections, the Republican strategy has focused more on passing legislation that forces voters to produce photo IDs or even proof of citizenship in order to cast a ballot.
Already, there are signs that legitimate voters are being turned away in the face of such laws. In the May 6 Indiana primary, 12 nuns in their 80s and 90s were prevented from voting because they lacked acceptable IDs.
Now, Missouri and about 19 other states are considering passing laws that require proof of citizenship to vote.
Missouri’s Secretary of State Carnahan estimates that the amendment could disenfranchise some 300,000 voters this November – because they would have trouble acquiring the required documentation – in order to weed out possibly a few dozen ineligible voters.
Cox, the amendment’s sponsor, argues that it would block illegal immigrants from voting and combat voter fraud. The proposed amendment reads:
“This proposed constitutional amendment authorizes the General Assembly to require any person seeking to vote in a public election to provide election officials a form of identification that may be prescribed by law, including a government-issued photo identification, in order to show that he or she is a United States citizen lawfully residing in this state.”
It adds that “the State of Missouri will provide at no cost at least one form of the identification required to vote to any otherwise qualified citizen without proper identification who desires to vote.”
While evidence of systemic voter fraud in the United States has not surfaced, many election integrity experts believe Republicans have used the suspicion of voter fraud as a ploy to suppress minorities and poor people from voting. Historically, those groups have tended to vote for Democratic candidates.
Hearne declined to comment for this article.
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This story was published on May 14, 2008.