I. In Focus This Week
Law & Order: Elections
An occasional look at some elections lawsuits and crime
By M. Mindy Moretti
From what not to wear to the polls to drug smuggling elections board members. From Native American voting rights to 86-year-old dementia patients accidentally casting a ballot twice, the elections administration world is giving Dick Wolf some excellent ideas for future episodes of Law & Order.
This week we’ll take a brief look at some elections litigation and prosecutions from around the country.
Although Shelby County, Ala.’s case against the Voting Rights Act has been getting all the media attention of late, there are numerous other elections-related lawsuits pending throughout the country at all levels of the judicial system.
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on March 18 about Arizona’s proof-of-citizenship law. The law, approved by voters in 2004 has been in the courts ever since. If enacted, it would require proof-of-citizenship — passport, birth certificate, driver’s license or tribal documents — in order to register to vote. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that federal law, which does not require proof-of-citizenship trumps the state law.
In 2010 a consortium of organizations affiliated with the tea party sued local elections officials and Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie saying their First Amendment rights were violated because they were unable to wear certain t-shirts and buttons into polling places during elections. Although the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals recently dismissed much of the suit, the court did rule that a portion of suit should have been evaluated under a different court rule and therefore the lower court will need to review it again.
This week, a U.S. appeals court heard arguments over the constitutionality of Nevada’s “none of the above” law that allows voters to cast a ballot for none of the above. Nevada is the only state to offer voters this type of protest vote. State Republicans filed suit last year saying that the “none” option could siphon votes and sway the outcome of races—“none of the above” cannot win an election even if it garners the most votes.
Three losing candidates in Sandoval County, New Mexico filed suit against former Clerk Sally Padilla claiming that she violated citizen’s voting rights by only have five polling locations open in Rio Rancho in November 2012 which led to hours long lines.
A federal judge in the U.S. Virgin Islands has dismissed a suit brought by five losing candidates seeking to throw out the 2012 general election results. Senior District Court Judge Raymond Finch said the plaintiffs failed to articulate the specific ways they were wronged.
In late February, an appellate court ruled that a lawsuit brought by a group of Native American plaintiffs against Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch and elections officials in several counties could go forward. The suit alleges that state and local elections officials violated portions of the Voting Rights Act when they failed to set up satellite voting sites on remote Indian reservations for the November general election. The plaintiffs include the U.S. Dept. of Justice, and the ACLU of Montana.
A district court judge in Baton Rouge nullified the November 6 election on whether or not tolls would be renewed for the Crescent City Connection in New Orleans. The judge ruled that voters were disenfranchised because more than 1,000 voters were provided provisional ballots thus preventing them from voting in the toll election.
A New Jersey Appeals Court recently heard arguments that the state’s electronic voting machines must be replaced. The case began nearly a decade ago. A lower court ruled that counties across the state may continue using electronic voting machines, but lawyers for the plaintiffs—Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer) and the Coalition for Peace Action—argued that the appeals court should review the science behind electronic voting machines.
The Georgia Supreme Court recently heard arguments in a case involving a sheriff’s race in Baker County. A superior court ruled that the election needed to be conducted a second time because there was evidence of vote buying.
Yes Virginia, there really is voter fraud.
Of course how widespread of a problem it is will be debated till the end of the time, but there have been several reported cases in recent months.
In Minnesota, an 86-year-old woman has been charged with voting twice in the 2012 primary election.
Margaret Schneider admits that she voted twice, once by absentee in July and again at the polls on August 14. But Schneider, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease and dementia, says that she didn’t realize at the time she was voting twice in the same election.
Under state statute the county attorney is required to prosecute, regardless of the circumstances.
Seven people in Franklin County, Ohio are currently under investigation for voter fraud. According to The Columbus Dispatch, six of the cases involve voters who voted by mail and then in-person. A spokesperson for the board of elections said that the time between when both ballots were cast is so short that investigators don’t think the ballots were cast accidentally.
Also in Ohio, three people in Hamilton County have been indicted by a Grand Jury for voting multiple times. Russell Glassop, 75, cast a ballot on behalf of his deceased wife who died before she could submit her absentee ballot. Sister Marguerite Kloos, 54, is accused of casting a ballot on behalf of another nun who died a month before the November election. Melowese Richardson, a poll worker in Hamilton County is accused of voting twice in November as well as voting on behalf of relatives during other elections.
A Wisconsin man has been charged with voting illegally after registering and voting while on probation for a felony charge. Michael Radtke admitted to voting, but said that he was unaware he was not permitted to do so.
Another convicted felon, but this one in Iowa, was recently charged with voter fraud after attempting to vote in the November election. Auditor Dawn Williams told the Times-Republican that this is only the second time she has seen this since she began working in the office in 1988.
Finally after two trials and one mistrial, former Troy, New York Councilman John Brown was sentenced to six months in the county following a plea agreement for voter fraud.
Wendy Rosen, a Maryland Democrat who was forced to end her bid for Congress after it was discovered she voted both in Maryland and Florida plead recently plead guilty to two counts of voting illegally. Following her guilty plea, Rosen released a statement saying that she voted in both jurisdictions as a protest vote to show support for the “millions of legitimate voters who have been illegally prevented from voting or having their votes counted.”
A Bend, Ore. man was convicted of voter fraud after the Deschutes County elections office found a Craigslist ad from Aaron Hirschman offering to pay $20 for blank ballots. According to The Oregonian, Circuit Judge A. Michael Adler rejected Hirschman's arguments that he was only trying to cause a stir with his ad. After convicting him of a misdemeanor in a non-jury trial, Adler fined Hirschman $200 and sentenced him to 40 hours of community service.
A Florida woman recently found herself charged with submitting false voter registration information and fraud in casting a vote for registering and casting a ballot in the November 2012 election without first having her voting rights restored. The crime was discovered because she wore an “I Voted” sticker to a visit with her probation officer.
And elections crimes, or crimes that affect elections officials aren’t limited to voter fraud either.
A former employee of the Passaic County, N.J. board of elections plead guilty this week to diverting more than $384, 661 from the board’s account to her personal account. Yanira Martinez, who served as confidential secretary to the county’s superintendent of elections faces up to seven years in prison.
On the island of Guam, Chris Carillo, a Democratic member of the Guam Election Commission was charged with possession and importation of marijuana.
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