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1,100 Voter Cards Suspect

By Jeff Jones
Journal Staff Writer
       More than 1,000 new voter registration cards received by the Bernalillo County Clerk's Office in advance of the November general election might be frauds, the county clerk said Tuesday.
    Maggie Toulouse Oliver said she has notified prosecutors in state and federal law enforcement agencies about the problem.
    Some of the estimated 1,100 registrations list Social Security numbers for people who already are in the county's database of registered voters, Toulouse Oliver said.
    Other cards list the same name — but a different birth date — of already registered voters.
    Some of the people whose names appear in the list of possibly phony registrations, when called by the clerk's office, said they never filled out the new cards changing their voter data, Toulouse Oliver said.
    In addition, "We do have a series of cards identified that appear to be (names) taken straight out of the phone book," Toulouse Oliver said.
    Submitting fraudulent registration forms is a felony, and Toulouse Oliver said she has forwarded copies of the questioned documents to Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg, the state Attorney General's Office and the U.S. Attorney's Office.
    "We will be checking up on it," Brandenburg told the Journal late Tuesday afternoon. "We probably will have some communication with the feds and the other agencies this was sent to, to see who will take the lead on this."
    Toulouse Oliver said the potential scope of the problem has mushroomed since late last month, when the Journal reported on a forged card for Rebecca Sitterly, a former state District Court judge from Albuquerque who has been voting in the same place for nearly two decades.
    That card was submitted by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, a controversial nonprofit organization that says it has handled 72,000 new voter registrations in New Mexico since January.
    Matthew Henderson, head organizer for the group, said the Sitterly card was set aside as a potential phony by ACORN itself and turned in to the clerk's office with a batch of other possibly bad cards.
    At the time, Toulouse Oliver said she was aware of a few card problems. Her workers have since been notifying her when other suspect cards come in, and the tally has grown to about 1,100 as her office continues to cut into a backlog of registration cards.
    Toulouse Oliver said the number of potential frauds could grow: The Clerk's Office still has a backlog of about 6,000 registrations it needs to enter into the voter registration system.
    Toulouse Oliver said she did not know how many cards in the current stack of questionable registrations were submitted by ACORN, though she said that group this year has done the majority of so-called third-party registrations — those that aren't turned in by the voters themselves but are submitted by groups organized to enlist new registrants.
    She said some of the red-flagged registration cards in Bernalillo County were caught by ACORN's own quality-control process and turned over to the County Clerk's Office, though she didn't know offhand how many of the 1,100 were flagged by that group.
    ACORN contract workers in 2005 were investigated in connection with forged signatures on a minimum wage ballot petition, though ACORN supervisors have said political organizers now oversee the registration gathering and the group has beefed up its own quality control.
    Henderson on Tuesday estimated that his group's internal checks — which include phoning the people they register to confirm their information — are catching "99 percent” of any potentially fraudulent cards that come through ACORN.
    "Within 48 hours of collecting a potentially fraudulent card, we are turning that card over to the state," Henderson said.
    State Republican Party Chairman Allen Weh, whose party in the past has been critical of ACORN, said Tuesday that he's not surprised at the news of the 1,100 potential phonies.
    "We know voter fraud exists in this state, and we know third-party voter registrars out there are registering every warm body they can — regardless of their legal status," Weh said. "I can assure you we'll be watching this election in full force."
    Henderson said all the people his group registers sign an oath declaring themselves to be U.S. citizens.