Rhode Island Succumbs to Obama DOJ Lawsuit, But Leads on Voter ID

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President Obama’s Justice Department is working in partnership with well-funded special interest groups to force state officials into consent agreements that undermine electoral integrity, according to attorneys and citizen activists familiar with the settlements.

Under Section 7 of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA),  government agencies are required to offer registration services to anyone who applies for new drivers’ licenses or other social services like unemployment benefits. Critics of the law, commonly known as “motor voter,” point out that its loose identification requirements create an opening for electoral mischief.

J. Christian Adams, an attorney who previously worked within the Justice Department’s Voting Section, has described how Obama’s political appointees are aggressively applying “motor voter” while deliberately ignoring  the anti-fraud stipulations included within the same federal law. Adams is the author of  a new book titled, Injustice: Exposing the Racial Agenda of the Obama Justice Department.

As part of a compromise with Senate Republicans in 1993, President Clinton agreed to include a separate provision under Section 8 of the NVRA that makes it a requirement for state officials to maintain updated registration records and to purge ineligible voters. Section 7 would not have become law without Section 8 because there were not enough votes in the Senate at that time to prevent a Republican filibuster of “motor voter.”

Obama Justice Department officials who are “philosophically opposed” to enforcing Section 8 have effectively vetoed out the bipartisan compromise of 1993, Adams observes. They are only enforcing Section 7 and are doing so in a “heavy-handed” fashion that goes beyond the letter of the law, he notes.

Rhode Island and “Motor Voter”

The consent agreement Rhode Island officials reached with the Justice Department figures prominently in this controversy.

“In addition to welfare and motor vehicle offices, Rhode Island was forced to convert food stamp offices, cash assistance offices, behavioral treatment centers, utility payment grant offices, and even drug treatment centers into voter registration offices,” Adams explains in his book. “At every site the consent decree requires the taxpayers of Rhode Island to fund a Motor Voter site coordinator  to guarantee that the recipients of government services are receiving their voter registration materials.”

Under the consent terms, Rhode Island state officials must also submit documentation to the Department of Justice (DOJ) each time an individual declines to register as a voter. Social service coordinators are also required to attend training sessions “presumably on the taxpayers’ dime,” according to Injustice.

The DOJ suit against Rhode Island, which was filed in March 2011, accused the state’s Department of Human Services, the Department of Health, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Behavioral Healthcare Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals of neglecting to provide voter registration forms. The consent agreement was signed with DOJ that same month.

Obama DOJ Colludes with Pressure Groups

President Obama’s Justice Department continues to work in collusion with several left-leaning organizations, including Project Vote, Demos, the League of Women Voters, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Fair Elections Legal Network, and  the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense Fund, according to documentation obtained by Judicial Watch.

The “motor voter” suits DOJ has filed against other states frequently overlap with separate legal action from these same organizations.  The DOJ suit filed against Louisiana, for example, came just a few months after the NAACP filed suit based on similar motor voter allegations against Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration. Most recently, Project Vote, Demos, the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights, and other allied groups filed “motor voter” allegations against Pennsylvania.

Anita MonCrief, a former Project Vote employee turned conservative activist testified against the organization over election law violation allegations that go back to the 2008 presidential race. She described the tight relationship between Project Vote and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) network as part of her testimony. Although ACORN initially lost financial support in the aftermath of an undercover videotape investigation in 2009, it has reconstituted itself under different names and remains active in states that could swing the 2012 election, MonCrief warned.

“I’m advising state officials to resist pressure tactics from Project Vote and other ACORN type groups,  and to do everything they can to maintain updated voter registration rolls. Groups like Project Vote are very well-funded and they know how to apply pressure. The lawsuits are part of a coordinated effort.”

In addition to Rhode Island, motor voter settlements have been reached in Georgia, Indiana, New Mexico, and Ohio.

Since 2004, Project Vote has received almost $25 million from left-leaning institutions and foundations, according to data compiled by the Capital Research Center (CRC) in Washington, D.C. Some of the biggest donors are the Tides Foundation, the Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program, the Irving Harris Foundation, the Rockefeller Family Fund, the George Soros–backed Open Society Institute, and the Barbara Streisand Foundation.

Voter ID Laws and Election Integrity

Although he is disappointed with the consent agreement that is now in effect throughout Rhode Island, Adams, the former DOJ attorney, does credit elected officials for passing a new voter identification law in Rhode Island that will make it more difficult to commit fraud at the ballot box. (See related story).

“Rhode Island demonstrates that Voter ID isn’t a partisan issue,” Adams said.  “But more importantly, it shows that the people who are most victimized by voter fraud are the ones who benefit most from voter ID.  Voter Fraud in Rhode Island is notorious, and that’s why the bipartisan law passed.”

The new law will be phased in over two election cycles, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

In 2012 and 2013, poll workers will ask voters for identification when they vote at the polls. Acceptable photo IDs include RI drivers’ licenses, U.S. passports, U.S. military IDs, government-issued medical cards, and state- or federal-issued IDs.

Beginning in 2014, only photo IDs will be accepted. Until then, non-photo IDs, including Social Security cards, can be used.

Chris Barnett, the communications director for Secretary of State Ralph Mollis, characterized Rhode Island’s voter ID law as “a national model for protecting the right to vote.”

Voter ID proposals have been the subject of intense partisan bickering in other states where Democratic Party officials have generally been opposed and various civil rights groups have worked to block the legislation.

“Rhode Island’s bill is significantly less restrictive and differs substantially from the others that passed in two major respects,” Barnett said.  “First, unlike the other states that provide a narrow list of acceptable photo IDs, Rhode Island broadly accepts any ID with a voter’s name and photograph. Second, although Rhode Island now requires that all voters present photo ID before receiving a ballot in person, a voter without a photo ID may sign an affidavit that she does not have a photo ID and cast a provisional ballot that will count if the signature on the ballot matches the voter’s registration signature.””

Barnett points out that the Brennan Center for Justice, which has been critical of other voter ID bills, recognizes that Rhode Island has adopted for a balanced approach.

“No eligible voter will be turned away at the polls,” he said. “Voters who do not bring an acceptable ID to the polls can vote using a standard Provisional Ballot. As long as the signature they give at the polls matches the signature on their voter registration form, their ballot will be counted.”

The DOJ has moved to block the voter ID laws in South Carolina and Texas under Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA). The law prohibits certain jurisdictions from implementing changes to their voting laws without federal approval. When the VRA was initially enacted, it was viewed as “a temporary emergency provision”  designed to safeguard against racial discrimination,  Hans von Spakovsky, a legal scholar with the Heritage Foundation, has explained. Unfortunately, Section 5 has been modified to the point at which it is “easier for the Justice Department to cause mischief” unrelated to any legitimate concerns over discrimination, he wrote in a report.

Meanwhile, there is good news in Rhode Island, where have already been one statewide and two municipal elections under the new law.

“Voter ID has rolled out as smoothly as we could have hoped,” Barnett said. “No one has reported any problems at the polls, so voters appear to be well prepared. Fewer than 30 Voter ID–related provisional ballots have been cast and just one was rejected.”

Rhode Island does not fall within the purview of the VRA.