Dem chair wants investigation into voter purgeby Matt Fritz, heraldargus.com
October 24th 2012 5:04 PM
La PORTE COUNTY — The Democrat party chair is asking the federal government to get involved in the wrongful purge of 13,000 voters in La Porte County last year.
Chairman John Jones said in a press release that he will be asking the U.S. Department of Justice Election Integrity Task Force to investigate exactly how the purge happened, which he said was an "effort led by Republican voters' appointee Donna Harris, the wife of county Republican chairman Keith Harris."
Originally some 800 inactive voters were supposed to be purged in 2011. Voters are inactive if they fail to vote over two federal election cycles, meaning they have not voted since before the 2008 election that seated President Barack Obama in office. But the 13,303 who were canceled included voters who voted in Obama's election.
Jones went on to say that "federal law is clear that voters can only be purged if they have not voted in two federal election cycles. Yet Ms. Harris began a systematic effort to wipe off the voter rolls over 13,000 voters even though they had voted in 2008 but not voted in 2010 and 2011. Well, 2011 was city elections and that doesn't count for purposes of a purge. This was wrong and Donna Harris and Keith Harris should have known better."Republican Party Chairman Keith Harris said he does not believe this was a partisan effort to eliminate Democrat voters, pointing out that it was the Republican co-director Donna, his wife, who developed the plan to correct the problem, and then led the effort to have it resolved.
He pointed out that half the voters were back on the ballots (as of yesterday afternoon), so everyone who is eligible to vote will be able to vote in the November elections. He said officials are still looking for anyone who might have been wrongfully turned away. One voter has been identified. A letter was sent out to her and an absentee ballot has been provided to make sure she has her opportunity.
"I truly believe this was a case of inadequate training that resulted in the process failing," he said. "This is serious issue, without a doubt, that's why we're taking the solution so seriously."
At a meeting this week, Jeana Blake, the Democrat co-director of the voter registration office, said she was involved when cancellations on the original 800 began, but said she was absent three months due to surgery and was surprised upon her return to find staff still working on those same 800 cancellations.
She said she did not realize they were working beyond the 800 until later, and then she could only stop her own staff from working. She had no control over Donna's staff.
Harris said the process started long before her surgery, and pointed out that Blake had more seniority than Donna and could have stepped up and stopped it.
At an emergency La Porte County Election Board meeting earlier this week, Jones' concerns also centered on worries that Democrat voters were targeted with the purge. Donna is the Republican appointed co-director of the voter-registration office.
Jones asked for a tally of Democrat versus Republican eliminations.
La Porte County Clerk Lynne Spevak said there is a voting history area in their computers that lists whether someone has taken a Republican or Democrat ticket in the primary elections. This can be found using a manual search for someone's name.
"But we don't identify them in a general election," she said. "It will only tell us if they voted in a primary."
So a person who historically takes a Democrat ticket in the primaries can be identified as a Democrat, but if he flip flops between elections, his party affiliation will not be so certain.
And she pointed out that a lot of people do not vote in primaries, only general elections, so they will have absolutely no voter history.
About Jones' announced contact with the U.S. Department of Justice Election Integrity Task Force, she said everyone has a right to send a letter, and as a party chair he certainly should have some concerns with recent events.
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