New Orleans To no one’s surprise the Republican’s in a full-on partisan voter registration effort run by the notorious Nathan Sproul have been caught pretty much red-handed changing the party designation on voter registration forms for potential voters in Florida and several other states. Sproul claims to have “registered 500,000 voters in 40 states” through various election cycles over the last almost 10 years, which, frankly, is really not that many registrations, even though Sproul has reportedly collected more than $8 million on the 2004 cycle and was into the Republican Party for $3 million on the 2012 cycle alone.
Sproul and his operations have been accused of registration problems in almost all of those cycles and in a number of states. None of this is news. This time the news was a big bigger, so his direct employer, the Republican Party, dropped him like a hot potato, claiming, according to the Times, that “it has no tolerance for voter registration fraud.” What they really meant to say is that they had a lot of tolerance for Sproul and his methods as long as no one was looking, but once the light shined on him, they were glad to cut the payroll and throw him under the bus. Hmmmm….
Sproul’s lawyer said he told the truth though, saying essentially that in a big operation there would always be “a few problems.” Further, “inevitably, there have been accusations of ‘bad registrations,’ isolated instances that have been thoroughly investigated not only internally but by the appropriate legal authorities.” The Times notes that Sproul’s operations depend on “low-paid seasonal workers who must be quickly trained in the legalities of voter registration. In addition to $12 an hour, workers might be eligible for college internship credit….” His lawyer added that “We have in place a background check system and stringent quality controls meant to prevent individuals from skirting the system.”
Sound familiar? Of course all of those things were also said by ACORN four years ago when it was under withering, and unwarranted, fire from the Republicans and the rightwing, much of which continues to this day. I can’t speak for Sproul, but in ACORN’s case I know there was screening. I know there were “stringent quality controls” which included verification checks on the signatures. And, of course as has been well documented, in almost all of the cases, ACORN actually alerted authorizes to possible bad registrations, since we, like Sproul, were required to turn in everything submitted, regardless of whether or not it survived the screening. Possibly, Spoul’s operation was instructing workers to change party registrations, since they were a Republican contractor, rather than a nonpartisan operation, as ACORN was, but it is also possible that Sproul was victimized by some rouge workers as happened to ACORN in several instances. As Sproul’s lawyers and spokepeople say, with thousands and thousands of workers, it is impossible to assure that there won’t be some problems in even the best systems.
I’m not necessarily sympathetic to Sproul, but in the immortal works of Chris Rock, “I understand!” What is really wrong is the whole voter registration system itself as has been constantly documented, most recently by the Pew Trusts, as expensive, dysfunctional, substandard, and either overtly or indirectly, fraught with errors. We need a better way to register and allow citizens to freely vote if we are to continue to pretend to operate democratically in this country. The current mess has frightened off too many large scale voter operations among progressive organizations who don’t want to be “ACORNed.” Now we will see something of the same “throw the rock and hide the hand” from the Republicans.
In a passage of painful irony one complaint from Nevada indicates that a Sproul operative tried to forcibly change a party registration when the worker, “… talked about voter fraud and mentioned ACORN and illegals voting.” As one voter registration operation to another, Sproul should have known better to have that be part of the rap, unless they were simply sending out invitations to a circular firing squad.
Voter registration is a deliberately imperfect system that embraces problems, because the major political parties both want to suppress the vote and make the act of citizenship harder for Americans. If they didn’t, then it would have be changed years ago. Simple as that.