"When I die, I want to be buried in St. Martin Parish so I can remain politically active."-Louisiana Gov. Earl K. Long (1895-1960)
Woody Jenkins is back on the fairs-and-festivals circuit in Louisiana. Effie, the road-weary fiberglass elephant, is back too, following behind Mr. Jenkins in two or three parades each weekend. On this wet Saturday morning, Mr. Jenkins and his pachyderm are in St. Landry Parish for the Italian Festival (seafood spaghetti with shrimp and crawfish is as Italian as you'll get down here). Mr. Jenkins isn't a candidate again-yet. But his challenge of the Senate election last November-which he lost to Democrat Mary Landrieu by less than 6,000 votes out of 1.8 million cast-has a good chance of overturning the election. His case is solid and substantial. There's evidence of thousands of "phantom" votes, vote-buying, voter-hauling, voting machine fraud, and political machine corruption. It's the worst of Louisiana politics, Mr. Jenkins says: election fraud on a scale to make even Earl Long blush. What Mr. Jenkins charges is this: Gambling interests panicked when three gambling referenda were placed on the Nov. 5 ballot. These weren't initiatives; they were stay-or-go votes on gambling already in place. So the gambling interests flooded the southern part of the state with money, spending an estimated $12 million. In New Orleans, the cash conduit to reach the street was the Louisiana Independent Federation of Electors, Inc. (LIFE), a powerful local political machine. In New Orleans (and much of the rest of the state), gambling carried the day. But the slate of candidates LIFE endorsed, including President Clinton, District Attorney Harry Connick, and Mary Landrieu, also benefited from the gambling dollars and LIFE's banana-republic electioneering tactics. Although Mr. Jenkins carried the rest of the state by nearly 95,000 votes, Orleans Parish delivered a margin to Ms. Landrieu of 100,000 votes. Last month the Senate Rules Committee, led by moderate Republican Sen. John Warner, agreed that Mr. Jenkins' evidence was compelling. The committee voted along party lines to send investigators down to Louisiana next week, armed with the power to subpoena witnesses. The investigative team will report back to the committee, which will then make a recommendation to the full Senate. And if the Senate is convinced, it could vote to invalidate the election and hold a new one for the seat now held by Sen. Landrieu. In St. Landry Parish, Woody Jenkins is shaking hands and greeting people like old friends. Most everyone knows who he is; a few even offer encouragement. "Keep with it, Woody," an overalls-clad senior says to him by the beer booth. "I think it's just wrong to steal an election that way. Tired of Louisiana being known for that. You don't give up, now."
"Gimme five (voting) commissioners, and I'll make them voting machines sing 'Home Sweet Home.'" -Earl K. Long
What lends this effort added urgency and national significance is the specter of widespread fraud involving voting machines and the recently approved Motor Voter law, which took effect with the 1996 elections. For years now, there have been warnings that the new technology might actually make vote fraud even easier to commit and harder to detect. The old systems-paper ballots and mechanical punches-at least left a paper trail. The "state-of-the-art" electronic machines used in Louisiana, made by Sequoia Pacific Voting Equipment, Inc., are nearly impossible to tamper with, company officials say. But electronically cast votes leave no paper trail, so there's no way to tell whether the totals have been doctored. It's not just Woody Jenkins who's alleged machine tampering. A losing parish council candidate, Susan Bernecker, went to the Jefferson Parish warehouses after the election to inspect the machines. When she pushed one machine's button next to her name, her opponent's name was displayed on the LCD screen. She checked the other machines; the same thing happened on each one. She has it on videotape. Sequoia officials say she must have "rolled her finger," thereby pressing two buttons. She says she has tape showing she didn't. The FBI wouldn't listen to Ms. Bernecker's story, and a state district judge threw her case out of court after a one-day hearing. But New York City officials, after hearing her story, are rethinking a contract with Sequoia Pacific for 7,000 machines. The Jenkins camp has gathered affidavits from several people who say they tried to vote for Mr. Jenkins, but when they pressed the button, Ms. Landrieu's name appeared. Similarly, there have been warnings that Motor Voter, the 1994 law requiring voter registration at driver's license, welfare offices, and by mail, might open the gates to massive fraud. When states have tried to forestall fraud, usually by asking voters to present ID when they vote, the Clinton administration-which requires photo IDs of cigarette consumers at points of sale-has shot down their efforts. To test the Motor Voter system, reporters from the Lake Charles (La.) American Press newspaper sent in 25 registration cards with fictitious names and addresses. They were 80 percent successful: Election officials certified 20 new "voters." When investigators for Mr. Jenkins checked out some of the names of persons who registered under Motor Voter, they found that 3,169 voters listed addresses that turned out to be abandoned public housing buildings. And 1,380 of the voters listed as living in those abandoned buildings cast ballots in the Nov. 5 election. Incredibly, Sen. Landrieu's attorneys claim that Louisiana's systems are clean. Election fraud, even in Orleans Parish, is "technically impossible" because of the "tamper-proof" electronics and the checks and balances. "We've got the most comprehensive computer election system in the country," says Landrieu lawyer Scott Bickford. "We've got layer after layer of protection." The courts don't agree. So far, 68 people in Louisiana have been indicted for vote fraud since the November election. Four men in Greensburg were arrested for paying people $20 to vote by absentee ballot in a sheriff's race, while 64 were indicted in St. Martinville for selling their votes for between $5 and $25 each. Those arrests came following an investigation spurred by the NAACP.
"All that rowdy stuff was exaggerated. And if it did happen, it was instigated by them #@%#! newspaper people."-Earl K. Long
Woody Jenkins has taken some heat for challenging the election outcome-he's been called a racist, a misogynist, and a crybaby. "Woody Jenkins can't take it," fumed Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.). "Woody Jenkins can't get over it. He got beat fair and square by a woman, and it's just not something he's genetically capable of accepting." But little by little, the state and even the national press have been swayed by the strength of his evidence of irregularities and outright fraud. Here's a small sampling: **red_square** The campaign has collected a series of interviews with people who say they voted multiple times, were paid to vote, and/or were hauled to the polls (voter hauling is a felony in Louisiana). One woman told the interviewer she's angry because she wasn't paid what she was promised. "We went to three places," she says. "The agreement was we was supposed to get $25 each place. All I got was $25, and I don't appreciate it. They promise you, and then they go and give us ol' stanky T-shirts with her [Mary Landrieu's] picture on it." Another man, with a thick Cajun accent, tells of how he saw "beaucoup people in line" outside a polling place, so he stopped and asked what was going on. "They say you vote and they give you some money, so I jus' went in there and said I wanted to vote." He says he was allowed to vote-twice-without signing anything, and he was paid $10 by a group of women wearing Mary Landrieu T-shirts. Campaign officials are not releasing the names of those interviewees, though they are allowing reporters to listen to the interview tapes. They say they'll give the names to the FBI agents when they arrive in town this week. **red_square** More than 200 city employees were "asked" to campaign for the LIFE slate on election day. Lists were posted in City Hall directing city employees, by name, to their assigned posts. The list included the police chief and the fire chief, as well as department heads and administrators. Assistant City Attorney Victor Ortiz refused-and resigned his job over the issue. His boss, City Attorney Avis Russell, later responded that Mr. Ortiz had never before expressed "any problem with participating in campaign activities." **red_square** On election day, hundreds of rented vans and buses hauled voters to the polls. Even without subpoena power, the Jenkins camp has been able to obtain rental contracts showing that at least some of the vans were rented by employees in the mayor's office. **red_square** A woman contacted election officials after discovering that her elderly parents, both suffering from dementia, were taken to the polls along with the other residents of their Baton Rouge nursing home. A riverboat casino, the Belle of Baton Rouge, had sent two buses with wheelchair lifts. Jenkins spokesman Daniel Duggan says there are two factors that should, in and of themselves, cause the Senate to call a new election. The first is the tally of "phantom" votes cast in the election. "Phantom votes are boring, but they're the heart of our case," says Mr. Duggan. "A phantom vote is a vote with no paper trail. There's no name on the poll list and no signature in the poll register. There's just a higher number in the machine." For example, if a poll's register shows that 500 people signed in to vote, but the machine shows that 550 voted, there would be 50 phantom votes. Or if the number of people who come in to vote is higher than the number of voters registered in that precinct, that indicates a problem as well. One way to overturn a Senate race is vote-by-vote. A losing candidate has to show that the number of illegal votes cast in the election was greater than the winner's margin of victory. That's what Mr. Jenkins's phantom vote count does. So far, his staff has identified more than 7,500 phantom votes; Ms. Landrieu won by 5,788 votes. The second factor Mr. Duggan says should force a new election is what happened on the day after the election. According to law, the candidates have a right to be present when the voting machines are opened, to inspect them and check for signs of fraud. But when Woody Jenkins and other candidates arrived at the Orleans Parish warehouse at 8:40 a.m., 20 minutes before they were supposed to be there, the machines were already open. That's a felony in Louisiana, as well as most other states. Election officials, called on the carpet by state legislators, admitted that yes, the law was broken, but not by anyone with any evil intentions.
"I never bought a congressman in my life. I rent 'em. It's cheaper." -Earl K. Long
Mayor Marc Morial is the son of the late Ernest "Dutch" Morial, who founded LIFE 30 years ago. The machine won the mayor's office for Dutch in 1977 and has since become one of the most influential political organizations in the nation. LIFE's ambitious "Get Out the Vote" effort on Nov. 5 marshaled more than 1,000 street workers, carefully deployed in black neighborhoods, at shopping centers, at street intersections, and at local employment centers. That's in addition to the 5,000 hired by the state Democratic party, most of whom passed out LIFE's yellow sample ballots. This army was coordinated by Jacques Morial, Marc's brother. Mr. Jenkins's attorney, Mark Siefert, calls LIFE a "rogue political machine," and political reporters in the Louisiana press are beginning to agree. Local reports have disclosed that in the 30 years it has operated, LIFE hasn't filed a single campaign finance disclosure report to either the state or the federal government. The state laws require any organization spending more than $500 on behalf of a candidate or proposition to file, and federal laws require the same of committees spending more than $1,000 for a federal candidate. Mayor Morial, through his spokeswoman, told one journalist that LIFE "is not a political action committee," and that's why it's never filed anything. District Attorney Harry Connick, who benefited from LIFE's machinations, hasn't launched an investigation because, he says, "We haven't received a complaint." Besides, say LIFE's supporters, all the organization is doing is encouraging people to become politically active. "The bad news is that only 49 percent of all registered voters in the country turned out for the last election," responds Congressman Billy Tauzin (R-La.). "The good news is that 107 percent of the voters turned out in one New Orleans precinct."
"The truth's the truth. Anything I say, you can record it and put it in the paper. I've got one language, and that's the truth."-Earl K. Long
Sen. Landrieu and her allies dismiss the Jenkins challenge as groundless, a quixotic crusade based on pride, sexism, and racism. But they're not quite sure what to do about Morris Reed, a black man who is a Democrat. He's also a former police officer, a former assistant U.S. Attorney handling civil-rights cases, and a former district court judge. And he's Woody Jenkins's unlikely ally. Mr. Reed stepped down last year from the judge's bench to run against Orleans Parish District Attorney Harry Connick (the father of the singer). He lost, even though in Orleans Parish nearly 70 percent of the voters are black. Mr. Reed says he didn't lose to a white candidate; he lost to the political machine: Mr. Connick was the pick of Mayor Morial and LIFE. Mr. Reed says he expected vote fraud, and he went as far as writing to Attorney General Janet Reno, asking for federal poll watchers. Although the letter went to his former colleagues, he never received a reply. "This isn't a race issue, it's not a Democrat or Republican issue," says Mr. Reed, who has also testified before John Warner's Senate Rules Committee. "This is about the integrity of the process." "Marc Morial likes to boast he comes from Haitian-Creole heritage," Mr. Reed told WORLD. "We need to let him know he's not Baby Doc, and this isn't Haiti."
"Vote for the crook. It's important."-Popular bumper sticker during 1990 governor's race, which pitted ex-Klansman David Duke against twice-indicted former governor Edwin W. Edwards
Investigators should arrive in Louisiana this week. They're expected to divide into two groups, one to look into the phantom votes and voter fraud, and the other to investigate the LIFE political machine. Mary Landrieu's office still insists they won't find anything. But this is Louisiana. In 1977, a U.S. congressman, Democrat Rick Tonry, went to federal prison along with a number of his cronies for election fraud. That seat eventually went to Rep. Bob Livingston. In 1980, Rep. Claude Leach lost his reelection bid because of charges of vote-buying. "I don't think anyone is really going to be shocked at the thought of dirty politics in this state," says Jenkins spokesman Mr. Duggan. "The only thing surprising, really, is that anyone would bother denying it." Mr. Jenkins, a 23-year state legislator, offers this historical perspective: "This is the third time around for gambling in the state of Louisiana," he says. "The first time, in the late 1800s, nothing was done until Murphy J. Foster was elected governor, on the promise of cleaning it up. And he did." Gov. Foster's grandson, Murphy J. "Mike" Foster II was elected in 1996 on a similar pledge. "I think history could repeat itself," Mr. Jenkins says.