Cover Story

He Said, She Said

Issue: "Louisiana's Buy-You-Election," May 17, 1997
&quotWhen I die, I want to be buried in St. Martin Parish so I can remain politically active.&quot-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 &quotphantom" 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. &quotKeep with it, Woody," an overalls-clad senior says to him by the beer booth. &quotI think it's just wrong to steal an election that way. Tired of Louisiana being known for that. You don't give up, now."

&quotGimme 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 &quotstate-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 &quotrolled 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 &quotvoters." 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 &quottechnically impossible" because of the &quottamper-proof" electronics and the checks and balances. &quotWe've got the most comprehensive computer election system in the country," says Landrieu lawyer Scott Bickford. &quotWe'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.

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