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One dog, one vote

National | Allegations of widespread voter fraud in St. Louis result in multiple investigations

Issue: "California school shooting," March 17, 2001

Controversy surrounding the 2000 presidential election seems far from over. Only now, the focus has shifted from heavily Democratic retirement communities in southern Florida to the heavily Democratic city of St. Louis. Lost in the political and media frenzy in Florida was an election-night controversy in Missouri, where, in the midst of widespread voting irregularities, the Gore-Lieberman campaign brought a lawsuit (in the name of a dead man) designed to hold polls in St. Louis open three hours after their official close. Now, with new allegations of voting fraud in the mayoral primary last week in the city, the November election is receiving renewed interest. The current issue involves 3,000 voter registration cards that were turned in-in a single batch-on Feb. 7, the final day of registration for St. Louis' upcoming mayoral election. An investigation of the registration cards revealed nearly all of them to be fraudulent, either giving incorrect phone or address information or attempting to register dead people. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that some of the cards were attempts to register prominent local politicians, including "at least three deceased aldermen," as well as convicted felons. One of the registrations, the paper noted, was for a dog. That scandal calls into question 29,500 other voter registration cards-also submitted at the last minute in a similar manner-for last November's election, only adding to growing concerns of widespread fraud. Last month, a group of St. Louis lawyers prepared a report for U.S. Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), who submitted it to U.S. Attorney Audrey Fleissig. The report presented a mountain of evidence supporting allegations of fraud. While Democrats point to the Election Commission Board-which they say inappropriately purged 33,000 names off voter registration rolls-as the source of the confusion on election day, the report suggests that a Democratic push to bring unregistered voters to the polls created the problem. The report cites an election-day lawsuit filed by Democratic congressional candidate Lacy Clay and a "Robert D. Odom" that attempted to keep the polls open three hours after their official closing time of 7:00 p.m. Morning newspapers had quoted Mr. Clay telling voters at a rally on election eve to "not let anyone turn you away from the polls." According to the Post-Dispatch, he promised: "If it requires leaving the polls open a little longer, we're going to get a court order to do it." Whether the lawsuit was premeditated, Mr. Clay's preelection rally cry turned the city election into a legal battle zone, with both Republicans and Democrats mobilizing for combat. The stakes were high: eleven electoral votes (enough to make the coming battle in Florida irrelevant) and the closest gubernatorial race in 20 years (Democratic candidate Bob Holden won by just 21,000 votes). For attorney Thor Hearne-head of the Bush campaign's St. Louis legal team-election day began with an early morning stakeout at city and federal courthouses, where a legal "swat team" watched for signs of a lawsuit. When the Gore-Lieberman legal entourage arrived at the civil court to file suit at 3:15 p.m., Mr. Hearne was waiting for them. "I guess you're here to file a lawsuit. Well, I'm here to intervene," he said, greeting Democrat attorney Douglas Dowd. But Democrats also started early. Minutes before, they had filed a similar lawsuit in Kansas City, Mo., which a court later rejected. The two lawsuits with similar wording, filed in Democrat-controlled counties, instantly fueled conspiracy charges. "I've never seen an effort by the Democrats this orchestrated, this concerted to turn out their vote before and after legal polling hours," Mr. Hearne told WORLD. Earlier on election day another legal battle had developed at the election commission. There, five black-robed judges fought their way through a swelling lunch crowd to set up folding tables. For the next several hours, they issued court orders to voters whose names weren't on voter registration rolls, allowing them to vote in the election. Outraged lawyers representing Republican candidates quickly filed a motion requiring cross-examination of voters. Presiding Judge Michael Calvin, who was also one of the judges issuing court orders, denied that motion. "Obviously I wasn't asking enough questions to satisfy some people," Judge Calvin told WORLD. When asked on what basis he issued the orders, he referred to questions such as "whether or not you were registered, whether you were qualified to vote and your reason [for needing the court order]." But a sampling of court orders later examined by WORLD listed reasons like "I forgot to register" or "I was in the hospital" for lack of prior registration. One even mentioned the voter's history as a convicted felon. Only one-a man complaining that his change of address was not processed-appeared to fit the legal criteria for obtaining a last-minute court order. By the evening of election day, judges had issued a total of 491 court orders. Meanwhile, Mr. Hearne and a contingent of Democratic lawyers faced off in the oak-paneled chambers of Judge Evelyn Baker. The judge heard testimony from Mr. Clay, his sister Michelle Clay-who headed the NAACP's local get-out-the-vote project-and Mr. Clay's office administrator. All three argued that confusing election board procedures denied St. Louis citizens their right to vote. But that mysterious name, Robert D. Odom, adorned the lawsuit. The suit claimed that "Robert D. Odom has not been able to vote and fears he will not be able to vote because of the long lines at the polling places/machine breakdowns in St. Louis, Missouri, that have lasted for several hours." During the trial, counsel for Gore-Lieberman made the further claim that "Mr. Odom is here and prepared to testify he was denied his right to vote based on the allegations in the petition." But GOP attorneys later discovered that Robert D. Odom had died in May of 1999. In the days following the election, the Gore-Lieberman legal team floated several contradictory explanations. In perhaps the weakest attempt to put the matter to rest, they told The Kansas City Star that the confusion was the result of a mistaken keystroke: that the suit was really brought by Robert M. (Mark) Odom, a member of Rep. Clay's campaign staff. However, Robert M. Odom voted early in the day on Nov. 7, well before the suit was filed, and could not have experienced the impediments to voting that the suit listed. Still, at 6:30 p.m. on election day, Judge Baker ordered citywide polls to remain open until 10 p.m. Some 200 polling places across the city were immediately thrown into chaos. Democrats swung into action. Shortly after 7 p.m. the city's largest talk radio station-KMOX-received a phone call from Vice President Al Gore. "Gore said to go out and vote because the polls were open late. He said that at least twice," said KMOX news anchor Bob Hamilton. As early as 7:07 p.m. thousands of voters also received prerecorded phone calls from Jesse Jackson informing them the polls would remain open. "This is Reverend Jesse Jackson," came the deep, bellowing voice. "Tonight the polls in St. Louis are staying open late until 10:00 p.m. in your neighborhood and until midnight downtown. Until 10:00 in your neighborhood and midnight downtown, at the Board of Elections. Keep the faith. Vote with passion. Keep hope alive." Mr. Hearne's legal team again intervened, sending a hastily written fax to appeals court judges waiting in their homes. At 7:45 p.m., the steadily cranking Democratic machine abruptly lurched to a halt after the appeals court overturned Judge Baker's decision. But the news came too late to some polling places. "How many votes were cast after 7:00 p.m.? The records don't exist," said Mr. Hearne. "We can't go back through the ballot box and pull them back out." Other irregularities also remain unexplained: The GOP report cites 135 unregistered people (out of an examination of 1,366 votes) who illegally voted at polling places without a court order and 5,000 people who were registered to vote more than once. Two investigations are underway: One is a city effort involving a local grand jury looking at the mayoral election; the other is a federal probe in the hands of the U.S. attorney. The grand jury investigation has already resulted in the issuance of a search warrant to examine the offices of Operation Big Vote, a minority-targeted voter registration program that is tied to at least half of the 3,000 Feb. 7 registrations, according to the Post-Dispatch. The scope of the investigation likely will broaden in the coming weeks. Matt Blunt, Missouri's Secretary of State, is also reviewing the matter and is likely to propose sweeping legislative changes. Sen. Bond told The Wall Street Journal that he believes the Gore-Lieberman lawsuit on election day was designed to "hijack the election." The debacle is "a mess on the scale of Florida," he said. "They pulled the same stunt when I ran for governor in 1972," he told the Journal. "This will be the last time."

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