Alabama officials urge lookout for voter fraud
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
Oct 22, 2012 | 4314 views |  0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MONTGOMERY — Alabama's attorney general and secretary of state called on the public to report instances of voter fraud, and pushed for passage of tougher voter fraud penalties, in a Monday press conference.

Yet despite the ongoing debate about voter ID and access to the ballot, Alabama residents should be able to vote in 2012 using the same kinds of identification they used in 2008 or 2010, officials said.

"The rules are the same rules we've always been under," said Beth Chapman, Alabama's Secretary of State.

Chapman, Attorney General Luther Strange and other officials held a press conference in the attorney general's Montgomery offices, with the general election 15 days away, to assert their willingness to prosecute anyone who commits voter fraud.

"This will not go unpunished if we find it," said Randy Hillman, director of the Alabama District Attorneys Association, one of the speakers at the conference.

Actual prosecutions for voter fraud are rare, and usually revolve around absentee ballots. Three Hale County residents entered guilty pleas on misdemeanor charges for absentee ballot fraud in 2010, and six people pleaded guilty to similar charges in Greene County in the 1990s. An official of the attorney general's office Monday provided The Star with documents detailing an absentee ballot fraud conviction in Phenix City within the last 10 years, as well as a vote-buying case in Winston County in 2000.

By most accounts, in-person vote-stealing is even more uncommon. A 2007 study by New York University's Brennan Center for Justice found only nine proven cases of in-person fraud across the country. A Dadeville woman was convicted in 2004 for impersonating her sister at the polls in 2002, according to a document the attorney general's office provided to The Star.

Alabama passed a photo ID requirement for voters in 2011, largely at Chapman's urging. Several other states, most of them with Republican-controlled legislatures, have adopted similar laws in recent years, and not without controversy. Proponents of photo ID say the vote should be at least as secure as renting a movie. Opponents say the requirement could disenfranchise thousands of non-drivers and others without a photo ID — many of them poor or minority voters who vote primarily Democratic.

Strange and Chapman are both Republican. Attempts to reach Bradley Davidson, executive director of the Alabama Democratic Party, for comment on the press conference, were unsuccessful Monday.

Debate over ID laws in swing states has swelled as the presidential election approaches. But in Alabama, photo ID requirements won't go into effect until 2014. Chapman said that for the average voter, the voting process on Nov. 6 should be the same as in earlier elections.

Still, state officials are urging people to report fraud if they see it by calling 1-800-274-VOTE, the Secretary of State's voter fraud hotline.

"The pundits ask, where are the prosecutions, and how do we know voter fraud is occurring?" Chapman said.

She said she knows voter fraud is occurring the same way stores know shoplifting is occurring.

"The numbers don't add up," Chapman said.

Chapman cited high absentee ballot numbers in Black Belt counties as evidence of fraud.

Neither Chapman nor Strange would comment on the status of state investigations into the Aug. 28 municipal vote in Uniontown, where, according to The Tuscaloosa News, the registered voter population was 30 percent larger than the town's population.

State officials said they would prosecute any Nov. 6 voter fraud to the fullest extent of the law, but they also said they'd like to make the penalties stronger.

Chapman said she planned to push for a bill in the 2013 legislative session that would make buying and selling votes a felony. Under current law, it's a misdemeanor, though many other forms of voter fraud, such as altering ballots or filing more than one absentee ballot, are felonies.

The bill has yet to be filed, Chapman said.

U.S. Attorney George Beck also spoke at the press conference, noting that the Nov. 6 vote is a federal election, which could mean tougher penalties for any voting fraud.

However, Beck struck a different tone from the state officials at the event, emphasizing the importance of ballot access.

"We want to make sure we don't intimidate voters," he said.

Capitol and statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter: TLockette_Star
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