Republicans play defense over voter registration fraud

President Barack Obama has received unexpected help from the unlikeliest of quarters: The Republican National Committee.

Devoted to bashing Obama, the RNC gave the president’s reelection campaign a political contribution of sorts by insisting that state parties, such as Florida’s, hire a vendor that’s now under investigation for voter-registration fraud by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in as many as 10 counties involving at least 220 suspect forms.

Remember all that talk from Republicans about voter fraud?

Well, it ain’t just for ACORN anymore.

Now, instead of being on offense against Obama, Republicans are playing defense over voter-registration fraud. Some organized Republican voter-registration drives have virtually ground to a halt as Republicans fired the firm, Strategic Allied Consulting, in seven battleground states.

It’s such a mess that the Republican Party of Florida has filed an elections complaint against the Strategic Allied Consulting, which then turned around and bashed…. The Republican Party of Florida.

“When the Republican Party of Florida chose to make likely libelous comments about our effort and stated that the Republican National Committee suggested us as the vendor, the RNC was put in the unenviable position of ending a long-term relationship for the sake of staying focused on the election,” a company statement said this week.

“While we wish their comments yesterday would have more accurately addressed the situation, we understand the logic of ending distractions and winning elections. We wish our friends there nothing but success going forward,” the statement said.

The Florida Democratic Party couldn’t have paid for such a result: The RPOF bashing an RNC vendor that turns around and bashes RPOF for slander.

Way to go, RNC.

In all, Strategic Allied Consulting earned at least $3 million from the RNC nationwide for voter-registration drives. In Florida, the state party received $1.3 million from the RNC to pay Strategic.

The contracts have been cancelled and, in Florida, Republicans now have to come up with a new way to add new voters ahead of the Oct. 9 registration deadline for the general election.

Republicans this year in Florida have added about 46,000 new voters to the rolls. Democrats have added 220,000 — and a good deal of that work was done by the Obama campaign and unpaid volunteers, Democrats say.

Democrats now lead Republicans by 443,166 active registered Florida voters. Expect that lead to grow.

The numbers are instructive. They indicate that Republicans felt the need to do something to boost their ranks and make it look like there was enthusiasm for their party as well.

The chances that Republicans wanted to create phony voters to fraudulently cast ballots are unlikely. It’s almost impossible to do, and it could result in a felony charge.

The fraud, to the degree there was any, was probably committed by part-time workers who wanted to collect a paycheck and do little work or by zealots who wanted to show Republicans gaining strength on the ground.

Of the Strategic Allied forms, at least 220 registration records are suspect.

In some, signatures, birthdays or addresses didn’t always match. Multiple forms were filled out in the same handwriting. A dead person might have been signed up. Party registrations were changed, sometimes to Republican.

“We checked to see if the reports of possible fraud were legally sufficient and they were,” said Chris Cate, spokesman for Florida’s elections division. “This is now a matter for FDLE.”

In many ways, it sounds like a repeat of what happened in 2008 when the group ACORN hired scores of part-time workers who submitted phony voter registration cards throughout Florida.

The alleged fraud was like this one: embarrassing and minor. The overwhelming number of ACORN-related voter registrations were never shown to be illegitimate.

Thanks to ACORN’s efforts, and that of the Obama campaign, Democrats wound up with a huge registration lead over Republicans: 657,775. Obama won the election by 236,450, 2.8 percentage points.

But there’s a big difference between the apparent voter-registration fraud that happened under ACORN and that under Strategic Allied Consulting: ACORN reported its own people at the time.

This latest case was blown open by Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher, a former Democratic state representative, who noticed 106 questionable registration forms.

Bucher turned it over to the state, The Palm Beach Post reported it Tuesday, and soon 9 other counties reported irregularities with registration cards submitted by Strategic Allied Consulting.

Like ACORN then, Strategic is blaming a few rogue employees, who seem to be cropping up in more and more counties.

Another irony: Strategic was spotted because the Republican-led Legislature passed an anti-fraud bill in 2011 that made it easier to track third-party groups registering new voters.

In Okaloosa County, a League of Women Voters activist complained to the local supervisor of elections about the work of a Strategic employee, who boasted that he only had voter registration forms of Republicans and independents. In Colorado, a hidden video captured one Strategic employee trying to register only Republicans.

Strategic is a new company, founded by Arizona’s Nathan Sproul, who did about $70,000 worth of signature-gathering work for Mitt Romney this year.

Another company of Sproul’s, in 2004, was accused in Nevada, Arizona and Oregon of elections irregularities, including allegations that employees destroyed the newly collected registration forms of Democratic voters to keep them off the rolls.

“In each of the three investigations conducted by four law enforcement agencies, we were given a clean bill of health,” the company noted on its website.

Good enough for the RNC.

And it’s certainly pretty good for the Obama campaign.