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St. Louis Election Board claims 50 people committed vote fraud

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 19, 2009 - Flanked by photos of partially collapsed buildings or vacant lots, officials with the St. Louis Election Board announced Wednesday that some of those locales were used as bogus addresses by people who have cast ballots in the city in recent elections.

All told, the Election Board is turning over evidence to the U.S. attorney's office that 50 people have cast fraudulent votes in the city in elections as far back as the presidential preference primary in February 2008.

That final number is slightly higher than the estimated figure given Tuesday night by Republican elections director Scott Leiendecker in a telephone interview.

Most of those votes -- 32 -- were cast in November by people who used vacant lots or abandoned buildings as their address, Leiendecker said.

Another 16 voted twice in November, February or April elections, Leiendecker said during Wednesday's news conference at the board's headquarters, 300 North Tucker Boulevard.

Of that number:

--Five apparently voted in the city of St. Louis and also in St. Louis County;

--Three are believed to have voted in the city and also in Illinois.

-- Seven are alleged to have cast ballots in St. Louis County and Jefferson County.

-- One voted absentee at the Election Board headquarters on Saturday, before the April election, and then voted again on Election Day.

Of the two remaining suspects, one is alleged to have "knowingly voted in a precinct in which he does not live" and the other was a felon who apparently had not completed his parole. Under Missouri law, felons do reacquire their voting rights once their sentences and parole is completed.

The exception is for people found guilty of election-related offenses, such as those alleged Wednesday by the Election Board. People found guilty will lose their voting rights for the rest of their lives. They also face up to five years in prison, and a fine up to $2,500.

"We've done our job here. We're turning our information over to the federal prosecutor,'' Leiendecker said in Tuesday night's interview. Mayor Francis Slay's staff was informed Tuesday of the board's investigation and its findings.

On Wednesday, Leiendecker said that he wanted to make one point clear: "I think there is fraud out there."

How much is unclear, he added, but Leiendecker said he was particularly concerned about the potential impact on local contests for alderman or the state Legislature, where the victor may have won by only a handful of votes.

However, he acknowledged that it doesn't appear that the government-issued photo IDs sought by some Republican legislators would have prevented the type of alleged voting irregularities uncovered by the city Election Board. Leiendecker emphasized that the board isn't taking a stance on the photo ID issue.

The board is taking a stand against vote fraud or bogus voter registrations, he added. In recent years, Leiendecker said, 13 people have been convicted of such offenses -- most of them involving fraudulent voter registrations uncovered by Election Board workers.

Tipsters brought most of the latest 50 cases -- especially the bogus addresses -- to the attention of the Election Board, Leiendecker said. In the dual-voting instances, the board uncovered those when it checked the voter sign-in registers in the city and in other nearby jurisdictions, including Illinois.

Leiendecker said that the board had held off announcing its findings earlier,  while he and others actually drove out to the suspicious addresses to verify that they were vacant lots or abandoned buildings. In some cases, the properties long had been owned by someone else, he said.

The board opted to make the eyeball visits, in part, because of the experience of a small group of Post-Dispatch reporters -- including yours truly -- in 2001. The reporters were checking out assertions from state and local election officials at the time that 79 city residents appeared to have cast illegal ballots in the November 2000 election.

Using the city assessor's records, the reporters initially had determined that 2,214 city residents appeared to be registered to vote from vacant lots. But it turned out that most of those lots actually had homes on them, in most cases newer homes 

The city assessor's office had classified them in such a way in the computer system that the addresses also turned up incorrectly as vacant lots. A subsequent check determined that the homes were being assessed properly.

In the end, the Post-Dispatch determined that only 14 city residents were found to have cast ballots in November 2000 using addresses that were truly vacant lots. But none appears to have been prosecuted. The secretary of state's office (then run by Republican Matt Blunt) said they had violated no laws if it could be determined that they actually lived elsewhere in the city of St. Louis.

Leiendecker said the Election Board had a similar experience in this latest case. Initially, the board had a list of hundreds of alleged vacant lots with registered voters. But after checking them out, that number shrank to the 32 people who now face a possible probe -- and worse -- by the U.S. attorney's office.

Later Wednesday, the Missouri Republican Party issued a statement in which it lauded Leiendecker -- and jabbed Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, the state's chief elections official and a Democrat running for the U.S. Senate in 2010.

"Today's announcement by the St. Louis City Board of Elections makes it clear that voter fraud continues to thrive in Missouri, despite Robin Carnahan's attempts to cover up the problem. Earlier this year, she issued an incomplete and less-than-professional report claiming that the state's elections are 'free of fraud,' " said state GOP executive director Lloyd Smith. "We now know that this is simply not true. Carnahan, the chief elections officer in the state of Missouri, has diminished the impact of voters who abide by the law, instead, attempting to whitewash her record of overlooking the existence of voter fraud in Missouri.

"We commend the St. Louis Board of Election's diligence in the face of Carnahan's indifference, and we hope that the U.S. attorney fully investigates these allegations."

Carnahan had issued a report after the November election in which she said there were no known cases of impersonation fraud. The St. Louis Election Board's report doesn't challenge that finding, since the alleged fraud didn't involve impersonations.

Carnahan's report did cite one case where a person cast his own vote, but also cast his deceased mother’s absentee ballot. The absentee vote was caught, not counted, and the culprit was convicted of two felonies.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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