By Jim Kouri
In the midst of a contentious GOP presidential race, the threat of a government shutdown and continued fears of an impending economic downturn, Attorney General Eric Holder’s latest politically-driven mission has garnered very little attention: Holder promises to use the Justice Department to conduct a nationwide examination of voting laws enacted by states –- with special concern about laws that require voters to show identification in order to participate in an election.
The Attorney General, in a speech, stated that “all citizens should be automatically registered to vote” and is critical of voter ID laws passed in Texas and other states.
A Washington, DC-based group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, on Wednesday revealed that it obtained records detailing communications between the Obama Department of Justice and Estelle Rogers, a former ACORN attorney currently serving as Director of Advocacy for the ACORN-connected organization Project Vote.
The successful non-profit, public-interest organization — Judicial Watch — is investigating the DOJ’s partnering with Project Vote on a national campaign to use the National Voting Rights Act (NVRA) to register more individuals on public assistance, widely considered a key voting demographic for the Obama 2012 campaign.
In the past, President Obama worked for Project Vote as a trainer and organizer.
According to the records obtained by Judicial Watch through its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed on August 19, 2011, “civil rights groups” discussed Section 7 of National Voting Rights Act, which requires states to offer voter registration services at all public assistance agencies.
The groups included Project Vote, the American Association of People with Disabilities, Demos, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Fair Elections Legal Network, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense Fund, and Paralyzed Veterans of America.
On March 29, 2011, Estelle Rogers and the “voting rights groups” that met with Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli on March 17, 2011, providing recommendations for strengthening “compliance with the NVRA. The recommendations stated “we are grateful that you have invited us to continue this dialogue on the Department’s [DOJ’s] role in providing guidance to states, and we would be happy to supply any additional information you need.”
The records also detail an effort by Rogers to secure jobs for three individual applicants for positions with Civil Rights Division’s Voting Section, the department within the DOJ responsible for enforcing the National Voting Rights Act:
- In a February 23, 2010 email to Chief of the DOJ’s Voting Section, Rogers wrote, “I want to heartily recommend two candidates to you. [NAMES REDACTED]” In an April 20, 2010, email, Rogers stated, “I look forward to continuing to work with you, Chris. And please let me know if you need any more feedback regarding hires.”
- In a December 7, 2010 email, Rogers wrote, “I’d still love to talk for real, but in the meantime, the main reason I called is that you have an applicant for the [REDACTED] position [REDACTED] qualifies her beautifully for your position, and I hope you will give her every consideration. [REDACTED] So she would be a great fit, and I recommend her without reservation. Please let me know if I can tell you more. And give me a call if you possibly can.”
In a July 13, 2010, email to Herren and DOJ political appointee Julie Fernandes, Rogers references NVRA litigation and she informs Herren that she will be bringing Niyati Shah to a meeting at the DOJ. Shah “will be working on a lot of the litigation we’ll be telling you about,” Rogers writes.
Rogers also indicated Nicole Kovite Zeitler, director of Project Vote’s public agency registration project, would also attend the meeting.
As reported by The American Spectator’s Matthew Vadum, Zeitler “manages Project Vote’s efforts to advocate for enforcement of Section 7 of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 through technical assistance and litigation across the country,” according to her bio on Project Vote’s website.
As Director of Advocacy for Project Vote, Estelle Rogers – a former attorney for ACORN, which was besieged with charges of corruption and fraud before declaring bankruptcy in November 2010 — is a primary contact person on policy matters at Project Vote on both state and federal levels and has been actively involved in voter registration issues. By threatening lawsuits under Section 7 of the NVRA, Project Vote has aggressively sought to force election officials in various states to increase the registration of people receiving public assistance.
On June 20, 2011, Rogers and the ACLU co-wrote a letter to the DOJ, asking the department to block Florida’s new election integrity law (H.B. 1355). Florida has since withdrawn its application to the DOJ for “preclearance” of the law, and has taken its case to court instead.
On August 4, 2011, Judicial Watch obtained documents from the Colorado Department of State showing that ACORN and Project Vote successfully pressured Colorado officials into implementing new policies for increasing the registration of public assistance recipients during the 2008 and 2010 election seasons. Following the policy changes, the percentage of invalid voter registration forms from Colorado public assistance agencies was four times the national average. Project Vote also sought a “legislative fix” to allow people without a driver’s license or state identification to register to vote online.
In addition to pursuing public agency registration cases in Missouri, Ohio, Indiana, Georgia, and New Mexico, Project Vote and the NAACP filed a lawsuit on April 19, 2011, against the State of Louisiana alleging violations of the NVRA. Less than three months later, on July 12, the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division/Voting Section sued Louisiana on the same grounds, claiming that “Louisiana officials have not routinely offered voter registration forms, assistance and services to the state’s eligible citizens who apply, recertify or provide a change address for public assistance or disability services.”
The DOJ also sued the State of Rhode Island on March 11, 2011, alleging violations of the NVRA. The lawsuit led to policy changes intended to increase the number of voter registration applications processed by “public assistance and disability service officers.” These two lawsuits, filed within five months of each other, are the first such lawsuits filed by the DOJ since 2007.
Project Vote and the “community organization” ACORN have both been linked to massive voter registration fraud. A total of 70 ACORN employees in 12 states have been convicted of voter registration fraud. And as documented in a July 2009 report by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, of the 1.3 million registrations Project Vote/ACORN submitted in the 2008 election cycle, more than one-third were invalid.
Moreover, Project Vote’s “Field Director,” Amy Busefink, who handled the online registration campaign for Colorado, entered an Alford plea to two gross misdemeanor counts of conspiracy to commit the crime of compensation for registration of voters in Nevada while working for ACORN. (An Alford plea is a guilty plea, where the defendant does not admit the act or assert innocence, but admits that sufficient evidence exists with which the prosecution could likely convince a judge or jury to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.)
“It is an affront to the rule of law and a threat to the integrity of our elections that the ACORN-front Project Vote is coordinating with the Holder Department of Justice on voting law,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “Now we know why the Holder DOJ never bothered to fully investigate voter registration fraud by Project Vote/ACORN – because Project Vote and the Department of Justice seem to have implemented a joint litigation strategy in the run up to the 2012 elections.”
Special thanks to Jill Farrell, director of public affairs for Judicial Watch” for her valuable input and assistance with this story.