Justice Department Will Neither "Confirm nor Deny" Investigation into Evidence of Vote Tampering in Democratic Primary
In an email exchange, a spokesman for the US Department of Justice Criminal Division said he would "neither confirm nor deny" whether an investigation was being conducted after a citizen's election watchdog group says it witnessed vote tampering in a mandated voting machine audit in Illinois. The watchdog group Who's Counting reported its findings at a special hearing convened by the Chicago Board of Elections on April 5, 2016.
Members of the group said that they had witnessed Chicago officials "erasing" tallied votes from the paper ballot audit trail for Bernie Sanders and "adding" them to Hillary Clinton's totals, in violation of federal law.
Dr. Laura Chamberlain, spokesperson for Who's Counting, told the Chicago Board of Elections:
"the auditors, the people that are doing the hand tallies of the votes, would miss votes, would correct their tallies, erase their tallies, to fit the prescribed, recommended, official results that the board of elections has right on their tally sheets."
In one instance, said Dr. Chamberlain, she saw a state auditor intentionally remove 21 votes from Bernie Sanders and add 49 votes to Hillary Clinton.
Peter Carr, spokesman for the US Department of Justice Criminal Division, wrote to this reporter that:
"As a matter of policy, the department generally neither confirms nor denies whether a matter is under investigation."
Who's Counting is filing a civil lawsuit alleging deprivation of voter's rights by the Election Board, but the manipulation of vote totals is a criminal matter according to the Department of Justice. A set of guidelines published by the Department as "Federal Prosecution of Election Offenses" states that "rendering false tabulations of votes" qualifies as "Conduct that Constitutes Federal Election Fraud."
A 2012 directive to the Department's "Criminal Division and the Department’s 94 U.S. Attorneys’ Offices," states that:
"The Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and the Department’s 94 U.S. Attorneys’ Offices are responsible for enforcing the federal criminal laws that prohibit various forms of election fraud, such...alteration of votes and malfeasance by election officials..."
Illinois law requires that 5% of the optical scan voting machines used in the state be audited for accuracy. Many states have similar audit requirements. In an optical scan system, voters darken circles on paper ballots representing their chosen candidates. The paper ballots are then fed into a machine which "reads" the votes, and adds them to its totals. In the audit, the paper ballots inside the machine must be hand counted, to verify that the number of votes cast supports the numbers displayed by the machine. Used properly, the system is said by voter watchdog groups to have a high level of precision. Incorrectly filled out ballots are rejected.
In all paper audit trail systems, which includes paper optical scan ballots such as are employed in Illinois and across the country, the paper record is always the primary record of the vote.
Vote total manipulations are a violation of Federal election law, incurring criminal penalties. The Criminal Division of the US Department of Justice describes "Conduct that Constitutes Federal Election Fraud" as including "rendering false tabulations of votes."
The remarks take place as actor Tim Robbins, a mathematician, and others maintain that analysis of exit polls over time in the nation's Democratic primaries constitute strong evidence of fraud in many states. The analysts and activists maintain that it is astronomically unlikely that exit polls erred in one direction, saying that Sanders actually won or did better than the voting results said, in 20 out of 22 primary elections. Although exit polls err, in a normal probability distribution they would tend to err about half in either direction, with Sanders up about half the time and down about half. At the late Alexander Cockburn's Counterpunch Doug Hatlem writes:
"In seventeen out of nineteen contests with exit polling since the caucuses in Iowa and Nevada, the exit polls have over-estimated Bernie Sanders’ eventual share of the vote, usually substantially. In nine out of the nineteen contests, the initial exit poll results were outside the margin of error. This is a stunning number of times."
"When exit polling and final results are substantially off in places where the U.S. doesn’t like the party that wins, U.S. officials and their media partners cry foul. This has been true in recent decades not just in Ukraine, but also in Belarus, Serbia, and Venezuela. Statistically improbable exit polling differences matter everywhere else, it seems, but not here."
Sanders supporters are calling on the Department of Justice to bring criminal charges against Chicago officials, and to order further audits in that state. Responsibility for federal election crimes falls under the purview of the Criminal Division's Public Integrity Section, headed by Raymond Hulser.