(Note: Many states have post-election audit laws. How closely they are followed varies greatly. #AuditTheDemocraticPrimaries )
Raising the stakes in an already contentious Democratic primary season, a citizens' group in Chicago, in an official hearing, described audacious conduct by election officials, during a primary election audit, which crosses the boundary between civil voting rights violations and criminal conduct.
While exercising their right to be present in the post-primary audits mandated by Illinois state law, citizens from the watchdog group Who's Counting say they witnessed Chicago officials tampering with the totals arrived at by paper ballot hand-count audits of optical scan voting machines, in order to make the paper ballot totals for Sanders and Clinton match the machine's numbers.
Clinton was declared the winner of the Illinois primary by 50.5% - 48.7%, and the victory was hailed as yet another sign of the inevitability of the Clinton juggernaut.
Dr. Laura Chamberlain, spokesperson for Who's Counting, told the Chicago Elections Board:
"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. Other observers testified that they had seen election officials counting ballots up to the number on the machine read-out, then ignoring additional ballots beyond that number. (Full video of Chicago Elections Board hearing April 5, 2016.)
Dr. Laura Chamberlain of Who's Counting before Chicago Elections Board
The audits witnessed by the group provide a random snapshot of the machine audits in Illinois.
Guidelines published by the US Department of Justice, "Federal Prosecution of Election Offenses," defines "election fraud" as:"conduct intended to corrupt" the following:
- The process by which ballots are obtained, marked, or tabulated,
- The process by which election results are canvassed and certified, or
- The process by which voters are registered."
Page 26 of the 345 page "Federal Prosecution..." describes "Conduct that Constitutes Federal Election Fraud" as including "rendering false tabulations of votes."
A 2012 US Department of Justice 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 as vote buying, multiple voting, submission of fraudulent ballots or registrations, destruction of ballots or registrations, alteration of votes and malfeasance by election officials..."
The federal government asserts jurisdiction over election fraud taking place both in primaries and general elections, citing US Supreme Court precedent which:
"recognized that primary elections are an integral part of the process by which candidates are elected to office."
Paper Ballots Are Considered True Record
In all paper trail voting systems, the paper ballots are considered the authoritative record of the vote. The optical scan machines used in Chicago are similar to those used in thousands of jurisdictions across the country.
Some vociferous critics of this year's Democratic primaries, such as Morning Joe's Joe Scarborough, contend that the entire process has been "rigged" for Hillary Clinton. A mathematician has asserted that in 19 out of the last 20 primaries, exit polls showed Sanders doing better than the final official results. The mathematician calculated the odds of the exit polls erring in one direction, 19 times out of 20, to be 1 in 26,000.
Witness Testimony Follows Flood of New Lawsuits
The testimony comes after an avalanche of lawsuits has been filed by Sanders supporters across the country, alleging that, although they had properly registered to vote as Democrats, their names had been stricken from the rolls or their party registration was mysteriously altered, so they could not vote in the Democratic primary. Such lawsuits are proceeding in Arizona and New York.
The Illinois bombshell drops weeks after an Illinois county state's attorney, Jon Barnard, asked a judge to allow voters who could not vote in the primary, because polling stations ran out of ballots, to vote late. In an interview with USUncut, Barnard said the votes could have altered the outcome between Sanders and Clinton in the state. A judge granted the request, but the decision was reversed in appellate court after the state attorney general, Lisa Madigan, a Clinton supporter, requested that the order be blocked.
According to the DOJ, while understaffing polling stations or ballot snafus do not rise to the level of criminal conduct, altering true vote totals does.
Chicago election law requires a random audit of 5% of ballot machines after a primary, in order to verify that the hand counted tally of the paper ballots scanned by a machine matches the totals displayed by that machine.
Irregularities found in an audit, according to Illinois law, are supposed to trigger a greater number of audits beyond the initial 5% of machines. Illinois Sanders supporters are gearing up for a lawsuit based on the testimony of Who's Counting, and collecting funds.
Key Contests Determined Media Narrative
The key contests which are the subject of lawsuits set the tone for the media coverage of Hillary Clinton as the "presumptive nominee." On March 2, the day after "Super Tuesday," Boston Globe writer James Pindall wrote in "Clinton, Trump are the presumptive nominees. Get used to it":
"It’s time — and perhaps overdue — to call Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton the presumptive nominees of their respective parties."
At that time only 15 out of 50 states had voted.
Clinton was declared the winner of Super Tuesday, by virtue of winning more than half the states that day, seven to Sander's four. But in Massachusetts, a closely watched state, a lawsuit has been filed by Sanders supporters alleging that former president Bill Clinton tilted the election, which was won by Hillary by 1.4%, by means of illegal campaign activity.
Bill Clinton was photographed and videotaped campaigning inside polling stations and within the 150 foot boundary declared as off-limits to campaigning by MA law. Voters accused him of blocking the entrances of polling stations with his crowds, entourage, and Secret Service detail. Turnout has been all-important for Sanders, and any attempts to suppress it have been viewed as favorable to Clinton, especially in working-class communities.
In Arizona, another critical, closely-watched state for Clinton and Sanders, a lawsuit was filed after voters who said they had registered Democrat in time to vote in the primary found themselves removed from the rolls and unable to vote. In addition, many primary voters were unable to vote as a result of waits as long as five hours in lines which wrapped around blocks. The worst of these occurred in south central Phoenix, an urban working class area.
Lines of voters in AZ waiting to vote.
All of the complaints in the AZ lawsuit come from Sanders supporters. But in an unusual development, the AZ fiasco caused such an outcry that even the DNC and the Clinton campaign have joined in a separate lawsuit, along with the Sanders campaign, against state and county officials. It is not known if the Clinton campaign will support a decision such as the annulment of the results of the AZ primary, of which Clinton was declared the winner.
In Nevada, in the state's most populous county which is home to the Las Vegas Strip, Clinton supporters wearing "I'm with her" T-shirts were caught on camera being ushered in by officials without having to register. One official can be heard hushing another official telling the unregistered Clinton supporters to enter, saying "Don't yell it."
And in the most recent critical Democratic primary, for the state of New York, a lawsuit has been filed by voters in a class action suit which asks a judge to order that provisional ballots be counted, after thousands of Democratic voters also found themselves removed from the rolls. The judge in the case has ruled that the case may move forward.
Bernie Sanders' campaign on Tuesday called reports of voting irregularities in New York state "a disgrace" as local officials rushed to condemn the city Board of Elections for stripping more than 125,000 Democratic voters from the rolls.
Official turnout in the NY Democratic primary was 1.7 million voters. Public officials from the NYC Comptroller, to Mayor Bill De Blasio, to the New York State Attorney General have entered the fray on the behalf of angry voters.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said last week:
"if any New Yorker was illegally prevented from voting, I will do everything in my power to make their vote count..."
And New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, a Clinton superdelegate, said last Tuesday:
“The next president of the United States could very easily be decided tonight and yet the incompetence of the Board of Elections puts a cloud over these results.”
Election Fraud Said to be a "Priority" at US Department of Justice.
In its published guidelines "Federal Prosecution of Election Offenses," the US Department of Justice's Election Crimes Branch cites the US Supreme Court, saying:
“Every voter in a federal . . . election, . . . whether he votes for a candidate with little chance of winning or for one with little chance of losing, has a right under the Constitution to have his vote fairly counted... "
The DOJ notes that election crime prosecutions "may present an easier means of obtaining convictions than do other forms of public corruption" because "Election crimes usually occur largely in public" and because they "tend to leave paper trails."
The guidelines state:
"the effective prosecution of corruption of the election process is a significant federal law enforcement priority."
As the Sanders and Clinton campaigns move into the next big delegate states, it is not clear whether the Sanders campaign will press for criminal charges in Chicago. The campaign has maintained that it will go all the way to the convention, and make the case that Sanders is far more electable than Clinton when placed head-to-head against Donald Trump, as most polls indicate. But whether Sanders will raise the issues boiling beneath Clinton's pledged delegate count is unclear. If he does not, it is far more certain that his supporters will.
As for the US Department of Justice, prosecution of election crimes are the purview of the Public Integrity Section, led by former prosecutor Raymond Hulser. Appointed in 2015, Hulser told NPR that he would not be "shy" about bringing "important and tough cases. "And we're going to try those cases," Hulser said. Hulser's office can be contacted at 202-514-1412.
(Disclosure: the author is a member of MA Voters and Volunteers Disenfranchised by Bill Clinton.)
Hack of optical ballot scanner.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
Doreen Barr on May 17, 2019:
No need for the Mueller investigation into Russia meddling with our elections. Home girl Hillary Clinton had it all covered all along.
Mona Martine on April 30, 2016:
FB is blocking me from sharing this post. This is a very important article.