Former DOJ attorney warns against illegal 2012 votes, Tulane Law professor argues dangers are exaggerated

President Obama’s Justice Department is “philosophically opposed” to enforcing a federal law that calls for registration rolls to be purged of ineligible voters, an election law attorney said during a recent forum at Tulane Law School.

However, the department’s attorneys are using a “heavy hand” to enforce the “motor voter” section of the same federal law against Louisiana officials, J. Christian Adams, a former Voting Section attorney with the Department of Justice (DOJ) told audience members. He also warned against the possibility that DOJ could attempt to extract a consent agreement from state officials that extends beyond the scope of written law.

Adams cited a similar case in Rhode Island where the agencies and organizations responsible for distributing voter registration forms, including Catholic Charities, are now required to keep documentation for every single person who declines to register.

“In other words, they have to prove a negative,” Adams observed. “They have to generate paperwork all across the state for every person who says `I don’t want to register to vote’ and the [federal] government admits that this goes beyond what the law requires.”

In July, the DOJ filed suit against Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana under Section 7 of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). The DOJ suit claims Louisiana’s social service agencies failed to provide eligible voters with sufficient registration opportunities.

Unlike the Rhode Island state officials who “rolled over” and “agreed to extra-legal burdens,” Gov. Jindal’s administration has vowed “to fight until the last man at the Alamo,” Adams noted.
As part of the consent decree that Rhode Island entered into with DOJ this past March, the state has agreed to convert food stamp offices, cash assistance offices, behavioral treatment centers, utility payment grant offices and drug treatment centers into voter registration offices.

Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler “takes exception” to the idea that the state’s social services, health and welfare agencies are not stepping up to make voter registration forms available. Schedler is named in the DOJ complaint along with Bruce Greenstein, secretary of the Department of Health Hospitals (DHH) and Ruth Johnson, secretary of Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).

“We have a very proactive approach to the community and we do a considerable amount of outreach to make sure that everyone who wants a voter registration form gets one,” Schedler has said. “We have re-established training across the state to make sure this is getting done. But what they [DOJ attorneys] shoved in front of my face, before even telling us what the allegations are and what we are being accused of, are consent agreements that go outside of what federal law says, and would impose requirements that even a Democratic Congress would not pass. But this is not a Republican or Democratic issue. This is about fairness and logic and about overreach from Washington D.C. We will not surrender.”

President Clinton signed the NRVA into law in 1993 after reaching a bipartisan compromise with Senate leaders, Adams explained during his talk. Section 7 includes the “motor voter” provision, which calls for social service departments to include voter registration services. Section 8 of NVRA makes it a requirement for state officials to keep voter rolls up to date and free of ineligible voters. But Adams claims that the Obama Justice Department refuses to enforce Section 8 for ideological reasons.

“Congress passed Section 7 and Section 8 as a way to increase participation and as a way to combat voter fraud,” Adams said. “It was a compromise. Section 7 would not have become law without Section 8, because there would not have been enough votes in the Senate to prevent a filibuster of `motor voter.’ What we have now in the Justice Department are bureaucrats who have vetoed out that compromise from 1993. Heading into next year’s elections, I do not believe this is a place where we want to be.”

In his just released book entitled: “Injustice: Exposing the Racial Agenda of the Obama Justice Department,” Adams describes how Obama’s top DOJ appointees scuttled Section 8 investigations. Deputy Assistant Attorney General Julie Fernandes made it clear during a “brown bag” meeting in November 2009 that the agency had “no interest in enforcing that provision of the law” since it was not related to boosting voter turnout, Adams wrote.

The testimony Christopher Coates, former chief of the Voting Section within DOJ’s civil rights division, delivered to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in Sept. 2010 backs up this version of events from “Injustice.” Coates also told the commission that eight states appeared to be out of compliance at the time with Section 8 requirements; meaning they had more voter names listed on their registration forms than they had people of eligible voting age.

Louisiana has the same problem heading into the 2012 elections, Adams noted during his Tulane presentation.

He cited several parishes with “implausible” registration numbers that exceed the number of people living in those same parishes who can legally vote, according to U.S. Census data. They include: Cameron, St. Helena, St. Bernard, Orleans, St. Landry and Plaquemines.

But the actual instances of voter fraud are largely contrived and greatly exaggerated, Tulane Law professor Tania Tetlow argued as part of her own presentation during the forum. She cited a report from the Brennan Center for Justice entitled: “The Truth about Voter Fraud” that challenges many of the assertions made by Adams and others.

The problem in St. Bernard Parish, for instance, can be traced back to Hurricane Katrina, which displaced a large segment of the population, she said. While they may be living somewhere else temporarily, they intend to move back and rebuild, Tetlow suggested.

As it turns out, fraudulent voting is “a very inconvenient way to steal an election” because it involves a lot of trouble and effort and can only result in a small number of votes, she continued.

“An efficient way to win an election is to try and disenfranchise as many people who don’t agree with you as humanly possible,” she said. “I’m not here to claim there are no examples of voter fraud in the U.S., that’s not the issue. “The issue is how many people are we willing to disenfranchise in order to prevent any single act of voter fraud. “Ultimately those are the tradeoffs we have to make, and they are tradeoffs.”

She added:

“Trying to purge the rolls to make sure that St. Bernard Parish does not have anyone registered who does not live there would cause a lot of suffering and would disenfranchise a lot of people.”

In response, Adams said the U.S. Census data he was using for St. Bernard was actually post-Katrina data and that DOJ should not be permitted to “cherry pick” which laws it will enforce, and which laws it will not.

“Hurricane Katrina did not go everywhere in the country,” he said. “There are plenty of other counties that were not affected by Hurricane Katrina that have similar or worse numbers. You can only have the path of Hurricane Katrina to excuse so many bad numbers.”

Since the DOJ refuses to enforce Section 8, Adams announced that he intends to pursue a “private right of action” against states and localities that have people listed as voters who may not be ineligible.

Adams also said an emerging “industry of vote fraud deniers” has taken root in the U.S. He identified the Brennan Center, Project Vote, Demos and the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People  (NAACP) as some of the key players within the industry. Each organization is devoted  to the elimination of voter identification requirements, he explains in his book.

Some of the major financial backers supporting the “vote fraud denier industry” are George Soros’s Open Society Institute, the Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and Pew Charitable Trusts, according to “Injustice.”

The NAACP has filed its own separate “motor voter” suit against Louisiana officials with the support of Project Vote. The DOJ suit was filed in July just a few days after a federal court dismissed a challenge from state officials who questioned the NAACP’s legal standing to bring suit.

The “tight connection” and the collusion “between left-wing groups and the DOJ” is a major point of discussion in Adams’s book. “The DOJ’s aggressive hiring of left-wing activists is tantamount to providing a taxpayer subsidy to their movement,” he argues.

Adams resigned from the DOJ after the department declined to pursue a voter intimidation case from the 2008 elections against members of the New Black Panther Party (NBPR) in Philadelphia. He now works as a private election lawyer and writes for Pajamas Media.

Kevin Mooney is the Capitol Bureau Reporter with the Pelican Institute for Public Policy. He can be reached at and followed on twitter.