PORTLAND, Ore. – Oregon officials have opened an investigation into alleged improper voter registration practices, Secretary of State Bill Bradbury said Wednesday.
The investigation comes one day after the deadline to register to vote, in a year when Oregon voter numbers are expected to be up substantially from the 2000 presidential election.
And it comes on the heels of a television report in which a paid-per-registration canvasser said he had been instructed only to accept registrations from Republicans and that he “might” destroy those from Democrats.
It was not immediately clear by which group that canvasser was employed.
Bradbury said the investigation would be based not only on the KGW-TV report, but also on other complaints that have not yet been made public. He wouldn’t give details on the other allegations, but said complaints have also come from outside the Portland metro area.
In Roseburg, Douglas County Clerk Barbara Nielsen said she had received a complaint from voters who said canvassers working for a consulting firm based in Chandler, Ariz., called Sproul & Associates had tried to push them into registering as Republicans, saying otherwise the canvassers wouldn’t get paid for their efforts.
Additionally, Nielsen said she had gotten calls from voters who refused to give their names, but said that canvassers from the same group had implied that their cards wouldn’t be turned in if they registered as Democrats.
Sproul & Associates is run by Nathan Sproul, a former head of the Republican Party in Arizona who has subcontracted with the Republican National Committee to do voter outreach efforts.
Sproul did not immediately return a phone call from an Associated Press reporter in Oregon on Wednesday. But he told an AP reporter in Las Vegas, “We registered anyone who wanted to register.”
A spokesman for the Republican National Committee issued a statement Wednesday that said its party has “a zero-tolerance policy for anything that smacks of impropriety in registering voters.”
It is not yet clear whether any possible voter fraud in Oregon might be tied to similar allegations of Sproul & Associates voter fraud in Nevada, where authorities said Wednesday that they were “looking into whether any state or federal laws were violated.”
In Nevada, also considered a battleground state by both Democrats and Republicans, a former employee of a Sproul & Associates group called Voter Outreach of America told reporters on Wednesday that he had seen his boss shred eight to 10 Democratic registration forms.
Sproul denied any shredding occurred.
Bradbury said that in Oregon, it is a class-C felony, punishable by five years in jail or a $100,000 fine, to alter a voter registration form, or to throw one away.
He said the source of any problems might be linked to groups that pay canvassers per registration.
“In Oregon, we have outlawed paying per signature on initiative petitions because it just inspires fraud,” Bradbury said. “I don’t see any reason to believe that a bounty system on voter registrations is any less likely to inspire fraud, so we need to investigate.”
This isn’t the first time that Sproul & Associates have surfaced in Oregon. Last month in Medford, a librarian was approached by a group claiming to be affiliated with the progressive, nonpartisan America Votes organization, with a request to set up registration booths in the library.
When librarian Megan O’Flaherty probed into the group, she found that instead, they were part of Sproul & Associates, and had nothing to do with America Votes.
Kevin Looper, the director of the Oregon chapter of America Votes, said lawyers for the group are looking into the situation.
“We take this extremely seriously,” he said. “When you are engaged in voter registration, you are obligated to turn in every card.”
Other stories of unorthodox voter registrations have also surfaced throughout the state.
In Eugene, several University of Oregon students were approached by canvassers circulating a petition to crack down on child molesters and told they must register as Republicans in order for their signatures to “count.”
“They told me that by registering as a Republican, I would be helping people fight child molesters,” said Elizabeth Thygeson, 19, who had already registered as a Democrat. “I didn’t appreciate that. It wasn’t exactly the truth.”