If you can't follow the rules, you shouldn't be voting. This really bugs me.
By Dara Kam
Special to The Palm Beach Post
Friday, October 08, 2004
Theresa LePore vowed to close the Palm Beach County elections office at 5 p.m. Monday, the final day to register to vote in the Nov. 2 election, but a young man who arrived about 15 minutes after the deadline managed to drop off 550 applications on behalf of a group of Muslims determined to oust President Bush.
LePore, no stranger to confrontations, said the man demanded she accept the bundles of voter registration applications attached to slips of paper identifying them as having been collected by Voting Is Power, which goes by the acronym VIP and is an offshoot of the Washington-based Muslim American Society.
LePore said he showed up, carrying a box of applications, about 15 minutes after she locked the door to her office at 5 p.m. She said she told him her office was closed but he could mail the forms as long as they were postmarked by midnight that night.
But, she said, he wasn't satisfied and managed to slip inside the lobby when someone left.
"He started hollering about disenfranchising people," said LePore, who took the box after he thrust it at her.
She said that, because some of the applications were dated in July and others were incomplete, she told him he should have turned them in on time so the potential voters could have cast ballots in the Aug. 31 primary or corrected missing information.
"Then he started saying, 'You're all alike,' or something to that effect, and 'It's better in New York,' " she said. "And I said, 'Why don't you go back to New York?' "
The man did not identify himself and Bret Wask, whose name was on the VIP labels attached to the forms, did not return numerous telephone calls to The Palm Beach Post.
LePore, who said she also let a few individuals turn in single registration forms until 6 p.m., was surprised to learn that VIP's parent group is the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, an organization that has a federal 501(c)3 designation for religious nonprofits. Although the group claims it is nonpartisan, its political action committee has formally endorsed John Kerry for president.
Florida is one of five battleground states Muslims have targeted for get-out-the-vote efforts, foundation Executive Director Mahdi Bray said Thursday. VIP recruiters in Florida registered about 7,000 new Muslim voters he hopes will go to the polls on Election Day and vote for Kerry, he said.
Florida has about 120,000 Arab American voters, of whom about 15 percent are Muslim, according to pollster James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute in Washington. The other states VIP has targeted are Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan, which has 235,000 Arab American voters, the largest in the country.
"This administration's policy of preemptive war has destabilized the region," Bray said Thursday. "Many of us who know the region know that this can of worms this administration has opened, this mistaken policy, will haunt the Muslim world for years to come."
Although critical of Bush's decision to invade Iraq, Bray said that, like his peers he is pleased that Saddam Hussein was arrested.
"He's a dictator. He's a thug," he said. "But what we've done to deal with this thug and this dictator is unconscionable."
VIP is a small player in a recent phenomenon in which tax-exempt organizations — they are called 527s for the federal tax code section that authorizes them — engage in political activities such as conducting voter-registration drives and "persuasion" campaigns throughout the country.
Although the groups cannot formally endorse a party, most of them support Democratic causes and candidates. Of the top 10 527s, only one, the Club for Growth, is Republican-oriented.
The 527 advocacy groups use unlimited amounts of so-called soft money to buy radio and television advertisements and pay door-to-door canvassers, such as workers for America Coming Together, which has opened eight Florida field offices, including one in West Palm Beach, since July.
ACT's political action committee also supports Kerry. Millionaires George Soros and Peter Lewis collectively have donated more than $13 million to ACT and MoveOn.org, another pro-Kerry group, according to Internal Revenue Service records.
ACT and its partner, the Media Fund, supported by the Joint Victory Campaign 2004, have collected more than $53 million thus far, followed by 527s for the service employees' union, which has $16 million, and the union representing state, federal and municipal workers, with $13 million, according to IRS records released Monday. The unions also support Kerry.
Secretary of State Glenda Hood and Gov. Jeb Bush had criticized the 527 advocacy groups' voter registration efforts even before recent reports about irregularities with the applications surfaced throughout the state.
Law enforcement officials are investigating complaints, including unauthorized party affiliation changes, bogus voter registrations and forged absentee ballot requests, in St. Petersburg, Tallahassee and Miami-Dade County. A state department spokeswoman confirmed the U.S. Department of Justice is investigation allegations of voter fraud in Florida.
The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, pushing the minimum-wage ballot initiative, is under investigation in Miami-Dade County, for possible violations including registering former felons to vote. ACORN workers are cooperating in that investigation, which the group blames on a "disgruntled ex-employee," and another in St. Petersburg, in which the group is accused of changing the former mayor's party affiliation without his knowledge, said spokesman Brian Kettenring.