The Justice Department has a longstanding policy regarding the prosecution of election law or voter fraud cases: the closer to the election it gets, the more cautious prosecutors should be about bringing indictments. The reason is simple. Bringing an indictment close to the election can intimidate minority voters, affect voter turnout and potentially even influence the result of the election.
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But Bradley Schlozman -- the former U.S. Attorney for Kansas City and controversial deputy head at the Civil Rights Division -- broke with the policy. Not only that, but there's evidence that he rushed four indictments to land just before last November's election.
Indeed, timing aside, even Schlozman's decision to pursue the cases at all is questionable in light of established Justice Department practice. Although trumpeted as cases of voter fraud, the cases alleged only registration fraud, and there's no evidence that those registrations were intended to result in actual fraudulent votes. For that reason, other U.S. attorneys have passed on pursuing similar prosecutions. But Schlozman, who'd worked to push voter I.D. laws while in the Civil Rights Division, leapt at the opportunity.
The more you learn about Schlozman's decision to indict four voter registration recruiters for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) five days before last year's election -- Missouri's Jim Talent was battling Claire McCaskill in one of the closest Senate races in the country --, the worse it looks.
News coverage of the indictments tended to buttress the notion that liberal groups like ACORN were conspiring to steal the election. The indictments were covered by Fox News (where a Kansas City election official was quoted as saying that it was "the worst case of registration abuse in the last quarter century"), as well as the AP, CNN, and other nationwide outlets. Schlozman announced in a statement that "This national investigation is very much ongoing."
It had been the longstanding practice of the Justice Department not to bring such indictments so close before an election. That's according to Joe Rich, the former head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Section, and a Justice Department manual written by Craig Donsanto, head of the Election Crimes Branch at Justice, which advised that âFederal prosecutors and investigators should be extremely careful to not conduct overt investigations during the pre-election period or while the election is underway.â
Even Alberto Gonzales himself said just two weeks ago that "We have guidance about that, doing those kind of investigations near an election," to be "sensitive about the effect it has on particularly minority participation."
But if Schozman was trying to be sensitive, he didn't show it. In addition to issuing the statement that the "national investigation" into ACORN's registration of mostly poor, minority voters was "very much ongoing," Schlozman also announced the next day that his office would be monitoring the election for fraud. An assistant U.S. attorney would be on duty all day to "ensure public confidence in the integrity of the electoral process."
And there is evidence that the indictments were rushed to come down before Election Day.