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Fallout From Chicago Voter-Registration Fraud Spreads

PRFAA sign-up drive raising questions there and elsewhere in country


March 18, 2004
Copyright © 2004 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Reports from Chicago that as many as 2,000 fraudulent voter registrations were submitted in advance of the city’s primary election are raising concern there and elsewhere on the U.S. mainland about Gov. Sila Calderon’s campaign.

The initial report in the Chicago Sun-Times indicated that the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners is investigating the largest case of voter-registration fraud in recent years. Two thousand suspect registrations, most in the 26th Ward, were filed over a 17-month period.

The registrations are among 10,000 filed between Aug. 12, 2002 and Jan. 29, 2004. The board used handwriting analysis to determine that 10% to 20% of the registrations are apparently for nonexistent people or addresses or for vacant lots.

After reports of the investigation by the board surfaced, the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA) in Washington admitted that the registrations had been collected by a contractor retained by its Chicago office who was subsequently terminated.

The board began its investigation in January after noticing a spike in the number of returned mailings to addresses in the ward. Among those complaining was Cook County Commissioner Roberto Maldonado, a Democrat, who found four registrations for his home, where he lives alone. "I was livid," he said. "We searched and found a gas station where there were 17 new registrations and a mechanic’s shop with four."

Noting that PRFAA had recently received funding to increase voter registration, Maldonado said, "It’s sad that a couple of bad apples took it upon themselves to destroy what could have been a good initiative to increase the number of registered Latino voters."

Community activists in other parts of the mainland U.S. are less charitable in their opinions about the voter-registration drive. Some in New York recall how Calderon embraced New York Gov. George Pataki and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, both Republicans, in kicking off the $6 million initiative, infuriating New York Democrats, the traditional representatives of most of the city’s Puerto Rican residents.

The program ran into a similar snag in Florida when Calderon got too close to Republican Gov. Jeb Bush and other Republicans in promoting it. Calderon’s supporters note she campaigned for her initiative with Democrats in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The result was to be expected, with members of both parties questioning her motives. As recently as the National Governors’ winter conference in Washington, Calderon declared her neutrality in national politics, causing both Republicans and Democrats to wonder if that is the best way to help Puerto Rico in the nation’s capital.

One Washington critic questioned the broad character of PRFAA’s mandate, noting it is registering individuals with no roots in Puerto Rico. The critic asked, "Why does PRFAA’s online voter-registration form ask ‘Do you have relatives in Puerto Rico?’ What is the purpose of that question?"

A longtime Puerto Rican resident of Washington questioned, "Why has the governor launched a campaign of voter education and a mobilization campaign to empower Hispanics across the nation but not Puerto Rico."

Another Puerto Rican wondered, "Where exactly is the governor coming from and, more important, where is she trying to take us?" He recalled that in announcing the program, Calderon said, "The failure to vote is a danger to all Americans, for it weakens and reduces the power of the people…the 3.4 million Puerto Ricans living in mainland communities can make a difference for all of us…your voice must be heard, for your sake as well as ours."

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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