Will Rush Limbaugh Be Indicted for Voter Fraud?
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As the board of election in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, where Cleveland is located, launches an investigation into illegal crossover voting in the state's 2008 presidential primary, a big open question remains unanswered: Will county officials go after the ringleaders of apparently illegal electioneering where thousands of Republican voters swore -- under penalty of law -- allegiance to the Democratic Party in order to vote for Hillary Clinton?
In case you missed it, Rush Limbaugh, the nation's top-rated talk radio host, was urging Republicans in Texas and Ohio to skip their party's primary on March 4 and instead cast a vote for Hillary Clinton in order to prolong the fight between her and Barack Obama. And that Tuesday, as media in both states reported, thousands of Republicans did just what Limbaugh and others had suggested -- they changed parties to vote for Clinton.
"I want Hillary to stay in this, Laura," Limbaugh told Laura Ingraham on Feb. 29, near the start of his Hillary crusade. "This is too good a soap opera. We need Barack Obama bloodied up politically, and it's obvious that the Republicans are not going to do it and don't have the stomach for it, as you probably know."
And on Wednesday, the day after the Ohio primary, Fox News asked Clinton if she owed Limbaugh a thank you. "Be careful what you wish for, Rush," she replied. Later that day, Limbaugh played the Fox tape on his show and said, "How do you interpret this, folks? She could have said thank you. She could have said thank you! In fact, I was expecting in her victory speech last night to be thanked.
"I helped give Mrs. Clinton the biggest and happiest moment and night of the campaign season so far, maybe her life, and she tells me, "Be careful what you wish for, Rush"? Why, that sounds like a threat, does it not? I've got a Democrat presidential candidate threatening your host. Why, I am stunned! After all I did ..."
While this all makes for great talk radio and sounds like fun, there is one catch: What Limbaugh encouraged Republican voters to do in Ohio was a fifth-degree felony in that state, punishable with a $2,500 fine and six to 12 months in jail. That is because in order to change party affiliation in Ohio, voters have to fill out a form swearing allegiance to that party's principles "under penalty of election falsification."
On Thursday, March 20, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that the "Cuyahoga County Board of Election has launched an investigation that could lead to criminal charges against voters who maliciously switched parties for the March 4 presidential primary." According to the report, "One voter scribbled the following addendum to his pledge as a new Democrat: "For one day only."
"Such an admission amounts to voter fraud," the report continued, attributing that conclusion to BOE member Sandy McNair, a Democrat. The report said the four-member board -- two Democrats and two Republicans -- had yet to vote on whether it would issue subpoenas, although Ohio's secretary of state, Democrat Jennifer Brunner, is empowered to cast tie-breaking votes when the BOE is deadlocked.
In 2008, 2.22 million Ohioans voted in the Democratic primary, compared to 1.27 million in 2000, according to unofficial results released by Brunner's office. In contrast, 1.01 million Ohioans voted in the 2008 Republican primary, compared to nearly 918,000 people in 2004.
Both Ohio's secretary of state and attorney general, both Democrats, were reluctant to embrace the prospect of voter fraud prosecutions.
"Secretary of State Brunner has not been contacted by anyone regarding the prosecution of alleged improper crossover voting," Brunner spokesman Jeff Ortega said. "Prosecution of such activities is the exclusive domain of the county prosecutor or the Ohio attorney general."
"We will not make a blanket statement that we would never pursue a case such as that, but it would be our position that a case such as that would be very hard to prosecute," said Ted Hart, spokesman for Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann, who added that a senior attorney in his office said it would be difficult to ascertain voters' motives on particular days. "The county prosecutor would have the first right of refusal."
But Michael Slater of Project Vote, a nonpartisan group that designs voter registration drives for low-income people, said GOP meddling in the Ohio Democratic Primary was a clear-cut example of fraudulent voting, which is how Republicans have defined the issue in recent years, as GOP advocates have urged state legislatures and Congress to adopt anti-fraud measures such as tougher voter ID laws.
"Here we have a real instance of spurring people on to engage in illegal election activities with a real intent to affect the outcome," Slater said. "That is voter fraud. People were encouraged to break the law. They had to declare allegiance to a political party and sign a document under penalty of perjury. Intent is what matters in voter fraud."
For years, Republicans have literally made a federal case of voter fraud. The Bush Justice Department fired U.S. attorneys who would not prosecute cases of people who GOP politicos believed were impersonating voters to help Democratic candidates.
Voting rights groups such as ACORN, or the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, which registers millions of low-income people in presidential election years, have been prosecuted by U.S. attorneys for voter fraud -- even after ACORN followed the law and alerted the FBI about mistakes made by its volunteers.
After 2004, Republican-controlled legislatures in Florida and Ohio passed laws, now overturned, curtailing voter registration drives under the guise of fighting voter fraud. Meanwhile, numerous states have passed new and tougher voter I.D. laws, all aimed at stopping people who purportedly were impersonating voters.
"I think this is Rush and others inspiring people to commit voter fraud," Slater said. "They should be brought under investigation."
AlterNet is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed by its writers are their own.
Steven Rosenfeld is a senior fellow at Alternet.org and co-author of " What Happened in Ohio: A Documentary Record of Theft and Fraud in the 2004 Election ," with Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman (The New Press, 2006).