North Carolina to investigate firm registering GOP voters

The Charlotte ObserverOctober 1, 2012 

A company hired by the North Carolina GOP to register voters is under review by state election officials after the firm was accused of submitting questionable registration forms in Florida. The state GOP has fired the firm and the state may decide this week whether to launch a full investigation.

Strategic Allied Consulting, which worked for the Republican National Committee and the state Republican Party in North Carolina, Florida and several other states, was fired by the RNC and the GOP in at least three states after it turned in 106 questionable voter registration forms in Palm Beach County, Fla.

“We take any threat to the voting process very seriously,” said Rob Lockwood, the communications director for the North Carolina GOP in an email. “We have terminated our relationship.”

The North Carolina board of elections is contacting local boards of elections in the state to see if they have found any discrepancies or questionable forms being submitted by Strategic Allied. The board will decide whether to launch an investigation, said board Director Gary Bartlett. “Right now, we’re looking to see if there’s been any impropriety,” he said. “No one yet has brought to my attention that there is something wrong here, but I asked my investigator to see if we have a problem. And if we do, we will deal with it.”

In Florida, a worker with the Palm Beach County elections office notified officials after discovering that several voter registration forms had similar handwriting and signatures, as well as other discrepancies.

The initial report spawned a larger investigation that found 106 new registration forms were suspected of being fraudulent, the Miami Herald reported last week.

Officials with the company said the fraudulent forms were all tied to the same Strategic Allied employee, who was terminated. But shortly after the initial incident, more Florida counties from across the state reported similar irregularities with voter registration forms. All were traced to the Republican Party of Florida.

State GOP officials said the party would not accept any hint of irregularity in voter registration. “We have zero tolerance for any threat to the integrity of elections,” said Sean Spicer, communications director for the RNC, in a statement.

Under ‘quality control’

Officials would not give any details of Strategic Allied’s work for the GOP in North Carolina. Robin Hayes, chairman of the state Republican Party, referred questions about the company to Lockwood, who issued a statement Sunday but could not be reached for further comment.

Hayes said that the state party organization hired the company on the recommendation of the RNC. He said he was not aware of state party leaders investigating the company’s past on their own after that recommendation. “There are good people running the RNC, and I have a lot of confidence in them,” he said.

Strategic Allied Consulting was incorporated in June, according to the Herald, but its affiliated companies have been around for nearly a decade, the firm’s website said.

A representative with Strategic Allied could not be reached Sunday, but, according to its website, the firm and its affiliated companies have registered more than 500,000 voters across the country during the past eight years. It has also conducted voter registration and grass-roots projects in more than 40 states.

“The reason we have quality control measures in place is because we recognize that with projects this large, there will be isolated incidents of individuals trying to cheat the system,” a statement on the company’s website read. “Our quality control measures and the clear intent of our culture (do) not tolerate fraud.”

Records indicate that at least seven states have worked with Strategic Allied Consulting in recent months.

But in the wake of the incident in Palm Beach County, at least three – North Carolina, Colorado, and Virginia - have fired the company, according to media reports.

The RNC paid the firm $2.9 million this year, according to elections records. Strategic Allied Consulting was the only vendor the RNC hired to register voters.

Strategic Allied Consulting was formed in June by Nathan Sproul. Sproul is a Republican consultant who has been investigated in the past for voter fraud in other states. An attorney for the firm, Fred Petti, told the Herald that those investigations turned up no evidence of fraud.

A ‘disturbing’ effort

Bob Hall, executive director of the nonpartisan election reform group Democracy North Carolina, criticized the decision to hire the group. “It’s disturbing that the (NC) state party would hire this firm to begin with knowing the reputation it had for misdeeds and wrongdoings and now it’s also beyond ironic that the party that wants to make fraud a big issue is itself engaging in fraud, at least in Florida.,”

Still, Hall noted that North Carolina has several safeguards in place to prevent voter registration fraud from escalating to actual voter fraud.

For instance, voters must provide either the last four digits of their social security number or their driver’s license number during registration. They also must provide a birth date.

The board of elections also sends postcards to registrants to verify their personal information. “Our county boards of elections are pretty good at reviewing applications and sorting out those with problems,” Bartlett said. “I’ve got to really give them credit for doing a great job.”

Bartlett said third-party advocacy groups such as Strategic Allied Consulting are not required to register with the state’s board of elections.

Although the board is available to help such groups make sure they comply with state law, not every group seeks that guidance, he said.

“We’ve never had a more intense focus on getting out the vote. This was one facet of that but there are hundreds of people volunteering,” said N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis. “Those will continue.”

Staff researcher Maria David and The Miami Herald contributed.

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