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Bessent: On voter fraud, GOP's hands aren't clean

Dorothy Torrence, left, from the Miami-Dade Elections Department,

Dorothy Torrence, left, from the Miami-Dade Elections Department, helps Viviana Camacho with information about her voter registration in Miami, Florida. (Oct. 1, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

There may be voter fraud afoot after all. Republicans have decried widespread fraud for months to justify imposing unwarranted restrictions on the right to vote in state after state. Turns out they should know.

A private firm the Republican National Committee paid to register voters in a number of swing states was accused this week by Florida election officials of submitting bogus registration forms with similar signatures and incomplete Social Security numbers in nine counties. The firm, Strategic Allied Consulting, denied any wrongdoing, but it was fired by Republican officials in five of those states. That was quick, decisive damage control.

But the audacity of paying a firm that had been accused of improprieties in the past to register voters while claiming to combat voter fraud by imposing restrictions sure to suppress voting is breathtaking.

The party's assault on the right to vote via photo identification requirements and restrictions on early voting is a cynical bid for partisan advantage. The unfettered right to vote is the heart of democracy. Presidential campaigns are rough-and-tumble affairs where almost anything goes, but the right to vote is sacrosanct. Restricting that right without compelling evidence of fraud should be off-limits.

Voter suppression is a particular affront to blacks who, in the century after reconstruction in the mid 1800s, fought to eliminate voting restrictions such as poll taxes and literacy tests and braved bloody reprisals in the south in to exercise the franchise. But blacks are reliable Democratic voters -- a characteristic they share with many of the young, elderly and low-income people whose right to vote is most imperiled by the new restrictions, which the Brennan Center for Justice said have been imposed in 16 states.

There is precious little evidence of any voter fraud. And while decrying nonexistent fraud, party officials climbed into bed with a consultant whose integrity was questioned in the past. So in describing this crusade, it's now safe to add hypocritical to cynical.

Strategic Allied Consulting is headed by Nathan Sproul, an Arizona man who operated other firms accused in the past of playing fast and loose with the rules. According to news accounts, a firm he headed had a similar contract with the Republican Party in 2004 and was accused of taking registration applications from Democrats and destroying the forms. None of the allegations led to criminal charges. But according to an account in the Los Angeles Times, GOP officials knew of Sproul's questionable past and hired him after insisting he cover his tracks.

"In order to be able to do the job that the state parties were hiring us to do, the [RNC] asked us to do it with a different company's name, so as to not be a distraction from the false information put out on the Internet," Sproul told that paper.

In the dwindling days available to register voters, this self-inflicted wound has forced the GOP to unilaterally disarm by firing Sproul's firm in Florida, Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina and Virginia -- all competitive states where the presidential election could be decided.

The GOP's voter ID laws and early voting restrictions haven't fared well either where they've been challenged. They've been blocked or abandoned in Texas, Wisconsin, South Carolina and Ohio. And in Pennsylvania Tuesday, a judge who upheld the law blocked implementation of the photo ID requirement for November's election.

The nefarious restrictions are still on the books in too many states, but proponents will have a difficult time justifying their existence. It's hard to sell purity of purpose while funding skulduggery.

Alvin Bessent is a member of the Newsday editorial board.