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Civil rights groups file suits on voter harassment

Resource type: News

The Associated Press State & Local Wire |

by HEATHER CLARK Two civil rights groups have filed separate lawsuits to stop members of the Republican Party from obtaining and making public private voter information and intimidating voters ahead of Election Day. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, filed a lawsuit Monday in federal court in Albuquerque, and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a separate suit in state district court. Both lawsuits seek to help people who were targeted by the state Republican Party as being suspected fraudulent voters and prevent further alleged intimidation of voters by the party before the Nov. 4 election. The Republicans have charged the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now with registering several of 28 suspected fraudulent voters found in a GOP review of 92 newly registered voters in state House District 13 in Albuquerque. Peter Simonson, executive director of the ACLU, said at a news conference that the party obtained unauthorized access to voters’ private information and used it to publicly identify them, seek them out in their homes and challenge their right to vote. “This is a process that threatens the electoral democracy that is the root of our government and we are not going to stand to see the Republican Party take these kinds of actions,” Simonson said. Shira Rawlinson, a spokeswoman for the state Republican Party, called the ACLU action a “desperate attempt” to distract attention from the real issue. “It is public knowledge that the FBI has an active investigation into ACORN and its involvement in voter fraud,” Rawlinson said in a statement Monday. “… It should be a surprise to no one that the ACLU has filed a baseless lawsuit for political purposes on behalf of ACORN, an organization that not only has engaged in voter fraud, but has employed convicted felons as voter registrars.” Nina Perales, an attorney in the Southwest region for MALDEF, called the facts of her case “very, very egregious” and said it is rare for people to single out individual voters, challenge their eligibility to vote and then intimidate them ahead of the election. Perales denied that media coverage of the lawsuits would have a further chilling effect on voters overall. “We think that a lawsuit fighting back against voter intimidation will encourage voters to go to the polls because they understand that attempts to intimidate eligible voters will be met with a very strong legal response,” she said. MALDEF is representing two Hispanic women, Dora Escobedo and Lydia Olivarez, who said they felt harassed by a private investigator, Al Romero, who came to their Albuquerque homes. Escobedo’s daughter, Guadalupe Bojorquez of Albuquerque, said last week her 67-year-old mother cried and was frightened after Romero came to her home. Perales said the investigator threatened to call immigration authorities, even though Escobedo told him she was a U.S. citizen. The lawsuit names Albuquerque attorney Pat Rogers, who advises the state Republican Party, and Romero as defendants. Romero was hired by Albuquerque attorney Pat Rogers, according to the lawsuit. Rogers did not return a phone message left at his office. The lawsuit seeks an injunction to stop the defendants from intimidating, threatening or harassing voters about their eligibility to vote or to interfere with that right. The ACLU’s lawsuit makes similar accusations against Romero. It also accuses state Rep. Justine Fox-Young, R-Albuquerque, and unnamed members of the state Republican Party of illegally using Social Security numbers and birth dates to obtain information about voters. The state party was not a named defendant in the lawsuit filed by the ACLU, but Simonson said the party may eventually be listed as a defendant as more information becomes available. Fox-Young said she could not comment on the state GOP’s involvement, but said the lawsuit “is a diversionary tactic intended to silence critics of ACORN’s corrupt practices.” She said she is in the process of hiring an attorney. Francisco Martinez, one of four plaintiffs named in the suit, is the latest voter targeted by the Republicans to appear publicly. Martinez, 19, of Albuquerque said he registered to vote at his high school, but he was “shocked and amazed” when he learned that he was suspected of being a fraudulent voter. “I never did anything wrong. When I signed that voter application, I thought that my private information would just be for official use only, but somehow it was leaked to the media,” he said. “That private information is personal, it’s me.” Martinez, a community college student, said he voted early when he heard about the Republican Party’s charges. “Right when this was happening, I was like, ‘What? They’re trying to question if I can even vote.’ So I was like, ‘You know what, I’m going straight down right now and I’m going to vote,’ to make sure they can’t take it away from me,” he said. Simonson said the state attorney general’s office is investigating how the state GOP obtained confidential voter information. Phil Sisneros, a spokesman for the attorney general, said his office is looking into the accusations. State law prohibits county clerks from releasing voters’ Social Security numbers or dates of birth. And that information may not be “copied, conveyed or used by anyone other than the person registering to vote,” under the law.

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