Civil Rights Coalition Sues Ashcroft Over Access to Election Fraud Policy Documents

Media 09.28,04

Washington, D.C. – To ensure that Attorney General John Ashcroft’s efforts against voter fraud do not interfere with every citizen’s right to vote, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the nation’s oldest, largest, and most diverse civil and human rights coalition, today filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice under the Freedom of Information Act.

“For the first time in LCCR’s history, we are filing a FOIA suit against the Department of Justice,” said Wade Henderson, Executive Director of LCCR, “because we are concerned the Attorney General may be impeding rather than leading the effort to protect the right to vote.”

“We have heard from our member organizations engaged in voter registration efforts in Florida, South Dakota, Arizona, and New Mexico, among other states, of voter intimidation and efforts to prevent access to the voting booth. Moreover, according to press accounts, Attorney General Ashcroft has apparently issued directives to U.S. Attorneys dealing with ‘voter fraud.’ The Justice Department is obligated to make those directives public. It is imperative for the American people to know now, and not after the election, the potential impact of these policies on every citizen’s right to vote.”

“The Justice Department is obligated to protect every citizen’s right to vote and to ensure that every vote is counted. We do not want any repeat of what happened in Florida and other states in 2000 or in South Dakota in 2002,” said Nancy Zirkin, Deputy Director of LCCR. “We are also perplexed as to why the Attorney General has chosen not to make his policy on ‘voter fraud’ public.”

“While LCCR is in the process of reviewing documents disclosed by the Civil Rights Division in response to similar FOIA requests, the Criminal Division has failed to respond,” said Zirkin. “Here we are almost four weeks before national elections and the public does not know what Justice Department policy is. That is unconscionable. The Attorney General should order the documents we have requested to be made public now.”

According to the suit filed today in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, LCCR is asking the court “to order the production and making available for public inspection and copying of agency records, consisting of policy statements and interpretations that have been adopted by the United States Department of Justice, instructions to Department of Justice staff that affect a member of the public, and other agency records regarding so-called ‘voting integrity’ efforts, including records of any efforts undertaken by Attorney General Ashcroft and the Department of Justice in the name of preventing voter fraud that could have the effect of intimidating lawful voters and ultimately suppressing voter turnout, especially when directed at particular racial, ethnic, disability or other minority or disadvantaged group of the American people.”

On May 24, 2004, LCCR requested access from the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice to all communications transmitted by the Department of Justice referring to or related to alleged or actual:

  • “ballot security” procedures or programs at polling places in federal elections from 1988 to the present, including all procedures or programs intended or designed to discover, deter, prevent, or remedy voter fraud;

  • videotaping and/or photographing of voters at polling places in federal elections from 1988 to present;

  • use of video cameras and/or still cameras at polling places in federal elections from 1988 to present;

  • intimidation and/or harassment of African-American, Hispanic, or other racial or ethnic minority voters, at polling places in federal elections from 1988 to the present;

  • intimidation and/or harassment of language minority voters at polling places in federal elections from 1988 to the present; and

  • monitoring by federal observers or Department of Justice representatives of federal elections, from 1988 to present, in any jurisdiction.

LCCR is seeking these documents in order to understand the Attorney General’s voter fraud and voter protection policies – policies which should have been made public when they were initiated.