ST. LOUIS – An investigation from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch alleged Wednesday that Rep. Penny Hubbard, D-St. Louis, and her campaign may have committed substantial absentee voter fraud in her Aug. 2 primary election win over challenger Bruce Franks.
The report has elicited strong responses from political figures and raised questions about the photo voter ID measure set to hit to ballot in November.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce has launched an investigation into the findings. Secretary of State Jason Kander also issued a statement about the report. He called its findings “very troubling,” adding that his office’s Elections Integrity Unit would continue investigating complaints it had received previously.
“If the allegations put forth to our office by the complaints to our office, Mr. Franks and today’s Post-Dispatch report are true, actions clearly need to be taken by one of those entities or the courts,” he said. “As this is an ongoing legal matter, I will not prejudice the legal process, but the laws surrounding absentee voting fraud are very clear so there is no excuse if they are not followed by local election authorities, campaigns, candidates or voters.”
Republicans have voiced their concern over the scandal in different ways. Jay Ashcroft, the Republican nominee for secretary of state, laid some of the blame at Kander’s feet.
“The report demonstrated a failure of the Secretary of State and willful violations of the law from the local election authority,” Ashcroft said. “For years, they failed to identify this recurring pattern of suspicious absentee ballot behavior, and if these allegations prove true, those guilty should be prosecuted for these crimes that undermine the confidence of voters in our election process.”
The findings and disputes
Franks actually won the election day turnout in the 78th House District, but in the end Hubbard won by just 90 votes after winning a substantial proportion of absentee ballots. The Post-Dispatch report states that bump may not have come about through entirely legal means.
Stephen Deere and Doug Moore, the two reporters credited with the story, found people solicited by the Hubbard campaign and given absentee ballots to vote as “incapacitated,” even though they did not wish to receive them. An incapacitated absentee voter does not require a notary to sign off on their ballot. More importantly, someone marked as voting absentee by an election authority cannot vote at the polls.
The Hubbard campaign may have also cast absentee votes for some voters, attempted to garner more than one ballot for absentee voters, and incorrectly marked voters as incapacitated to bypass the notary step, according to the report. The report also said the St. Louis City Election Board failed to verify whether voters listed as incapacitated actually were, and that the board ignored “crates” of ballots brought in by the Hubbards and counted them anyway, despite concerns voiced by lower-level staff.
Absentee voter outreach programs have also been a staple of Democratic political outreach for decades in St. Louis, and asking if people needed to vote absentee is common for some candidates.
Jane Dueker, co-counsel for Hubbard in a lawsuit brought forth by Franks, tweeted a picture Sunday of Moore, alleging that he was coordinating with Franks. She also told the Post-Dispatch that there was no evidence that Hubbard or anyone on her campaign had forged documents.
— Jane Dueker (@JaneDueker) August 28, 2016
Franks has also reportedly only disputed results in the wards where he lost the absentee vote, not every ward.
If the legitimacy of the election is in doubt until January, the House of Representatives will have the final say in who will take the seat.
Photo voter ID proponents emboldened by report
Other Republicans have seen the findings of the report as further reason to approve a photo voter ID measure that will reach the ballot in November. Democrats have opposed photo voter ID by arguing that it disenfranchises minorities, the elderly and other groups of people lacking easy access to approved identification.
However, Republicans like Rep. Justin Alferman, R-Hermann, propose that safeguards are needed to ensure those who vote actually are who they say they are at the polls.
On the other hand, Rep. Jeremy LaFaver, D-Kansas City, concedes that there are problems evident in the Franks-Hubbard controversy. But he also notes that photo voter ID would do nothing to stop absentee voter fraud, since it is designed, in theory, to prevent voter impersonation fraud, which can only take place at the polls.
“Clearly there are issues in St. Louis that need to be addressed,” he said. “And there are solutions to those problems, but requiring photo ID to vote isn’t one of them.
“That being said, the actions of a handful of folks in St. Louis certainly aren’t doing us any favors.”
Alferman, who co-sponsored the bill that became the photo voter ID ballot issue, contends that fraud of one type or at one level indicates that people will try to cheat the system in various ways. He believes any measures to protect the vote are important.
“We have examples of fraud with initiative petitions, with voter registration, and with absentee ballots,” he said. ” We cannot, as a state, be naive and think it doesn’t also happen with in person voting.”