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Pawlenty: I Support Sara Taylor-Style Focus on Voter Registration Fraud

On a morning conference call, I got a chance to ask Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-Minn.) about voter registration, voter fraud, and his new PAC’s political adviser Sara Taylor. In the Bush administration, as a White House political director, Taylor got tangled in the scandal over the firing of U.S. attorneys who, the attorneys claim, were fired because they would not file lawsuits alleging voter registration fraud on the eve of the midterm elections. As a strategist for Bush’s campaigns, Taylor had “do not forward” letters sent to voters’ addresses to see if they bounced back, thus giving GOP poll watchers pretext for challenging their registrations — a process known as “caging.”

I asked Pawlenty whether he and his PAC would push for voter registration reform along the lines of his own state’s fairly straightforward process, which allows registration up to and including Election Day. (Thanks to my colleague Graham Moomaw for typing it up.)

“One potential corrosion of our freedom and liberty is to have the democratic system, the election system, being undermined or becoming even partially fraudulent or lacking in credibility,” said Pawlenty. “We have electronic scanners in Minnesota. The ballots that were cast last time through the scanners were 99.9 or so percent accurate. There were no problems with them and the individuals who cast those ballots had to present themselves at a polling place in person and with at least some, you know, screens around identification and proper voting.”

Pawlenty went on to say that “all the problems in Minnesota in the Franken-Coleman [Senate] race related to the absentee ballot process.”

“I’ve been told that in 2006 there were 12,000 absentee ballots cast in our state,” said Pawlenty. “That’s a high number based on a historical number, so keep that in mind, 12,000 in 2006. In 2008, there were almost 300,000 absentee ballots cast in our state. Now this is a process where people are supposed to use absentee ballots because they’re unavailable in their voting area on Election Day because they’re out of the state, they’re on business travel, or they’re medically or physically unable to show up. So you can see in a presidential race, you know, an increase of say 10 percent or 20 percent or something like that from 2006. But what you saw is approaching this 3,000 percent increase, in absentee voting in Minnesota … obviously something very extraordinary occurred and what occurred is you had grassroots organizations come in here and use the absentee ballot process as a substitute for voting by mail. And, almost all of the problems … in the Franken-Coleman case come out of these absentee ballots.”

Pawlenty circled back to my question about whether his own state’s voter registration system should be a national model. “Same-day registration in Minnesota would be fine if we had more stringent identification requirements,” he said, “specifically photo ID. We don’t require, and we should require in Minnesota, photo ID. So it’s not that the timing or the day of it is the problem. It’s making sure that we welcome any legal person who’s entitled to vote, to vote. We just need to make sure it’s appropriate. Now, we don’t have a history or tradition in Minnesota of a lot of voter fraud or these kinds of concerns but this Franken-Coleman experience, particularly as related to the absentee ballots, gives us pause. So, it’s not so much a same-day registration issue as it is making sure the registration, and the identification that goes along with it, is rigorous and appropriate.”

I told Pawlenty that I’d asked the question in the context of him hiring Sara Taylor to work for his campaign, and wondered whether he agreed with the priority she, and the Bush administration in general, placed on poring over voter rolls for alleged registration fraud.

“Absolutely,” Pawlenty said. “We should aggressively, at the state and federal level, enforce voter fraud concerns and to aggressively investigate and enforce voter fraud concerns. Because if we allow any corrosion to the integrity of the system, it calls into question the entire credibility of the results of the election and ultimately the pillars of the democracy. It is extraordinarily important. It goes to the core credibility and acceptance of our democratic system. And if people are going to question the outcome and say it was derived by fraud, as opposed to the will of the people, you’ve undermined a core tenet of democracy. It’s very concerning. Now, so to answer your question, we should make it a critical priority.”

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