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Nonprofit raises eyebrows with mailings seeking to increase voter registration

 

"Register to vote today!" instructs the envelope of the mailer, which notes: "Voter registration documents enclosed."

For help, the brochure instructs people to "Please visit the Texas Secretary of State website," and the return address for the enclosed voter registration form is: "The Voter Participation Center, Office of Secretary of State, Elections Division, PO Box 12060, Austin, TX, 78711-9904."

What has concerned some recipients, though, is that Texas elections officials did not send it.

These voter registration forms, and others like them in other states, are being mailed nationwide by a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., called the Voter Participation Center. The organization says it is working to help register the estimated 73 million Americans nationwide who are currently not on the voting rolls, specifically targeting what it describes as underrepresented voting blocs.  

But officials in states like Florida, Texas, Louisiana and others report that the mailers are causing confusion among residents and that they’ve shown up in mailboxes addressed to dead people, children and even dogs and cats.

"It's just ridiculous, and I think needs to be exposed for what it is," Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler said. He said the mailings in his state have been rife with problems, and only about 10 percent of those his office has received have actually been valid registrations.

"This is happening all over the country prior to the presidential election," said Schedler, a Republican. "It needs to be stopped, and folks need to take a look at it because the integrity of the election ... is utmost in my mind."

"This is America, it's their right," he added. "But I don't know why they would try to, in my opinion, disrupt the process and cause undue work on states."

Schedler has charged that the Voter Participation Center's mailings also "open the door to voter fraud."

Several people contacted Fox News with concerns about the mailers. One man reported that he received a voter registration solicitation in his mother’s name. The problem is, his mother has been dead for 12 years.

"This all looks like a total fraud to me," says another viewer, who contacted Fox News to investigate why the group was pitching a voter registration form that, he said, appeared to be an official government mailing to, in his case, someone who cannot even legally vote.

The Voter Participation Center blames faulty mailing lists, not fraud, and says that it is trying to correct any problems.

"The Voter Participation Center, of course, regrets any instance at all where there is some sort of mis-mailing to some address or some person who shouldn't receive the mailing," said Center lawyer Scott Thomas. He is a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission who was appointed by President Reagan and reappointed by both President George H.W. Bush and President Clinton.

Thomas insists that the group is working with state officials to streamline and clean up the process, saying the forms go to the proper government election agencies to register voters, not to the Voter Participation Center.

"The Voter Participation Center goes out of its way to try to clean its list and to make sure that it is not sending to people who are not eligible for registration," Thomas said.

Thomas thinks claims of possible voter fraud from the mailings are "far-fetched." He notes that any registration forms that are erroneously sent to ineligible people, or pets, should not be filed out and returned to election officials. If that were to happen, though, he says checks are in place at registration boards to catch any errant submissions and prevent actual registration.

Critics also question the Voter Participation Center’s aims, pointing out that the voting groups it is trying to register can largely skew Democrat.

The organization proudly says that is has registered more than 1.5 million people in less than a decade, focusing its efforts on registering what it calls "historically underrepresented groups in our democracy," such as unmarried or divorced women, minorities and young people.

"They only target a certain demographic group. Quite frankly, this is strictly a Democratic situation," Secretary of State Schedler said. "That doesn't mean a Democratic group can't register Democrats, any more than a Republican group or a Mickey Mouse party can.”

But Schedler thinks the group needs "to do a little more due diligence” in creating its mailing lists to prevent errors that could end up making more work for the election officials who verify the registration forms.

The Voter Participation Center is staffed with several former Democratic officials and political consultants, some of whom are veterans of President Bill Clinton's and President Obama's presidential campaigns.

Former Clinton White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, for example, is listed on 2010 IRS filings as a board member.

The organization's website states that the assistant program director, who "helps direct the VPC's voter registration and vote-by-mail campaigns in 30 states ... previously ... worked for Obama for America, serving in the campaign's media planning department in Chicago. He was a field organizer for OFA in 2008."

But Thomas insists that the organization has no political agenda beyond trying to serve the millions of Americans who remain unregistered.

"There are lots of non-partisan organizations in Washington and across the country that rely on leadership that comes from all different ranks," Thomas said "If you can find someone who is proficient in their field and is a leader, it’s good to get them on the board and your leadership, and that's a very common thing in Washington."

"The real key is, what do they do?" he said. "Their mailings are strictly non-partisan. They don't reference political issues or candidates or party committees, and it’s up to the individual if they want to fill out the form to do it. And in that sense, the process is entirely non-partisan."

But Schedler, who notes that his state ranks fourth in the nation in voter registration with 84 percent of his constituents on the voting rolls, has a blunt message.

"Follow the paper trial, follow the money," he says. "If you are out there doing a legitimate thing, do a legitimate thing. If you are out there saying you are non-partisan, be non-partisan. Don't just send it to a certain group of individuals ... Just say you are a Democratic group, and I don’t have any problem with that. Republicans go out and try to register Republicans. Just say what you are. Don't disguise yourself into something that you are not, and please spend your time getting the voter out to vote."

The Voter Participation Center plans more mailings before the November presidential election and says it is continually working to improve the screening process of its mailing lists.

Fox News' Meredith Orban contributed to this report. If you suspect voter fraud or problems at the polls where you live, tell us at voterfraud@foxnews.com

Eric Shawn is a New York-based anchor and senior correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC). He anchors "America's News Headquarters" on Sundays from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. ET. and  “Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo.” He anchors frequently  during the week on the Fox News Channel and reports on politics, terrorism, and foreign affairs. Shawn has  provided live coverage from both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions since 1992.  In 2004 he led the Fox News investigative team that uncovered new evidence in the murder of Jimmy Hoffa, based on the claims of hit-man Frank Sheeran.  Click here for more information on Eric Shawn.