Indiana 2008 Presidential Primary Election Fraud Probe Heats Up
Charity Rorie, a mother of four, sat in her Mishawaka, Ind., kitchen, stunned that her name appeared on a 2008 Democratic presidential primary petition for then-candidate Barack Obama.
"That's not my signature," she told Fox News, saying her signature is "absolutely" a fake. She also said she was troubled someone forged both her signature and that of her husband, Jeff, and listed personal details such as their address and birthdays.
"It's scary," Rorie said. "It's shocking. It definitely is illegal. A lot of people have already lost faith in politics and the whole realm of politics, so that just solidifies all of our worries and concerns."
Robert Hunter Jr. said his name was faked, too.
"I did not sign for Barack Obama," he told Fox News, adding his signature supporting the then-Illinois senator's effort to get on the primary ballot was also a forgery.
As he examined the Obama petition he held in his hands, Hunter pointed out that "I always put 'Junior' after my name, every time ... there's no 'Junior' there." He said the signature on the petition looks "very close" to his real one, but it clearly is not.
"My wife and I actually signed a petition for Hillary Clinton," he said. "I am an Obama fan, but not in the primaries I wasn't."
The prospect that theirs are two of an estimated 150 signatures that may have been forged on the petitions has raised the question of whether President Obama actually reached the legitimate number of signatures needed to be placed on the ballot in Indiana. Under state law, presidential candidates need to file 500 signatures from each of the state's nine congressional districts. Indiana election officials say that in St. Joseph County, the Obama campaign qualified with 534 signatures; Clinton's camp had 704. The certified signatures were never challenged.
"I had always thought that, now-President Obama, had earned his victory in Indiana," said the state's Republican chairman, Eric Holcomb. "But then I quickly learned that he had cheated his way on to the ballot in the primary."
The allegations that election fraud touched a race for the highest office in the land are at the center of an investigation by St. Joseph County Attorney Michael Dvorak. He would not comment, but sources say the probe is gaining steam as prosecutors delve into the petitions that sailed through the St. Joseph County Voter Registration Board, located in South Bend. There have been reports that as many as seven people may have been involved in an alleged conspiracy to fake the petitions.
"I was very surprised," said the newly elected Democratic chairman of St. Joseph County, State Sen. John Broden. "This is a bipartisan issue that we need to take a look at ... so I hope that this is something, that we as both parties, try to look at what exactly happened, and most importantly, how do we prevent it from happening again."
Broden recently replaced long-serving Democratic Chairman Butch Morgan, who resigned suddenly in October under party pressure because of the scandal.
"There is no evidence that Butch Morgan ever personally directed, authorized or condoned the forging or alteration of petition signatures," said his attorney, Shaw Friedman, who argued against the resignation. He said Morgan did "absolutely not" forge any signatures, or know who might have.
"This is a man who has worked mightily over the 20 years that he served as district chairman, to do so fairly, ethically, appropriately, and my concern was that he not leave under these circumstances," Friedman told Fox News.
He called the alleged forgeries "a sloppy, amateurish effort, ordinarily that kind of thing would have been caught by the voter registration offices. I'm not quite sure here why it slipped through."
St. Joseph County Board of Voter Registration worker Dustin Blythe has reportedly been identified as having handwriting that matches the writing on some of the suspect Obama petitions. The South Bend Tribune and the political newsletter Howey Politics Indiana hired a handwriting analyst who examined the documents and says Blythe's writing can be found on "nine suspicious pages from the Obama petition," according to the newspaper.
Blythe, 37, works at one of the desks in the Board office. When Fox News asked if he forged any signatures or faked any petitions, he repeatedly replied, "I don't have anything to say."
Blythe's LinkedIn profile describes him as a "government employee" who is also an "independent contractor/volunteer at Indiana Democratic Party" and a St. Joseph County Democratic Party "volunteer." His Facebook page includes a photograph of him taken with former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards.
Blythe's lawyer, Andre Gammage, has said that his client did not do anything wrong. He told Fox News that handwriting comparisons don't mean anything.
"Handwriting is not the same as DNA, handwriting is not the same thing as fingerprints," Gammage said.
Authorities would not comment about any aspect of the ongoing investigation, including any possible targets of the probe.
Gammage said the accusations have "been difficult for Dustin. Dustin is a hardworking individual who has been trying to do the job the best he can in St. Joe county. It's been tough for him and his family to be under this kind of negative scrutiny."
That scrutiny has prompted Indiana election officials to review the procedures for authorizing presidential primary petitions.
"Unfortunately, it appears that we have an appearance of a widespread, systematic organized effort by Democrat operatives to cheat the system by forging names of, especially Democrat voters, to put Barack Obama on the presidential ballot for the Democratic presidential primary in 2008," charged Indiana Secretary of State Charlie White, who is a Republican.
White is proposing that presidential petitions be posted online on the Indiana secretary of state's website, www.sos.in.gov, for all to see.
"I think by shining a light on this problem and putting in on the Internet, I have a strong suspicion that this isn't going to happen anymore in Indiana, especially on my watch."
White has had his share of alleged voter fraud troubles himself: he faces felony charges for allegedly having registered to vote at his ex-wife's residence. He denies any wrongdoing and is awaiting trial.
He says the integrity and honesty of the electoral process must be protected.
"The main thing here is to make sure that we maintain choices for all voters, Republicans and Democrats in the primary, and that we make sure that voters continue to trust the system and that their vote still counts," White said. He calls the alleged signature forgeries "an awfully bold action to take. I sure hope it only happened in 2008."
Broden, the local Democratic chairman, thinks that there should be new measures instituted to ensure that signatures being gathered now for the 2012 presidential election are legitimate. He proposes having petition gatherers initial the sheets, and having officials undertake random audits to confirm that the signatures are real.
"We are doing everything we can to fully cooperate with the state police investigation and we will do everything we can to make sure that the investigation gets to the bottom of all of the facts," Broden insists.
Brian Howey, a veteran political reporter, runs the non-partisan political newsletter Howey Politics Indiana, which broke the story with the Tribune.
"Somebody tried to pull a fast one," Howey said.
"In one case there were 18 consecutive pages where it looked like there was one or two handwriting. Were these low-level functionaries that decided to tamper with the process, or was this something that was ordered from a higher level?”
The state’s Republican chairman seems to have no doubt.
"This is the Chicago way and it will not be tolerated in the state of Indiana," Holcomb said. "I would tell my friends across the country that they have to be on the lookout as well, because it’s just fact that some folks will do anything to try and win an election."
The chairman of the Indiana State Democratic Party, Dan Parker, was not available for an interview. He issued a statement in October saying that the Democrats "continue to support the ongoing investigation to determine how this isolated incident occurred and hold anyone involved accountable."
But voters like Charity Rorie say they feel victimized and are fearful of the message that the scandal sends across the country.
"We have a generation that's behind us who is not very faithful in making sure that they vote," she lamented. "I think this isn't going to help the situation.
"I think that if we need to continue with our children the way that America is supposed to work, then I think it needs to be done correctly."
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