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Hidden video said to show voter fraud

Filmmaker hit N.H. polling places

Videos that appear to show people using the names of deceased New Hampshire residents to obtain ballots in Tuesday's primary are being investigated by the attorney general's office and renewing calls for photo identification to be required at the polls.

"We became aware of the issue (Tuesday) and immediately began conducting an investigation," Associate Attorney General Richard Head said yesterday. "In addition, based on the information we received on Election Day and what's on the video, we are undertaking a comprehensive review of voting procedures with the secretary of state."

Legislation requiring voters to show a photo ID failed last year after Gov. John Lynch vetoed a bill passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature. New bills introduced this year will try to force the issue again. Democratic opponents argue requiring photo identification unfairly targets voters - such as young people, the elderly and the poor - who may not have a driver's license or another acceptable form of photo identification.

The video circulated yesterday appears to show local New Hampshire election officials handing ballots to unidentified men who are taping the exchanges with hidden cameras. The clip was produced by Project Veritas, an "undercover journalism" group started by conservative prankster James O'Keefe.

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O'Keefe has gained notoriety for hidden-camera videos targeting groups like the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now and National Public Radio that sought to show their employees acting improperly or with liberal bias. While his films led Congress to cut federal funding to ACORN and spurred the resignation of NPR's CEO and senior vice president of fundraising, O'Keefe's ethical practices and selective editing of the videos have been questioned. In 2010, one of his colleagues warned a CNN correspondent that O'Keefe intended to film himself seducing her during a meeting on his boat, which had been transformed into a "palace of pleasure."

In the videos shot Tuesday, stitched together into a 10-minute clip titled "Primary of the Living Dead" on O'Keefe's website, the men are shown receiving primary ballots after using the names of voters in Nashua and Manchester who died last year. The men are told they do not need to show photo identification in accordance with New Hampshire law. The videos do not show them voting.

Gubernatorial candidate Kevin Smith, a State House lobbyist who previously headed conservative advocacy group Cornerstone Action, released a statement yesterday saying the videos illustrate the need for a voter ID requirement at the polls.

"There should be no clearer evidence now as to why New Hampshire needs a voter identification law to protect the integrity of our election process," Smith said. "This law is long overdue in our state. Unfortunately, Gov. Lynch has twice rejected attempts to pass such a law citing that our current law of requiring no voter identification does not open our election process up to voter fraud. Clearly, we know today, he couldn't be any more wrong."

But Jess Levin, press secretary for liberal group Media Matters for America, said in a statement the videos do not show evidence that such voter fraud schemes "actually exist in the real world."

"The public policy issue the video actually shows is the need for voting records to be kept up to date in the months before an election," Levin said. "But since conservative elites (and donors) are far more interested in voter ID laws that have the effect of keeping Democratic voters from the polls, that's the tack that O'Keefe takes."

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a Republican from Wolfeboro, said the producers of the video were obviously making a point, but the clip still shows anyone who is intent on breaking the law can do so.

"The fact that someone could rather brazenly exploit our lax regulations makes the case for the need for a photo ID," he said.

O'Keefe, a New Jersey resident, is not shown in the videos, and at least one of the men speaks with a foreign accent. The videos of the local election officials appear to have been taped covertly. In New Hampshire, it is illegal to tape someone without their consent.

Henry Brady, who specializes in election law as dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, said the laws punishing voter fraud are already a deterrent to prevent widespread abuses like those shown in the video.

"I think the question that has to be asked is how likely are people going to risk a felony charge for this kind of behavior?" Brady said.

There are ways to verify a person's identification at the polls without a photo ID, Brady said. In California, voters can sign for their ballot and local election officials compare the signature to the one used when they registered, he said.

New Hampshire's voter ID bill died in the Senate last year after local election officials raised concerns about the burden caused by its provisional ballot option, which allowed voters without a photo ID to vote as long as they returned within three days with proper identification. A bill introduced by Republican Sen. Russell Prescott of Kingston this session and supported by Bradley would slowly phase in the identification requirement, first warning voters at the polls that they should bring a photo ID the next time and later allowing voters to sign an affidavit if they still don't have photo identification.

Bradley said he doesn't intend to go "from A to Z right away" in requiring a photo ID at the polls, "but we're not going to sit back and do nothing."

"I think we have to work out the logistics of photo ID to make sure it's not overburdensome to the clerks or the elderly who don't have an ID," he said. "Just making them sign the affidavit is probably going to get rid of 95 percent of persons potentially voting fraudulently. That's my sense of it."

(Matthew Spolar can be reached at 369-3309 or mspolar@cmonitor.com.)

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