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Saturday, June 19, 2004

The Salt Lake Tribune -- Feds to monitor Utah's 3rd District balloting

The Salt Lake Tribune -- Feds to monitor Utah's 3rd District balloting

Feds to monitor Utah's 3rd District balloting
By Nicole Warburton
The Salt Lake Tribune

Responding to a perceived threat to intimidate voters by a group seeking a crackdown on immigration, the U.S. Justice Department said on Friday it will send attorneys to monitor Tuesday's primary election in Utah's 3rd Congressional District.
The Justice Department is responding to ProjectUSA Director Craig Nelsen's statements Thursday that his group might challenge the right of some foreign-born residents to vote.
"This is intimidation -- plain and simple," Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said in a statement.
A short Justice Department announcement said observers and attorneys would monitor the election "to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act."
Incumbent 3rd District Rep. Chris Cannon, who has sponsored legislation that opponents say grants "amnesty" to illegal immigrants, is facing a primary challenge from former state legislator Matt Throckmorton.
Throckmorton has been helped by immigration reform groups who have conducted a vigorous campaign against Cannon. They have distributed a transcript from a Spanish-language radio program in which they alleged the congressman and an aide encouraged illegal immigrants to vote and donate to Cannon's campaign.
"This is good," Throckmorton said when asked about the Justice Department's action. "It highlights the seriousness of what has been stated about the issue" of illegal voting.
But Cannon spokesman Joe Hunter said the transcript circulated to the news media and the subject of talk show chatter was incomplete and did not show that Cannon fully explained voting laws.
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"The idea that anyone is going to encourage illegal immigrants to vote is ridiculous," Hunter said. "The idea that Chris Cannon, an attorney and member of the House Judiciary Committee, would do that is beyond belief."
He called the alleged threat by ProjectUSA to challenge foreign-born voters a "pretty obvious ploy" to intimidate voters.
"There is no evidence that the Utah Election Division and our elections are such that noncitizens could vote, or have voted, or will vote," said Hunter.
State Elections Director Amy Naccarato and Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen agree.
"It's a very unfortunate tactic to single out a group of people like this," Swensen said, adding that in 13 years she has never seen a case of undocumented aliens registering to vote. "I'm very glad to hear that [the Justice Department] is taking this seriously. I think this will give to any group with any intention of disrupting the election a message that it won't be tolerated."
Nelsen said he was "shocked" to be accused of election disruption and voter intimidation.
"We were well within the law," he said. "Here's a congressman on the radio encouraging illegal aliens to vote and we say we're going to look at census and voter records and we're the ones being blamed? Wow."
He says his group was simply encouraging law-abiding behavior and not employing a "tactic" to intimidate voters.
Nelsen and other immigration reform groups object to Cannon's immigration bill, which gives undocumented agricultural laborers a temporary guest worker status.
ProjectUSA, the Coalition for the Future American Worker and other groups have paid for billboards and radio ads in Utah and other states. While Nelsen says his group has spent only around $2,000 in Utah, the combined spending of all the immigration reform groups is upwards of $80,000, according to Hunter.
Republican Sylvia Haro, a member of a Latino legislative task force that helped defeat two anti-immigrant bills earlier this year, said if there's any singling out of voters because of what they look like or because of their last names, "they are going to see a lot of lawsuits."
"I am disappointed," she said. "This is going to be offensive, this should not be going on."
She said Throckmorton has created an atmosphere of division and racism.
Tony Yapias, director of the state Office of Hispanic Affairs, said he welcomed the observers.
"It's great," he said. "It's important to make sure the process is fair. At the end, the polls will show that no [undocumented immigrants] attempted to vote and it will backfire on Throckmorton. I'm not illegal and I'm going to show them I can vote."
Utah allows two types of challenges to voters. One is a document submitted to the county clerk by the Friday before the election that identifies the voters and the basis for the challenge.
The second can be made at the voting precinct when a person tries to put the ballot into the ballot box -- if the person is not the person listed on the official register, is not a resident of Utah, is not a citizen of the United States, or has not resided in Utah for 30 days before the election.
The election judge is to ask the challenged voter for proof of identity and residence and then allow the person to vote with a provisional ballot.
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Tribune reporter Rhina Guidos contributed to this story.

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