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GOP election fraud hotline rankles Democrats

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia Democratic Party leaders were fuming Monday over an email that urged people to call state Republican headquarters if they witnessed voting irregularities during today's election.

The GOP email -- titled "Legal Update" and distributed statewide -- also called out Democrats for an alleged "long and sordid track record of illegal activity on Election Day."

State Democratic Party Chairman Larry Puccio said the email unfairly tarnished all West Virginia Democrats, who make up nearly 60 percent of registered voters in the state.

"This is craziness," Puccio said. "You don't attack the citizens. But that is exactly what they're doing."

State GOP Chairman Conrad Lucas said he didn't understand why Puccio and others would raise a fuss about the email. The Republican Party has repeatedly promoted election fraud hotlines in past statewide elections.

"They're being hypersensitive about this," Lucas said. "We do this every election cycle. This isn't a new thing."

Chad Holland, executive director of the West Virginia GOP, added that the email is factual and didn't paint all Democrats as corrupt.

"If the Democrats were any good at rooting out corruption from their side, then we wouldn't be in this situation," Holland said. "Nobody is saying every person who's a Democrat does this, but there are a lot of Democrats that benefit from this activity. They turn a blind eye."

Jake Glance, a spokesman for Secretary of State Natalie Tennant's office, said voters should call the Secretary of State to report election fraud -- not the state GOP headquarters.

"They can't investigate election law violations, but we can," Glance said. "If people see something they think might be a violation of election law, they need to call the Secretary of State's office because we have the authority to investigate, and our record clearly shows we do not tolerate election law violations."

Tennant, a Democrat who's running for re-election, has said her office's investigations of election fraud have led to a spate of criminal convictions in recent years.

In 2010, for instance, Tennant's office and federal prosecutors investigated absentee ballot abuses in Lincoln County. The investigation snared Lincoln County's sheriff, assessor and county commissioner.

"We have an outstanding Secretary of State that does a great job and has a great staff, and we would recommend if you have a problem, contact her office or other law enforcement agency," Puccio said.

Lucas has a much different opinion about Tennant's track record for cleaning up election fraud.

"The Secretary of State hasn't proven herself to be vigilant with such issues," Lucas said.

Democratic leaders acknowledged the Republican Party has urged voters to call GOP headquarters about voter fraud before. But Puccio said the latest email -- sent out Sunday afternoon -- was particularly offensive to voters.

"A couple of years ago, the Republican Party's leaders referred to West Virginians as 'hicks,' and today the party hasn't changed a bit saying that all Democrats are corrupt," Puccio said. "Many of these folks making these statements are wealthy, out-of-staters, and it's sad to think they see us that way."

Lucas said the Republican Party would have 45 to 50 volunteer lawyers on call across the state to respond to voter complaints.

 "Anyone -- Republicans and Democrats -- who feels as if the integrity of the election is at risk is encouraged to call," Lucas said. "We're interested in providing a fair election for all West Virginians."

Conrad's recent email -- subtitled "Legal Operations for Election Day" -- gives the phone number of Republican Party headquarters in Charleston.

"As all of you know, the Democrats have a long and sordid track record of illegal activity on Election Day," Lucas wrote in the email. "Therefore, we have a team of lawyers stationed all across West Virginia ready to intervene on behalf of the Party to protect our candidates' and citizens' rights on to a fair and open election process."

Lucas also said the Republican Party would have lawyers standing by at GOP headquarters to field calls from voters about election violations.

"You are our eyes and ears across the state on Election Day. It is only with your vigilance and assistance that we will be able to stop any activity aimed at illegally affecting the outcome of the voting process," Lucas said in the email. "Too many of you have worked too hard for far too long to allow a group to try to steal our victories from us."

Puccio said the email "shows the mentality" of GOP leaders. "I'm not going to say because you're a registered Republican you're corrupt," he said.

Lucas responded that the email about election fraud wasn't directed at all West Virginia Democrats.

"We don't blame the rank-and-file Democrats," he said, "just the few bad apples in Democratic leadership."

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


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