Felony charges related to election fraud have touched the 2008 race for the highest office in the land.
Prosecutors in South Bend, Indiana, filed charges Monday against four St. Joseph County Democratic officials and deputies as part of a multiple-felony case involving the alleged forging of Democratic presidential primary petitions in the 2008 election, which put then-candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on the Indiana ballot.
The officials are accused of taking part in a scheme to fake signatures and names on the primary petitions needed to run for president. Court papers say the plan was hatched by local Democratic Party officials inside the local party headquarters.
Among those charged is the former long-time chairman of the St. Joseph County Democratic Party, Butch Morgan, who allegedly ordered the forgeries. He was forced to resign when the allegations were first made public last October, even though his lawyer, Shaw Friedman, told Fox News at the time that Morgan did not do anything wrong.
The St. Joseph County Board of Voter Registration’s Democratic board member, Pam Brunette, Board of Voter Registration worker Beverly Shelton and Democratic volunteer and former board worker Dustin Blythe also face charges.
According to affidavits, St. Joseph County Voter Registration Office worker Lucas Burkett told investigators that he was part of the plan that started in January 2008 “to forge signatures on presidential candidate petitions instead of collecting actual signatures from citizens.”
The documents state that Burkett told investigators that “he was heavily involved in St. Joseph County political activities with the local Democratic party,” and that “he had, in fact, personally forged several such signatures,” and had attended meetings at the local
Democratic party headquarters, where it was agreed to forge the petitions. Morgan, the County Democratic Chairman, allegedly “instructed Mr. Burkett, Pamela Brunette, Beverly Shelton, and Dustin Blythe to forge ballot petitions for presidential candidates,” and that “all of them agreed to follow these instructions” by copying names and signatures from old election petitions.
According to affidavits, Burkett told investigators it was his job to “forge petitions for candidate Barack Obama,” Shelton “was assigned to forge petitions for candidate Hillary Clinton,” and Blythe “was assigned to forge petitions for candidate John Edwards.” When Edwards dropped out of the race at the end of January 2008 and Burkett refused to continue the forgeries, Morgan allegedly ordered Blythe to then forge petitions for Barack Obama.
Indiana State Police investigators identified a total of 22 petitions that appeared to be faked, yet sailed through the Voter Registration Board as legitimate documents. The signature of the board’s Republican supervisor, Linda Silcott, which is required for legal certification, appeared to be rubber stamped on the documents. She told investigators that she did not remember signing or authorizing her rubber stamp to be used.
Silcott also told investigators that she recognized the handwriting on the alleged forged Obama petitions as that of Blythe’s.
The South Bend Tribune and independent political newsletter Howey Politics Indiana have reported that a handwriting analyst concluded last fall that Blythe’s handwriting matched some of the alleged Obama fakes.
The case raises the possibility that the president’s campaign and that of Clinton’s, could have been legally challenged in Indiana if the alleged forgeries were discovered during the race.
Under state law, presidential candidates need to qualify with 500 signatures from each of Indiana’s nine congressional districts. Indiana elections officials say that in St. Joseph County, which is the 2nd Congressional District, the Obama campaign qualified with 534 signatures; Clinton’s camp had 704.
But the signatures, which were certified by the elections board, were never challenged. If the number of legitimate signatures for Obama or Clinton fell below the legal requirement of 500, they could have been bounced from the state ballot. Reports have previously put the number of phony signatures for both candidates at about 150, but state investigators plucked names from the petitions at random and cited only 20 individual alleged forgeries as part of their case. They say their investigation of the petitions continues.
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