Federal suit alleges 'massive' voter fraud in East St. Louis

News-DemocratSeptember 24, 2013 

AP GRAPHIC

A federal lawsuit seeks East St. Louis elections to be conducted by county or state officials until an alleged 5,200 unlawfully registered voters are removed from the voting rolls in the city.

The East St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners conducts all elections within the city and is responsible for purging the voter rolls of residents who have died or moved out of the city. Matt Hawkins, an activist who is president of Civic Alliance of East St. Louis, filed the lawsuit against the Commission on Sept. 11 in federal court.

Election Commission Executive Director Kandrise Mosby said the commission follows state law and conducts purges of the voter rolls every two years. The commission is currently purging the voter rolls and expects to finish in about a month, she said.

Mosby declined to comment further because the litigation is ongoing.

Hawkins also asks the court to advise U.S. Attorney Stephen Wigginton to seek criminal charges against officials within the commission based on a "history of enabling massive electoral fraud."

Hawkins, who filed the suit himself, said he built his case during the past 10 years and he's "here to win on behalf of voters in East St. Louis and St. Clair County as a whole." He estimates more than 5,200 voters currently registered in East St. Louis have died or moved out of the city.

"The overarching question is really about our elections and the way we're making decisions in our city, in our county," Hawkins said. "The integrity of that process cannot be under question. It has to be protected as we would protect our most precious national assets."

The suit cites an Illinois State Board of Elections report that found the East St. Louis Board of Elections had registered more voters than there were local residents old enough to vote in 2011.

The commission conducted purges of the voter rolls in 2011 and 2009, according to Mosby. The purge in 2011 removed 3,294 voters from the rolls -- reducing the number of registered voters from 22,266 to 18,982. In 2009, a purge removed 2,604 registered voters -- reducing the number of registered voters from 22,986 to 20,382.

Hawkins called those purges a "big dog and pony show" that could enable instead of prevent voter fraud.

"This is an attempt to acquire credibility in the face of a pending lawsuit the general public isn't aware of," Hawkins said of the purge. "The fact of the matter is they are doing exactly the opposite of a purge."

Hawkins said people with ulterior motives could use the findings of the current purge to determine who is likely not to cast a ballot, then cast a fraudulent vote in their name by absentee ballot. Hawkins cites past vote-fraud convictions as evidence.

Former East St. Louis City Council member Michael V. Collins was convicted of vote fraud in 2010. Charlie Powell Jr., former East St. Louis City Council member and former chairman of the East St. Louis Democratic Central Committee, was convicted of vote fraud in 2005.

The suit asks the court to order "notice of suspension" cards sent to all registered voters. If the notices are sent, residents would have to sign and return them within 30 days or be removed from the voter rolls.

"What I'm opposed to is extra voters making decisions in my community, dead voters making decisions in my community," Hawkins said.

Hawkins said it was "perfectly appropriate" to seek criminal penalties against those in the commission.

"The court needs to set an example, to let people know this will not be tolerated. And if they are found out, then they face serious consequences," Hawkins said.

The Civic Alliance unsuccessfully led the fight to eliminate the East St. Louis Election Board of Commissioners through voter referendums in 2012. The referendums sought to dismantle the board and have the city's elections run by St. Clair County.

Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at dkelley@bnd.com or 618-239-2501.

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