martes, 2 de octubre de 2012

El precio de un voto varía desde un cuarto de litro de vodka hasta 100 dólares

The price of one bona fide, registered American vote varies from place to place. But it is rarely more than a tank of gas.

Indeed, as a rising furor over voter fraud has prodded some states to mount extensive efforts against illegal voters, election-fraud cases more often involve citizens who sell their votes, usually remarkably cheaply. In West Virginia over the past decade, the cost was as low as $10. Last year in West Memphis, Ark., a statehouse candidate used $2 half-pints of vodka.

At the high end, corrupt candidates in Clay County, Ky., once paid $100. But that was probably too much: It attracted one woman who already had sold her vote. The man who bought it first was outraged, and he beat up the man who bought it second.

It may still be possible to steal an American election, if you know the right way to go about it. Recent court cases, from Appalachia to the Miami suburbs, have revealed the tricks of an underground trade: Conspirators allegedly bought off absentee voters, faked absentee ballots, and bribed people heading to the polls to vote one way or another.

(...) “I was in town one day at a local convenience store, and someone asked me if I wanted to make a little money on that day,” Charles Russell of Jackson, Ky., testified about how he agreed to sell his vote in a local primary election in 2010. “And I said, ‘Yeah.’ ”

Russell was eventually promised $45 and given a slip of paper with names.

(...) In the past three years, six legal cases have laid out, step by step, ways that elections can be stolen. All involved local races, for positions such as magistrate, county clerk, mayor and state representative.

Four took place in a traditional heartland of American vote-buying: Appalachia.

“The first votes I ever bought, I paid a half a pint or a pint of liquor, whatever it was, for it. And then as time went on, $5 a vote, $10 a vote. I have paid as high as $800 a vote,” said Kenneth Day, a methamphetamine user and convicted criminal who was involved in a long-running vote-buying operation in eastern Kentucky. Wearing prison orange, he was testifying in a 2010 trial that sent eight others to prison.

“Election after election, day in and day out,” Day told the court. “Every election I ever worked, it went on.” The $800 payment came, he said, when two factions engaged in an impromptu auction for one man’s vote.

In the majority of these six recent cases, the fraud relied on absentee ballots, which can be filled out away from the prying eyes of election officials.

(...) In West Memphis last year, prosecutors said Hudson Hallum, a Democrat running for the state legislature, paid absentee voters with cash, whiskey and vodka and at least one with a chicken dinner. Hallum won his primary by eight votes, after taking 85 percent of the absentee ballots, and went on to win the general election.

(...) In other cases, it wasn’t even necessary to pay.

In 2010, for instance, Jerry Bowman, the sheriff of Lincoln County, W.Va., simply showed up at people’s homes and told them whom to vote for in local Democratic primary races. In some cases, he just filled out the ballot, according to a “stipulation of facts” that Bowman signed.

Bowman didn’t pay a cent, prosecutors say. Apparently, having the sheriff in one’s home was motivation enough for many voters.

(...) One recent case of alleged absentee-ballot fraud happened this past summer in Hialeah, Fla., outside Miami. Police say they were trailing a woman suspected of ballot fraud and saw her enter a nursing-home room.

The patient inside was too ill to write, speak or comprehend what was said to her. But somehow, police said, the worker left her room with a completed absentee ballot.

(...) Absentee ballots are not the only way to fraudulently win an election.

In Clay County, Ky., the vast fraud operation used poll workers, who told voters to leave their booths after one pass through the ballot. What the voters didn’t know is that there was a “review screen” that would allow them to change their choices. The poll workers scurried in and did that.

Other fraudsters have used one of the oldest tricks in the book: bribing voters on their way to the polls.

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