A Republican National Committee (RNC) official had calculated that a so-called ballot security program in Louisiana "could keep the black vote down considerably," according to documents released today in federal court here.
The documents and court hearing were the latest developments in a continuing controversy over the GOP's ballot program, which Democrats maintain is aimed at reducing minority turnout. The Republicans say the program's sole purpose is to purge ineligible voters.
In an Aug. 13 memo the court made public today, Kris Wolfe, the RNC Midwest political director, wrote Lanny Griffith, RNC southern political director, and said of the Louisiana campaigning:
"I know this race is really important to you. I would guess that this program will eliminate at least 60-80,000 folks from the rolls . . . . If it's a close race . . . which I'm assuming it is, this could keep the black vote down considerably."
She said in the memo that the program had been approved by Gregory Graves, deputy political director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
The document, called Exhibit 13, was unsealed by U.S. District Court Judge Dickinson R. Debevoise when lawyers for the Democratic National Committee (DNC) said it was needed to question Wolfe.
Wolfe testified that she wrote about the possibility of keeping the black vote down to remind Griffith that there "might be a political situation he might want to consider . . . . I wanted him to be aware of the political considerations."
The Democrats are suing the Republican Party for $ 10 million, charging that RNC ballot security programs violated a 1981 consent agreement signed here by both political parties.
Under the agreement, the RNC would "refrain from undertaking any ballot security activities in polling places or election districts where the racial composition of such districts is a factor."
Debevoise refused today to issue a restraining order requiring the GOP to stop all similar activity.
The judge said he accepted the word of Republican lawyers who told him that all ballot security programs have been stopped, including an effort the Democrats say singled out predominantly black and Hispanic precincts in Pontiac, Mich.
Under pressure from national GOP officials, who were seeking to avoid a confrontation in the courts, organizers of the Michigan program Thursday night abandoned plans to send in paid workers to challenge certain voters in Pontiac. The Michigan program was financed largely by a $ 24,000 grant from the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).
For the past month, the RNC has been ensnared in controversy over its ballot security program. In testimony today, Mark Braden, the RNC's chief counsel and the organizer of the ballot security program, said he repeatedly sought to make it clear to subordinates that "race was a factor that could not be used. I would instill the fear of God in them . . . . I'm not an idiot -- this is a big press issue and it's a big legal issue."
The RNC's ballot security program was conducted in Louisiana, Indiana and Missouri. Before it became controversial, GOP political strategists said they planned to use it in other states.
On Oct. 14, Louisiana state District Court Judge Richard E. Lee issued an injuction against the program. In his order, Lee said, "This was an insidious scheme by the Republican Party to remove blacks from the voting rolls."
In most of the GOP programs, voters in districts and precincts in which 80 percent or more cast ballots for Walter F. Mondale in the 1984 presidential election were mailed letters marked "Do not forward, return to sender." In many cases, precincts casting Democratic margins this high are black or Hispanic.
Letters that were returned to a Chicago company hired by the GOP, Ballot Integrity Group Inc., were turned over to election officials in an effort to have the names purged from the lists on the grounds that the voters apparently did not reside at their listed addresses.
In addition, the names of all the voters for whom letters were returned were turned over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. attorneys' offices. The names also were kept for possible use by Republican poll judges on Nov. 4.
National Republican Party officials have promised the courts that no use of the lists will be made on Election Day.
Wolfe, questioned today by DNC lawyer David R. Boies, testified that she served as a "technical consultant" in the Louisiana ballot security program, and discussed it at length with officials of the Republican Senate campaign of Rep. W. Henson Moore, including Larry Kinlaw, Moore's campaign manager.
Moore and Democratic Rep. John B. Breaux are in one of the tightest races in the country, and party officials for both sides say that turnout will be a key factor.
During his questioning, Boies sought to tie the RNC to the Michigan program by questioning Wolfe about a series of memos that appeared to link her to it. In a memo to RNC officials, Wolfe wrote: "Met with John Maddox [of the NRCC] and agreed to write ballot integrity plans for Indiana 8 and Michigan 6," and "worked on MI6 ballot integrity program." Pontiac is in Michigan's Sixth Congressional District.
Wolfe denied writing the Michigan plan.
In rejecting the Democrats' request for a restraining order, Debevoise said the Democrats had not adequately proved a link between the RNC and the NRCC, which put up the $ 24,000 for the Michigan program.
[In Washington, Democratic Party Chairman Paul G. Kirk Jr. said, "The GOP's attempt to portray this outrageous assault on voting rights as a public service project to eliminate ghost voters is another classic Republican disinformation campaign -- an attempt to make people feel good while masking Republican dirty tricks."]