Missouri GOP Sen. Christopher Bond is calling for a federal investigation into efforts by Democrats to keep polls open in St. Louis until 10 p.m. on Election Day — three hours after they were scheduled to close.
In letters to the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bond has asked for a probe of what he called “highly suspect” activity.
”I think the evidence points very strongly to a major criminal enterprise, and if this in fact happened … I believe prosecution of those who committed any of the acts and conduct in the conspiracy to defraud voters should be brought to justice,” Bond said in a press conference.
A judge ordered the polls to stay open for three extra hours in St. Louis after voters reported difficulties. Shortly afterward, an appeals court overturned the judge’s order, but Bond alleges the decision was ignored and widespread voter fraud ensued.
In a key statewide election Tuesday, the late Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan defeated Republican incumbent Sen. John Ashcroft for a U.S. Senate seat. Carnahan’s widow, Jean, has said she would serve in his place. The Democrats also took the race for governor, with State Treasurer Bob Holden defeating GOP Rep. Jim Talent.
Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. George W. Bush carried Missouri on Election Day, and his campaign did not appear to be involved in Bond’s efforts.
Kevin Coan, the city’s Republican director of elections, said the legal battle did not in itself constitute fraud. Some Democrats bristled at Bond’s suggestion of criminal activity. “If you’ve got any evidence [of fraud], then come with it,” said St. Louis Mayor Clarence Harmon, a Democrat. “If not, then quit talking about it.”
The decision to keep the polls open came after a day of frustration for hundreds of voters in St. Louis who were turned away from the polls because they were not registered or for other problems. About an hour before the scheduled poll closing time of 7 p.m., Judge Evelyn M. Baker ordered the city’s Board of Elections to keep the polls open until 10 p.m.
About 40 minutes later, the Missouri Court of Appeals overturned the order, forcing the polls to close. Bond alleges voters were permitted to continue to cast ballots into the evening despite the appellate order. Further, Bond has suggested the initial order to keep the polls open was part of a deliberate scheme by Democrats. Elected officials were quoted in local media stating the polls would be kept open later than scheduled, he says, and taped phone calls were prepared in advance to be sent to homes in the area alerting voters about the open polls.
Bond said he wants to know if other states had similar events and if the Democratic National Committee coordinated them.
Coan said the board is also investigating 29 polling places where election judges walked out at 7 p.m., leaving ballots and boxes unattended. Police later secured the materials. “There does not appear to be any ballot box tampering that we’ve been able to establish yet,” Coan said.
Democrats Defend Actions
For their parts, Ashcroft and Talent have said they will not contest election results in the city of St. Louis. “I know there are very serious allegations of fraud and corruption as it related to the conduct of the election in the city of St. Louis,” Ashcroft said Wednesday after conceding the election to Carnahan. “But I reject any legal challenge to this election.”
Talent agreed, but said someone should look into the fraud allegations.
“I’m not the prosecutorial type,” he said Wednesday afternoon. “I’m not going to lead some charge to clear that, but somebody should.”
Democrats continued to defend their effort to keep polls open.
“All we were trying to do was give people the right to vote,” said Douglas Dowd, the attorney who represented the Democrats in court. “That’s it and there is no fraud involved. Kit Bond’s demagoguery by trying to steal the election should be summarily dismissed by the people and the courts.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.