GOP files complaint charging voting violations by unions

Republicans filed a complaint with the Nevada secretary of state’s office late Thursday alleging that labor unions representing casino workers were engaging in an unlawful pattern of coercion and intimidation at early voting sites.

The nine-page complaint was filed by Reno attorney David O’Mara on behalf of Babette Rutherford, a poll watcher at one site.

It was O’Mara’s second complaint on alleged voting irregularities this week. Earlier, he said he was legal counsel for the state GOP but after the secretary of state questioned his direct affiliation, O’Mara said that two weeks ago he became legal counsel for the Nevada GOP Victory Committee, which he called a “federal reporting committee” for the state party.

Nevada GOP Chairman Mark Amodei said O’Mara doesn’t work directly for the party but is aware of him. He said Sharron Angle’s U.S. Senate campaign is taking the lead in monitoring potential election irregularities.

Angle is challenging Sen. Harry Reid in a high-profile and hard-fought race. A strong union get-out-the-vote effort could make a difference in that race, with such efforts traditionally benefiting Democrats such as Reid with heavy organized labor support.

In his latest complaint, O’Mara said the unions have “systematically” and “repeatedly” violated state and federal election laws.

“The reports indicate that several unions are engaging in activities that appear to be intended to intimidate and coerce their members into casting their votes in the election under the close scrutiny and supervision of union personnel,” he said. “Union personnel have gone far beyond merely busing union members to early voting polling locations.”

O’Mara said poll watchers this week documented questionable conduct at Boulevard Mall, Las Vegas Outlet Mall and the Regional Transportation Commission at the Clark County Government Center.

D. Taylor, secretary-treasurer of the Culinary Union, which represents 60,000 casino workers, called O’Mara’s claims “absurd.”

“I didn’t know it was against the law to encourage people to vote in a nonpartisan fashion,” Taylor said. “The Republicans don’t have their facts straight.”

Danny Thompson, the state AFL-CIO executive secretary-treasurer, said the Operating Engineers Union also participated, and that no laws were broken.

“This is what we do every year,” Thompson said. “Every time we mount an effort, the Republicans accuse us of doing something wrong. We’re not doing anything different than what they’re doing, which is turning out our base.”

Taylor said the Culinary Union this year worked with about 20 casinos in a nonpartisan effort to get workers out for early voting, which ended Friday. He said union and nonunion employees, as well as some managers, participated.

“We’ve done big busing before, but never in a cooperative way with the casinos, which I think is great,” Taylor said.

Ten MGM Resorts International casinos, including the Bellagio, MGM Grand, Monte Carlo and New York New York, participated in an effort to accommodate employee needs, said MGM Resorts spokesman Alan Feldman. As of late Thursday about 2,000 MGM Resorts workers had taken a bus to the polls, usually during their lunch hour, he said.

“We’re not filtering or telling our employees how to vote,” Feldman said. “We want them to be connected to the community and feel as though their voices are being heard.”

O’Mara alleged the unions unlawfully offered lunch to members as an incentive to vote. Taylor said the food was provided by the casinos, and Feldman said all MGM Resort employees are offered lunch on the company tab.

O’Mara also charged that union members escorted members from buses to the polling sites to prevent them from leaving, and surrounded the polls to “conspicuously” monitor members going to vote.

“Many of the union personnel who participate in this vote-monitoring and intimidation effort wear either union T-shirts or official-looking polo shirts emblazoned with the designation ‘Political Operation Team,’ which is reasonably likely to mislead people into falsely believing that the union supervisor is acting in a governmental or quasi-governmental capacity or otherwise exerting authority under color of law,” he wrote.

O’Mara provided detailed accounts from poll watchers who said they saw union representatives at the three polling sites he named. At the Boulevard Mall on Wednesday, for example, poll watchers saw union representatives create an “intrusive, coercive and intimidating” atmosphere for voters, he wrote.

After escorting people off the buses, a half-dozen union representatives were observed at the entrance to the polling place and all around it.

“Most of them had their arms crossed and were staring intensely into the polling area, carefully watching the union members as they voted,” O’Mara wrote.

None of the union escorts had a sticker identifying them as election observers, he said.

But it was unclear late Friday if such stickers are required, and O’Mara provided no statements from voters saying they felt intimidated.

Friday at the Boulevard Mall, the Las Vegas Review-Journal observed tour and shuttle buses come and go with casino workers throughout the afternoon. The housekeepers, cooks and other workers waited in line with other voters, cast their ballots and returned to the buses that brought them.

Several men in white polo shirts embroidered with “Operating Engineers Political Team” coordinated the movement of the workers from the buses to the polling line.

Tim Cremins, on scene for the Operating Engineers, called O’Mara’s claims “utterly ridiculous.”

“Intimidating anyone is going to make them vote against you, not for you, so it’s a ridiculous notion,” he said, adding that most voters likely have their minds made up when they arrive at the polling station. “We’re … not advocating. This is just to get people to the polling place.”

O’Mara asked Secretary of State Ross Miller to assign his complaint to the Nevada Election Integrity Task Force to investigate the allegations.

Miller said Friday morning that he hasn’t had a chance to read it. The secretary of state, meanwhile, released a report of his investigation of O’Mara’s earlier claims of early voting discrepancies in Clark and Washoe counties.

In a 56-page report, Carolyn Ellsworth, Miller’s securities administrator, said she found no fraud.

“My investigation reveals no evidence of voting machine tampering or voter fraud,” Ellsworth wrote. “It does reveal the presence of occasional human error in the election process, which cannot be avoided as long as humans are a part of the process.”

O’Mara had alleged that daily polling logs kept by election officials in Clark and Washoe counties showed more ballots cast than the tally of voters at seven early voting sites, five in Southern Nevada and two in Northern Nevada. The count was off by two ballots at one site, and by one each at six others.

Voting machines may have recorded extra votes erroneously, or people were allowed to cast votes without signing up, O’Mara wrote.

But Ellsworth said in her report that she interviewed county election officials and determined proper safeguards are in place to prevent that.

“It is my opinion, after a review of the procedures in place for poll workers, that the procedures attempt to balance the need to prevent voting fraud at the polls with the need to assure that every qualified voter is permitted to vote, and that said balance is achieved in these procedures,” Ellsworth wrote.

Clark County Registrar of Voters Larry Lomax said Wednesday that he had “reconciled” the balloting differences here, but he would not say how.

Reporter Brian Haynes contributed to this report. Contact reporter Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135 or read more courts coverage at lvlegalnews.com.

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