GOP gets scolded on recruitment

THIS MUST BE SPREAD FAR AND WIDE! so that it does not happen enywhere else - specially in states like California & New York with large popullations of imigrants becoming citizens.


GOP gets scolded on recruitment

The citizenship ceremony in Jacksonville seemed to go off as usual, with a crowd of nearly 200 people going home as new Americans. The full article will be available on the Web for a limited time:
(c) 2004 Herald.com and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

Posted on Fri, Jul. 23, 2004


GOP gets scolded on recruitment

Naturalization ceremonies in Jacksonville are to be relocated after complaints that GOP activists registered new citizens as Republicans.



The citizenship ceremony in Jacksonville seemed to go off as usual, with a crowd of nearly 200 people going home as new Americans.

Just before the new citizens left the June 29 event, an immigration official directing the swearing-in urged the them to stop by a voter registration table -- a not uncommon sight at naturalization ceremonies.

But this table was unusual: Those handing out forms were Republican volunteers -- and the party affiliation box had been checked off ahead of time to make all of the new voters members of the GOP.(highlight added)

All of it was suspicious to Linda Cross, who was there to watch her husband, Dario Cruz, take his citizenship oath. Cross asked one of the women sitting at the table in the foyer of the University of North Florida auditorium whether there were any forms that left the party affiliation blank.


She was told no.

''They said they didn't have any forms that weren't checked,'' Cross recalled. 'She said, `We're a Republican organization.' ''

Now, after complaints from Democrats, immigration officials say the table was unauthorized and that the incident will mean delays in swearing in naturalized citizens in Jacksonville. Top Republican party officials insist they did not authorize the voter registration effort, but Democrats remain skeptical as to how a Republican group would know when and where to show up.

''We don't know if this is happening anywhere else,'' said Ann Farra, voter registration director for the Duval County Democratic Party. ``Our other concern is, how long has this been going on?''

Jack Bulger, the Florida district director for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, told The Herald that the group was not authorized to pass out pre-checked voter registration forms. He said that from now on, naturalization ceremonies in Jacksonville will be held at the local immigration office or in a federal courthouse, where immigration officials can have better control of the premises.

''The outcome of all this is that I understand better than anybody the sensitivity of voter registration, at any time . . . and I will not permit the naturalization process to be politicized in any way,'' Bulger said. ``It will not happen.''

A top immigration official sent an e-mail last week to aides to Florida's two senators to alert them to the naturalization ceremony changes, ``because of a recent flap regarding the registration of voters.''

A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said Wednesday that the Melbourne Democrat wants assurances that those eligible for citizenship will not endure lengthy delays because of the change.

Bulger said no other cities in Florida have reported any similar occurrences and that no limitations on where to hold citizenship ceremonies will affect other cities. Only one ceremony in Jacksonville will be delayed a few days, he said, to accommodate the change of venue from the university campus to the Jacksonville immigration office.

Joseph Agostini, a spokesman for the Republican Party of Florida, said that voter registration efforts are directed by local clubs and local party organizations and that the state party had no involvement in the June 29 registration drive.

''At the local level, volunteers often attend these kind of events to register voters,'' said Agostini, who said he had registered voters at swearing-in ceremonies in Hillsborough County in past years.

Dick Carlberg, assistant supervisor of elections for Duval County, said that on the basis of complaints from Democrats, the elections office set aside 36 registration forms from June 29 that were dropped off by the Duval County Republican Party. It is a third-degree felony in Florida to alter voter registration forms without the voter's consent.

But he said those registrations were processed after the office got an opinion from the division of elections that nothing illegal had happened. Carlberg said that while the forms were pre-checked Republican, some voters had crossed it out and selected another party affiliation, indicating they understood they had a choice.

''At worst it was unethical,'' Carlberg said. ``It depends on your point of view. But illegal, no.''

Bulger, the immigration chief in Florida, said that immigration officials typically allow nonpartisan groups or local election offices to register voters at ceremonies and no one thought to question the identity of the people who showed up to register voters in Jacksonville.

'In this particular incident, when our people were almost ready to start the ceremony, a group came in and had a nondescript sign that said `voter registration,' and our people made the assumption, without verifying it, that it was one of the nonpartisan groups we typically have dealt with,'' he said. ``Later, someone approached one of our people and said they thought they had received a form that was pre-checked. That would be inappropriate.''


While immigration officials said that the organization that offered voter registration cards to new citizens was ''unknown,'' a story about the initial controversy in The Florida Times-Union identified one of those registering voters as being a Republican volunteer named Millie McLean.

McLean was identified last October as being in charge of voter registration drives for the Republican Women's Club of Duval County Federated, one of dozens of clubs statewide that are chartered by the Republican Party of Florida. McLean refused to answer questions from The Herald, but she denied any wrongdoing to the Times-Union.

Judith Albertelli, a Jacksonville resident and president of the Florida Federation of Republican Women, said she had been told that the women's club itself did not sponsor the voting booth at the June 29 naturalization ceremony.

Herald staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.


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