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MTV in the Clear on Voting Fraud

TALLAHASSEE -- If there were any questions that those running MTV's Rock the Vote were perpetuating fraud in registering voters, they were answered Thursday.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced that it had found no evidence of criminal activity from the Rock the Vote website. It had been alerted to the potential of fraud on Oct. 8 by the Florida Department of State's Division of Elections.

But upon interviewing those involved in 20 registration cases the state had flagged as suspicious, the FDLE determined that the information on the Rock the Vote web site was accurate and the people shown as registering on it had initiated the activity.

More prominent cases of potential fraud await, however. Still outstanding, FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger says, are five separate cases against Strategic Allied Consulting, the private firm based in Arizona that had been hired by the Republican Party of Florida. Also open is the case of the mysterious letters with a Seattle, Wash. post mark that were sent to voters telling them that their registration status was in doubt.

In addition, cases against left-leaning groups National Council of La Raza, the largest Hispanic civil rights organization in the U.S., and the Florida New Majority Education Fund, a non-partisan nonprofit that aims to increase voter registration among under-represented groups, are still open. 

Thursday's conclusion that Rock the Vote wasn't involved in fraud is far from revelatory.

Rock the Vote started in 1990 as a nonprofit, nonpartisan recording industry coalition commissioned by MTV and made up of some of the most powerful figures in the music business -- including the presidents of Warner Bros., Capitol, Geffen, MCA, A&M, Virgin and Giant Records. Its original aim was to respond to the widening debate over explicit lyrics in pop music. But it was also meant to combat apathy among young voters after MTV's market research showed that only 10 million of its 25 million viewers were registered. The Rock the Vote non-profit successfully pushed motor-voter laws that allowed young people to register as they got thier driver's licenses.

Undeterred, the group remains a presence during election years and continues to register voters.

More than a week after Strategic Allied Consulting made headlines for allegations of voter registration fraud on behalf of Republicans, Florida elections officials, who are Republican, filed a flurry of charges against Democratic leaning groups. 

It's unclear what prompted the state's suspicions. The Oct. 8 letter sent by the Secretary of State Ken Detzner's office to the FDLE requesting the investigation has not been made public.

Regardless of what prompted it, the case involved lots of leg work for investigators, who interviewed dozens of residents from mostly Lee and Collier counties. The agents tried to establish why some who registered to vote on the Rock the Vote website also tried to register elsewhere.

For instance, Sarah Carmichael, a college student in Savannah, Ga., tried to register on the website but wasn't sure if her attempt had been successful. She then tried to register to vote at the Collier County Supervisor of Elections. But she was still confused about her status. Her mother, Maria, told investigators that she had been told she was too late and wouldn't be able to vote (records show her registration was recorded on Oct. 3, meaning she could have voted).

The confusion led FDLE investigator Andrew Kimpel to interview Carmichael's father, Kevin, who is a lawyer in Naples. 

"My impression was he was trying to see if my daughter had dual registered," Kevin Carmichael said, who added that his daughter didn't vote. "I’m a little confused about the level of interest when someone tries to vote and fails.I told the investigator: why are you interested in this? She didn’t vote. Is it impotant to look at this?

"It’s perhaps not a good use of state resources," he said. "They should look at only cases where people voted twice or registered twice. This was just a fiasco where someone tried to register and was essentially confused by the process."