SOUTH BEND — Political analysts say fewer and fewer Americans are voting, but one former Ocean Park resident and county commissioner candidate may be bucking the trend. Rudolph DeSwart, 65, is allegedly such an enthusiastic voter that he voted in Washington for several years after moving to Oregon — even though he also actively voted in Oregon elections.
DeSwart, who now lives in Salem, was one of 74 Washington cases of potentially fraudulent voting identified in a recent study of ballots cast in five states during the November 2016 General Election. The study was conducted by the nonprofit Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC, a group dedicated to ensuring accuracy in voter roles and simplifying the voter registration process.
A matter of integrity
In September, the Washington Secretary of State’s office notified auditors and prosecutors in the 22 counties where potentially fraudulent activity was found. The Pacific County Sheriff’s Office conducted a brief investigation, and Prosecutor Mark McClain subsequently charged DeSwart with four counts of intentionally voting in more than one state.
While it is legal to vote in one state while staying in another, it is not legal to vote in more than one state in the same election. In the 1960s, a series of U.S. Supreme Court cases established the concept of “One person, one vote” as one of the core values of American democracy.
“When he’s voting in both states in both the primary and the general, he clearly is doing it to vote more than once,” McClain said on Oct. 5. “I think the integrity of the election requires us to take these kinds of things seriously.”
Voting early and often
DeSwart first registered to vote in Washington after buying property north of Ocean Park in 2001. During his time there, he served as president of the Sunset Sands Homeowners’ Association. He also took an interest in local politics. DeSwart ran as a Republican in the 2004 county commissioner race, but lost to Norman “Bud” Cuffel.
In 2010, he moved to Salem, where he registered to vote, according to a probable cause statement. Voter records show that he arranged to have his Washington ballots mailed to his Salem address. It appears that DeSwart made an effort to continue voting in Washington long after he moved to Oregon — in 2015, he moved to a different house in Salem, and updated his Washington voter records to the new address.
According to the investigation report, “DeSwart has voted in Washington six times since he registered to vote in Oregon.” Oregon elections officials told the investigating deputy DeSwart has voted 10 times in Oregon since registering there. By cross-referencing voter records from both states, the deputy determined DeSwart had allegedly voted in both states during the November 2010, 2012 and 2016 General Elections, as well as the 2016 May Primary Election.
No recall about elections
On Oct. 4, a Pacific County Superior Court judge issued a summons ordering DeSwart to appear on Nov. 3. On Oct. 6, he said he had not received the summons yet, and no one had called him during the investigation. DeSwart said he did not want to comment in depth without reading the charges against him, but speculated that he might have mixed the ballots up with some other type of paperwork from the state.
“I am a property owner in Oregon and Washington, and I bank in Washington,” DeSwart said. “To my knowledge, the only issues that we did anything with were when it would affect my property.” A search of state and county property records did not turn up any properties in his or his wife’s names, other than the property sold in 2010.
DeSwart said he has a health condition that affects his memory, making it difficult for him to recall exactly what happened.
“I couldn’t say, because I don’t know,” he said.
Two states, two votes
Most suspected voter fraud cases uncovered by the ERIC study involved people who allegedly voted in more than one state. There were 30 cases where Washington voters appeared to have also voted in Oregon. A smaller number of cases involved people who voted more than once in the same state. In Cowlitz County, one person apparently voted on behalf of a dead person.
“People make all kinds of mistakes in elections. They sign the wrong ballot. That’s not the kind of thing we’re worried about,” said McClain. As prosecutor, he serves on the county’s canvassing board; the body that helps ensure local ballot counts are accurate, and conducted in compliance with the law. State law allows prosecutors to treat suspected voter fraud as either an infraction, or a Class C felony, depending on whether or not it appeared to be intentional. In this case, McClain thought the allegedly consistent pattern of double-voting justified the stiffer charge. It carries a penalty of up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
“Had he just voted in the same year he moved? OK,” McClain said. “But over and over and over again? That’s just crazy.”
Tens of cases of voter fraud
President Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed that he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton because “millions of people” illegally cast ballots.
“I will be asking for a major investigation into VOTER FRAUD, including those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal and even those registered to vote who are dead…” he tweeted on Jan. 25. In May, he formed a special commission to investigate whether voter fraud influenced the election. So far, however, the commission has been largely tied up in dealing with lawsuits from states and groups who fear the inquiry could violate citizens’ privacy rights, according to various national media outlets.
Other organizations have found only a handful of isolated cases of fraud in recent past elections. According to analysts at the nonpartisan Brennan Center For Justice at New York University, the odds are much higher that an American citizen “will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.”
The ERIC study, which also included Colorado, Delaware and Maryland, was planned well before Trump made his allegations, ERIC officials have said. It also found that voter fraud was exceedingly rare. In both Oregon and Washington, just 0.002 percent of the votes cast in the 2016 General Election were suspect. In Oregon, that worked out to about 1 in 38,000 ballots, according to Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson.
DeSwart hinted that the allegations about his own voting conduct could be fake news.
“I don’t know anything about that,” DeSwart said. “For all I know, that’s fake as well, but I will certainly check into that.”