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Strategic Allied Consulting: Voter-registration firm ex-employee being investigated in Colorado

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Just days before Colorado's voter registration deadline passes, news has leaked that a former employee of a controversial firm hired by the GOP to do voter registration is under investigation by the 18th Judicial District DA's office. The firm, Strategic Allied Consulting, is the same one that hired a young woman caught on camera in a now-viral video saying she was only registering folks who will vote for Mitt Romney.

Thanks to an Open Records request from a watchdog group, we now know that the firm -- which is battling a controversy in Florida -- is also facing scrutiny in Colorado, at least by association. The DA's office has confirmed that an individual is under investigation for a "single act" committed while this person was working for the company.

The actions of the group are especially of concern in a key swing state like Colorado, where a small margin of voters could help decide the next president.

This issue first made headlines when the aforementioned video began to pile up views two weeks ago. Here's the full clip:

A few days later, it was reported that the young woman in the video was hired by Strategic Allied Consulting, which was already making headlines for alleged voter fraud in swing states. Fox31 reported that the Colorado Republican Party had terminated its contract with that firm, which it had hired to run voter registration and "get-out-the-vote" operations.

But there were still a lot of unanswered questions about what actions the firm may have taken in Colorado, compounded by the troubling video of the girl telling someone that she was there to "register voters for a particular party."

Now we know that an employee is being investigating here in Colorado, thanks to a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request from Colorado Ethics Watch.

But we don't know much beyond that.

Ethics Watch put in a request with the office of Secretary of State Scott Gessler -- who has battled his own allegations of voter intimidation and suppression -- for any documents or communications with Strategic Allied Consulting or the company's owner, Nathan Sproul. That request, on view below, was sent out on October 1, and yesterday, Ethics Watch forwarded us a short reply from Gessler's office, dated October 4. The deadline to register is October 9.

That reply, also below, says in part:

We have one record that meets your request, but access to the record is denied under 24-72-204(2)(IX)(A), C.R.S. The record is part of an ongoing investigation. We have forwarded the information contained in the record to the District Attorney's Office for the 18th Judicial District.

Ethics Watch Director Luis Toro, who has been critical of Gessler's office, tells us that the group did not know what they might find from the request, but he says the response is proof of an investigation -- a significant discovery so close to election day.

"We send out a lot of open-records requests. We are interested in the operations of the Secretary of State," Toro says. "We didn't have any specific suspicions -- we wanted to see if there was any kind of history..... It was definitely interesting to find out that they...had turned it over to the district attorney."

Rich Coolidge, a spokesman for Gessler, says the only record that his office had on file was one relating to an investigation of a "circulator" for the firm who had allegedly discarded a form incorrectly -- and that person no longer works for Strategic Allied. Because the document is part of an investigation, his office can't pass it along to Ethics Watch or the media.

Representatives from Strategic Allied made Gessler's office and Arapahoe County aware of this individual in September -- and the matter is now in the hands of the district attorney's office, Coolidge says.

Continue for more on the controversial group and full documents. In this case, Coolidge says, the group did the right thing by turning this person in and "self-reporting." He adds, "We need some tighter protections for voters who register using voter registration drives."

This afternoon, the district attorney's office sent out a release saying that reports in the media on this investigation (presumably this one) have been false. The e-mail states: "Yesterday, it was reported in the press that the District Attorney's Office for the 18th Judicial District is investigating a voter registration company. That is inaccurate. This press release is being issued to clarify the status of the investigation."

The short release reads:

On October 2, 2012, the Colorado Secretary of State's Office asked our office to investigate a single act allegedly committed by a former employee of a voter registration company. Our office is investigating that former employee's alleged act. The voter registration company reported the allegation to the Secretary of State's Office, and the District Attorney's Office is not investigating the voter registration company. The investigation concerns an act allegedly committed at the Castlewood Library in Arapahoe County, Colorado.

All persons are presumed innocent unless or until proven guilty

Ultimately, there is a wide range of potential misdeeds that could lead to an investigation, Toro tells us, ranging from minor errors to serious manipulation of forms in ways that might hinder Democratic voters. In Florida, at least ten counties have reported suspicious voter registration forms tied to the group. Over time, the company and its leader have been accused of numerous potential fraudulent actions, including illegally paying employees per registration form, only registering individuals for the Republican Party and the most serious allegation -- registering Democrats and then ripping up those forms, the Times notes.

"You can't interfere with someone who wants to register to vote," Toro says. "That's the most sinister possibility."

Some measures in place may allow individuals to participate in emergency registrations on election day -- as we noted in a recent post on an error from Gessler's office that resulted in hundreds of folks who thought they registered, not making it into the system.

Anyone who is concerned about their registration can check at govotecolorado.com, Toro says.

But the days are dwindling, he adds.

"Now it's crunch time," he says. "There's only a few days left."

We've reached out to attorneys for Strategic Allied Consulting and a spokesman for the state GOP. We'll update if we hear back.

Continue for the full CORA request and reply from the Secretary of State. Here's the CORA request from Ethics Watch.

Ethics Watch CORA Request

And here's the response from Gessler's office.

Secretary of State Response to CORA Request

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Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.

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