Rock the Vote

A Phoenix man may serve five years in prison for — get this — voting

Shortly before the 2004 presidential election, Dale Schwartz decided to register to vote.

"It was a big election, and everyone was stressing how important it was," says Schwartz, a Phoenix resident. "Honestly, I just had had enough of Bush."

Alas, the bill collector, now 55, didn't get his way, as the president squeaked to victory over John Kerry.

Then, in early 2005, Maricopa County's jury commissioner sent Schwartz a notice to appear for jury duty — unless he had a bona fide excuse.

Schwartz's response to the commissioner did, indeed, get him out of serving as a juror. Turns out, he's a felon. In 2002, he was convicted of ripping off the State of Arizona for about $5,000 by taking unemployment benefits while he was still working. Schwartz didn't serve any time for his crime, just repaid the government, did some community-service work, and served probation.

But now he may face five years in prison. His crime? Voting.

In the state of Arizona, it is illegal to vote if you are a convicted felon still on probation, which Schwartz was. And so, under County Attorney Andy Thomas' zero-tolerance regime, prosecutors have been pursuing two felony charges against Schwartz since a grand jury indicted him in early 2006.

In addition to failing to disclose his conviction when he registered to vote, Schwartz made the mistake of admitting his status as a felon whose "civil rights have not been restored" on the jury-summons form.

The latter not only kept him from serving on a jury, but alerted elections officials to his status as an illegal voter.

Those officials later sent Schwartz's name over to the County Attorney's Office. "We routinely will send over the names of people who come up on our radar screen for illegally voting," says county elections chief Karen Osborne.

Prosecutors assigned an investigator in the summer of 2005 to check out Schwartz. That investigator, Cave Golding, wrote in a report that Schwartz told him he'd believed he could vote because he hadn't served any time in prison.

"I pointed out that he had signed one form saying he was not a convicted felon and the other saying he was," investigator Golding wrote, "and told him that he couldn't have it both ways, and he said, 'I can appreciate that — I just don't know how it works.'"

Schwartz then asked the investigator if he'd committed a crime.

The answer to that came when Tophas Anderson, a prosecutor in Andrew Thomas' office, convinced a grand jury to indict Schwartz on two felony counts.

Anderson then alleged in early 2006 that Schwartz had committed the felonies while on probation, which he had been until July 2005.

The upshot is, if Schwartz is convicted at trial, a judge will have no choice but to sentence him to a minimum of five years in prison.

According to Schwartz and his attorney, Laurel Workman, he has rejected a plea-bargain offer that would have meant a three-month prison term.

"They have a strong case legally, whether we like it or not," says Workman. "But my clients have the right not to accept a deal if they feel it's the right thing to do."

That's precisely what Schwartz says he feels.

"No one ever told me the law about this," he says. "I just can't accept pleading guilty to something I didn't know about."

It's uncertain how many people have been prosecuted in Maricopa County for illegally voting. Anecdotally, Schwartz says he has heard of one woman who allegedly now is serving a year in prison, but couldn't provide a name.

"I know that we have done a number of prosecutions of both noncitizens who voted illegally and of convicted felons," says office spokesman Barnett Lotstein. "Our position is that having confidence in the integrity of the electoral system is a very serious matter."

Lotstein says he doesn't know how many of those charged with voting illegally have been convicted, or what sentences they may have received.

Debate about restoration of voting rights has been on the front burner, nationally and in Arizona, especially since the 2000 presidential election, in which Bush took office by virtue of his tainted win in the state of Florida.

In that election, about 620,000 ex-felons who had completed their prison sentences were disenfranchised under Florida law.

Voting experts, including Sasha Abramsky, author of the book Conned, have concluded that the inability of ex-felons to vote in Florida cost Al Gore a mandate in that pivotal state (the thinking is that ex-cons tend to vote Democratic more than Republican).

Just a few weeks ago, a Florida legislator introduced a bill that would automatically restore voting rights to felons once they've finished serving their sentences. (Now felons must appeal to that state's clemency board to restore their rights, a process that can take years.)

After the 2004 election, five Wisconsin residents were charged with illegal voting in that state, which John Kerry won by a scant 11,000 votes. Three of those people were accused of voting while on felony probation or parole (including a woman working as, amazingly, an election inspector), while the others faced charges of voting multiple times.

According to media reports, none of those convicted in Wisconsin (the jury hung in at least one of the cases) was sentenced to prison.

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9 comments
jazzbo13
jazzbo13

I think this paragraph from the story is very telling;

'Last month, he spent a few days in the county jail after he failed to appear for a pretrial hearing at Superior Court.'

Did this jerkoff misplace his PDA or was it a willful disregard for the system? It was most likely the latter since he served a few days in stir. He seems like the kind of asshole who likes to pick and choose what rules suit him.

Is the rule against felons voting too restrictive? Probably. Is the penalty too harsh? Definitely. Am I going to loose sleep while this guy gets ass-raped for the next 5 years? Not a wink. Not all rules are fair or make sense. Don�t like �em? Cause change. Until then, follow them!

caryn
caryn

The county attorneys, prosecutors, and AG's offices all know what they are doing. Wasting our tax dollars for political gain- sex offenders get hired to teach while the PHX PD railroaded a real teacher, due to his color, into an indictment and then the defense attorney collected a whopping $25k for a one hour and two minute defense. Why? Bc the little gun toting, meth using fugitive who hit him in a car and fucked up his life is the son of a cop. So they let the fugitive go, falsified records, and Scott Wolfram allowed "Daddy's" uncertified friend to lead a jury panel (after a half-assed investigation and tampering with evidence) into believing a crime had been committed by the teacher.

Meanwhile, fugitive drives on the streets of Phoenix, teacher is in jail now awaiting sentencing, and two cops lost their jobs over this but nothing has been done to make it right by the teacher who was framed.

All the inner-city teacher did was drive one night, designated driver at that. In court, jurors answered cell calls, winked at cops, and engaged themselves un other felonious behaviors unsanctioned by the court.

Um, yeah, the county attorney's office IS serious- a judge in Maricopa Superior court told me that anyone in that county/city could indict a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Mr Felony Voter should have taken the plea- these bastards are crooks and are really screwing taxpayers by misusing our funds.

Buckle up! It could be you next who gets hit by that little fugitive while he is high on meth.

lynne
lynne

What a farce.... can't our procecutors work on more important matters, like murders?Get real!

Dennis
Dennis

What a joke!! I have heard it all now... the LIEBERAL whackos at city hall must have nothing better to do than waste time on one guy who simply made a mistake... granted this dude isn't any Mensa member (Duh!).. but COME ON Mr. Thomas... can't you see the LUNACY in this one?? How much taxpayer money are you going to BLOW before you get laughed out of town. Yes the guy was an idiot but that DOES NOT make him a criminal. I get so sick of the draconian law enforcement in this county... the average taxpayer gets BEAT TO DEATH while the criminals, illegals, druggies, prostitutes, and other riff raff run the streets .... what a place to live. Schwartz' only crime here was getting caught ripping off the State gov't! Hell the State of AZ has been raping and ripping us taxpayers off forever why can't we put THEM on probation??? DR

Howey
Howey

I don't understand why this affair is "unfortunate". It seems to me that Mr. Schwartz decided that he had the right to steal money from the government, and thereby from his fellow citizens. He ignored his status when it was convenient for him, by voting, but when an inconvenient situation arose, he remembered his ineligibility for jury duty very clearly. When leniency WAS offered, his lawyer implied that pretending to be innocent is the "right thing to do". He was, and still is, attempting to abuse the system for his own advantage. He deserves to spend every day of that five year sentence in prison.

MARK  WM. COSTELLO
MARK WM. COSTELLO

PAUL- JUST THOUGHT I WOULD DROP AN E-MAIL TO TELL YOU WE THOUGHT AS A FAMILY WE APPRECIATED THE WAY YOU PRESENTED THE STORY ON DOMINNICK DUNNS PROGRAM JUST RECENTLY.EVERY THING THAT WAS STATED IN IT WAS REALLY CLOSE TO WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED DURING THAT TIME. WE REALLY DON,T LIKE HAVING TO SEE IT OVER AND OVER AGAIN SINCE IT WAS NOT REALLY A GOOD TIME IN OUR FAMILY'S LIVES. I NEVER HAD A CHANCE TO TELL YOU THANK YOU FOR THE COURTESY YOU SHOWED ME AND RESPECTING OUR PRIVACY DURING THIS TRIAL.I DON,TKNOW IF YOU HAVE SEEN OR HEARD OF THE ARTICLE IN THIS MONTH,S PHOENIX MAG. BUT I CANSURE TELL YOU IT SURE WAS A BUNCH OF TRASH. DID JANNA OR WHAT EVER EVER FOLLOW THIS TRIAL TO HEAR THE FACTS OF ALL THE TESTIMONY. AFTER ALL BOTH JURY,S FOUND HIM GUILTY.IT LOOKS LIKE HIS SISTER WON,T GIVE UP STIRRING UP THE POT. THER WERE A NUMBER OF THINGSTHAT WERE NEVER BROUGHT OUT IN THE TRIAL AGAINST HIM. ONE THING I CAN TELL YOU IS THIS REALLY SHOOK& HURT THIS FAMILY BAD BEING YOU WOULD NEVER THINK SOMEONE COULD ENTER INTOMY OR YOUR FAMILY AND AND COMMIT SUCH A HORRIBLE ACT OF MURDER. THIS FAMILY HAS NEVEREVER HAD A RECORD OR BEEN ARRESTED FOR ANY THING IN OUR LIVES.SO AS WE MOVE ON WITH OUR LIVES WE TRY NOT TO LOOK BACK. ONCE AGAIN THANK YOU AND GOOD LUCK WITH YOUR WRITING &FUTURE ENDEAVORS.YOURS RESPECTFULLYMARK WM. COSTELLO & FAMILY

Jason
Jason

So, let me understand this. We have a multiple felon who committed another felony, and we're supposed to feel bad for him? I'm "just a kid" and even I knew that you can't vote or own firearms if you are a felon. He knew what he was doing was wrong and now he's going to pay for it.

Doug
Doug

Is the County Attorney's Office serious??? While I don't admire anyone who cheats the system how can we as a society threaten a man with 5 years in prison for voting when we give less time to adults who rape and/or molest children? How about drunk drivers who kill people with there stupidity and get an average of 2 years if that??? Why not give this guy 50 years to life, since we are going ridiculous we might as well go all the way!

Ted Rock
Ted Rock

This guy's a liar. Sure, a five-year prison sentence is a bit harsh, but please -- he lies about his status to be able to vote, but uses his status to his advantage to get out of jury duty??

He knew EXACTLY what he was doing. The investigator was right, you can't have it both ways. We have laws for a reason. Don't like 'em? VOTE TO CHANGE 'EM (if your allowed to :)

I don't feel sorry for this clown one bit.

 
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