As the off-year elections approach, the most attention-getting statewide race in Ohio is a ballot question on casinos. But one Ohio registered voter who might miss having his say on that critical question is convicted al-Qaeda terrorist Christopher Paul, who was sentenced back in February to 20 years in prison on charges of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction to kill Americans.
A quick check of the Franklin County Board of Elections website finds that Paul is still registered to vote in Ohio. Speaking with Board of Elections spokesman Ben Piscitelli last week, he confirmed that Paul’s registration was still active and blamed the federal courts for not informing the board of his change of status. Piscitelli finally offered that the best way to have the al-Qaeda terrorist removed from the voter rolls is for me to file an official challenge to his registration.
Christopher Paul can hardly be described as a jihadist wanna-be. As Andy Cochran at the Counterterrorism Blog noted at the time of his plea agreement, Paul is the earliest known American al-Qaeda operative, joining the mujahadeen in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the early 1990s (though long after the departure of the Soviets) and continuing to communicate and obtain supplies for al-Qaeda operatives based in Europe.
As the statement of facts Paul admitted to in court describes, upon his return to the U.S. he began conducting jihadist training based out of the Columbus, Ohio, mosque he worked for as a paid martial arts instructor. He would also conduct training sessions at an Ohio state park, eventually building a sizable terrorist cell. According to documents filed in his case and the earlier cases against his two co-conspirators, Iyman Faris and Nuradin Abdi, the Columbus al-Qaeda cell grew to at least a dozen members, only three of which (Paul, Faris, and Abdi) have been charged. Paul was specifically convicted of planning terrorist attacks against U.S. citizens at home and abroad.
The implications of election authorities not able to remove convicted terrorists from voter rolls would seem to be self-evident. Unfortunately, this is not a new problem for the Franklin County Board of Elections.
In fact, it was only last year when I reported prior to the November 2008 presidential elections that Paul was still on the Ohio voter rolls. At that time, the Board of Elections claimed that since Paul had only pled guilty and had not yet been sentenced, he would be removed within of month of the court doing so. He was sentenced in February of this year and the paperwork finally was signed by the federal judge in March. However, after seven months, it seems whatever communications between the court and the Board of Elections needed to occur to remove Paul from the voter rolls have not happened yet.
But even before the 2004 elections it was found that Paul’s accomplices who had already been charged had active voter registrations in Ohio, even though Nuradin Abdi was never a U.S. citizen and thus ineligible to register in the first place, as Jon Craig of the Columbus Dispatch reported:
Among supposedly eligible voters in Franklin County are suspected terrorists arrested for alleged plots to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge and a local shopping mall. As an imprisoned felon, one is ineligible to vote. The other, from Somalia, is not a U.S. citizen and thus broke state and federal laws when he registered in 1999, officials said. …
“That’s really disturbing,” said Ohio State University law professor Terri Enns. “There certainly are potential problems, but there are a lot of [Election Day] safeguards to keep it from swaying the election.”
Accused terrorists Nuradin Abdi, 32, and Iyman Faris, 35, are registered to vote in Ohio. An indictment unsealed in U.S. District Court in June said Somali immigrant Abdi and admitted al-Qaeda member Faris plotted with a third Columbus man to attack a mall.
Fred Alverson, a spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department, said Abdi’s false registration may violate state and federal law. In fact, the application he signed — swearing he is a U.S. citizen — notes that election falsification is punishable by up to six months in prison, a fine of $1,000, or both.
Faris, a Columbus truck driver, is serving a 20-year sentence after admitting that he scouted the Brooklyn Bridge in New York and other potential targets for al-Qaeda as recently as March 2003. As an incarcerated felon, he will not be allowed to vote. Faris, from Kashmir, became a naturalized citizen in 1999. (“Long Gone But Still Registered,” Columbus Dispatch, October 24, 2004)
At that time, Democrats charged that the active registrations of Faris and Abdi were proof of the supposed corruption and incompetence of then-Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, a Republican. But it is highly doubtful that these same critics who assailed Blackwell will be equally as vocal now that similar corruption and incompetence are occurring under current Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat noted for her opening up Ohio voter rolls to widespread fraud prior to last year’s presidential election.
With more than a week before this year’s election, Christopher Paul still might have sufficient time to have his voice heard by casting his absentee ballot. But Ohio voters might want to ask if convicted al-Qaeda terrorists still have the ability to cast a ballot along with the rest of the electorate, who else might be on the voter rolls?