In Connection with Controversy Over Tom Farr Nomination to District Court, WaPo Obtains 1991 DOJ Memo on Jesse Helms “Ballot Security” Programs Aimed at Discouraging Minority Turnout


Farr worked on the 1990 campaign of Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), which came under scrutiny for distributing postcards that the Justice Department later said were sent to intimidate black voters from heading to the polls.

The postcard issue has become one factor in the unusually bitter nomination fight. In response to questions from Democrats, Farr has denied any role in drafting the postcards and said he did not know about it until after the mailers were sent, saying he was “appalled” when he found out about them.

A 1991 Justice Department document newly obtained by The Washington Post sheds some light on Helms’s campaign and the state Republican Party’s broader “ballot security” program, of which the postcards were one component. Farr served as a lead lawyer for Helms.

The DOJ document, called a justification memo, elaborates on a meeting disclosed by Farr in a letter to Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) this year. In that five-page letter, Farr said he participated in a “ballot security” meeting of the Helms campaign in October 1990 in which he said there was no need to do a card mailing because returned cards could no longer be used to challenge voter legitimacy.

The DOJ document obtained by The Post outlined the basis for the DOJ complaint against the Helms campaign and the North Carolina Republican Party for the more than 120,000 postcards sent primarily to black voters that officials said were an attempt to dissuade them from voting.

At the meeting, Farr told others that there was a limited number of ballot security initiatives that the groups could undertake at that point in the race, according to the memo. He also said because the current Republican governor could tap a majority of county election officials statewide, the need for a ballot security program that year was lessened because “they would ensure a fair election process for Republican candidates.”

During the meeting, participants also reviewed the Helms campaign’s 1984 ballot security effort Farr had coordinated “with an eye toward the activities that should be undertaken in 1990,” the DOJ wrote in the memo. The document did not say directly whether the controversial postcards were discussed as part of that effort, and Farr has repeatedly denied any prior knowledge of those mailers.


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