Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Turns out it was about voter disenfranchisement after all

I live in one of those states that went insane and passed a super-restrictive voter I.D. bill. It was tossed by a judge, and tossing it held up on appeal.

Matt Blunt acted crushed, like the very fabric of our democracy was at stake. Why, no Missouri election would have the confidence of the electorate ever again if we did not pass a restrictive voter-ID law.

Yet it turns out that not only was the issue of voter fraud a tempest in a tea-pot in our state, a government panel, the United States Election Assistance Commission, commissioned under the Help America Vote Act not only found that there was no there there...The government panel spun their results by using selective wording in an attempt to help the Republican party line on the issue.

You read that right...Even after the panel found there was no evidence of malfeasance, they used selective wording to imply that fraud was being tolerated, issuing a report that said the pervasiveness of voter fraud was "open to debate. "

The original report stated that consensus opinion among experts was that there is little polling-place fraud, yet the final version of the report, the version that was released to the public, maintained that “there is a great deal of debate on the pervasiveness of fraud.”

The researchers whose work was altered are speaking out about it.

A number of election law experts, based on their own research, have concluded that the accusations regarding widespread fraud are unjustified. And in this case, one of the two experts hired to do the report was Job Serebrov, a Republican elections lawyers from Arkansas, who defended his research in an e-mail message obtained by The Times that was sent last October to Margaret Sims, a commission staff member.

“Tova and I worked hard to produce a correct, accurate and truthful report,” Mr. Serebrov wrote, referring to Tova Wang, a voting expert with liberal leanings from the Century Foundation and co-author of the report. “I could care less that the results are not what the more conservative members of my party wanted.”

He added: “Neither one of us was willing to conform results for political expediency.”

Both Ms. Wang and Mr. Serebrov are under contract and are therefore not at liberty to comment in detail on the discrepancies between the report they produced and the edited, doctored version that was released to the public.

The original report found that instances of intimidation and vote suppression (areas of election fraud that Democrats have been screaming about for years) were prevalent, especially on Indian reservations. Yet the final report watered down that finding, stating only that voter “intimidation is also a topic of some debate because there is little agreement concerning what constitutes actionable voter intimidation.”

So let's recap - the areas of election fraud that the Republicans have been bitching about were found to be much ado about nothing...Yet the report vaguely asserted that the problem was possibly pervasive and open to debate. And the concerns that Democrats have been pointing out - intimidation and disenfranchisement - were found to be pervasive, but were discounted and played down, because after all, who can really define intimidation...Such a slippery, nebulous concept.

This is all of a piece. The Republicans wanted a permanent majority, and they were willing to do whatever it took to achieve their political ends. Wrongful imprisonment, specious indictment, smear campaigns, slander, voter intimidation, voter disenfranchisement...

I, for one, have seen quite enough. I want my fucking country back.

The things that have transpired over the last six years have brought our nation to the brink of fascism. These things can not be allowed to stand. The future of our Republic demands that right last one of us vows to see justice restored and the sanctity of the American ballot box restored.

If the sanctity of the ballot box is not restored, the die is cast and we are headed for the ammo box.

Just in case, I'm keeping my powder dry.


mbg said...

One always think, what more will it take? Well, what the hell is it going to take? I'm ready.

Apollo 13 said...

Living in Georgia, you can imagine how incensed I have been about Georgia's voter ID law.

Luckily, as Garrett Epps at Salon, Sep. 21, 2006, reported:

"So far, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Florida and Ohio have passed or tightened photo ID laws. Democratic governors in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania vetoed such laws earlier this year, and state and federal courts have both blocked the Georgia law."

BGRS, I know you know some of this information already apart from what Kevin Drum posted, "Politicizing the Justice Department" on Mar. 29 about Joseph Rich's departure in which KD quoted excerpts from an LATimes piece.

But Salon, Bush's long history of politicizing justice, Mar. 30, 2007, by Alia Malek tells a more revealing story... some of which I am sure you'll recognize regarding Missouri:

"It's not only the U.S. attorneys who are threatened by partisan politics. Since Day One, the Bush administration has been quietly dismantling the DOJ's Civil Rights Division."...

"...The Bush administration's actions over the past six years seem almost prima facie evidence that it does view civil rights enforcement -- which had traditionally been on behalf of African-Americans, women and other racial, ethnic and religious minorities -- as a partisan matter. In perhaps a case of projection, it seems to have also expected career people to abuse their power on behalf of partisan goals.

"Thus the administration sought to recast the division in its own image, by minimizing outside input, getting rid of career people and hiring loyal Bushies. Simply choosing John Ashcroft, a religious fundamentalist and political conservative, as the attorney general immediately indicated that Bush's promises to heal and unite the nation after the 2000 election did not translate into Cabinet choices that would reflect the divided political mood of the country.

"In an e-mail to his 125,000 employees on his first day on the job, Ashcroft promised to guarantee "rights for the advancement of all Americans." But actions were soon speaking louder than words. Regular meetings of the division's section chiefs and the political leadership were virtually discontinued. In a tradition dating to the 1950s, presidents have asked an American Bar Association committee to provide a confidential rating of the qualifications of judicial candidates before the nominations are sent to the Senate for confirmation. Ashcroft and then White House counsel Alberto Gonzales met with the ABA and then terminated the ABA's advisory role. Once Ashcroft began hiring his own choices, career attorneys noticed that many of the new hires were members of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group. Ashcroft himself was called an active supporter of the Federalist Society, and several of the top legal positions throughout the administration were all held by Federalist Society members....

"...The numbers show what has happened to the division's staff since 2001. A Freedom of Information Act request in the summer of 2006 by the Boston Globe for the résumés of successful applicants since 2003 also showed that among the new hires were people who had worked for prominent conservatives, belonged to the Republican National Lawyers Association, had volunteered for the Bush-Cheney campaigns, and had limited civil rights experience. The résumés showed that only 42 percent of lawyers hired since 2003 have civil rights experience, compared to 77 percent in the two years prior, when career attorneys were primarily responsible for hiring. Almost half of those new hires with "civil rights experience" had gained it by either defending employers against discrimination suits or by fighting against affirmative action policies.

"Career lawyers say the new hires are increasingly white males with Federalist Society or Christian Legal Society credentials, even though many of them are shocked to find themselves in the Civil Rights Division. Richard Ugelow, a former employment deputy chief who now teaches at American University, says his students who ranked other divisions in the Department of Justice as their preferred choices for placement found themselves called to interview in the Civil Rights Division. One thing about those students' résumés stood out: They were members of the Federalist Society.

"What was this newly conservative incarnation of the Civil Rights Division being asked to do? From the beginning, part of the Bush administration's purpose was advancing the Christian right's agenda, and one element of that agenda was the erosion of the wall between church and state. At the same time, in a five-year period beginning in 2001, the division brought no voting cases on behalf of African-Americans and only one employment case on behalf of African-Americans.....

"...Promoting the Christian agenda was meant to help the GOP at the ballot box. Often, however, the division was used to help Republicans win elections more directly. It was in the Voting Rights Section, which Joe Rich had headed from 1999 to 2005, that the Bush administration clearly saw a valuable tool for partisan gain. In his testimony last week, Rich charged that "the priority, indeed obsession, of this administration was not to protect the rights of American voters but with ... politically charged pursuit[s]."

"After each census, voting districts are redrawn to account for population changes. In the case of states with a history of voter discrimination, those states must submit their redistricting plans to the Voting Rights Section of the division, as per Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Given the nation's history of racial discrimination at the ballot box, the question the section must consider in deciding whether to "pre-clear" any plan is, will this harm black voters?

"First in Mississippi and then in Texas, the Front Office [the term for leadership of the Civil Rights Division] facilitated or directly approved redistricting plans that created net gains for GOP candidates, patently disregarding the recommendations of the analysts and lawyers of the Voting Rights Section. Though in both instances they counseled the Front Office that the law required the opposite actions, they carried out the Front Office's orders.

"Then, after Rich's departure from the division, and under new Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the section's power was again used to the advantage of Republicans. A new law in Georgia required voters to present a government-issued picture ID in order to vote at the polls on Election Day. Staff had prepared a detailed and comprehensive memo analyzing the information provided by the state and other interested parties, and had concluded that the change would have a discriminatory effect on minority voters -- they recommended that the law not be pre-cleared. The next day, the Front Office ordered pre-clearance of the Georgia law. After that case, the Front Office barred the Voting Rights Section's staff attorneys from offering any recommendations on any cases.

"Later it was exposed that a political hire in the Voting Rights Section, Hans von Spakovsky, who played a central role in approving the controversial Georgia voter identification program and who had been in charge of setting the section's substantive priorities, had anonymously authored a law review article that endorsed the kind of system Georgia sought to enact. His attempts to hide his views may turn out to have violated Justice Department guidelines. Von Spakovsky left the division for the Federal Election Commission as a recess appointment. Similarly, the person who had been named as the senior counsel for voting rights in the section was a defeated Republican candidate for Congress.

"In the past two years, as reporters for both Salon and the Washington bureau of McClatchy Newspapers have noted, the DOJ has dispatched ideologues from the Civil Rights Division to become U.S. attorneys. Alex Acosta, the current U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Miami, left the Civil Rights Division after serving as its assistant attorney general. Another former political appointee in the office of the assistant attorney general for civil rights, Matt Dummermuth, was nominated to be U.S. attorney in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, last December.

"Most notably, Gonzales, as attorney general, appointed Brad Schlozman, former principal deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights, as interim U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri late in 2006. While deputy head of the Civil Rights Division, Schlozman had overseen the redistricting of Texas and Mississippi. He had also personally reversed the career staff's recommendation that the Georgia voter ID law be challenged. In fact, he had penned an opinion piece for the Atlanta Journal Constitution supporting the law.

"As U.S. attorney in Missouri last fall, Schlozman brought voter fraud indictments a week before the midterm elections against four individuals associated with a group registering poor and minority voters in Kansas City. Such timing contradicted Justice's policy, Joe Rich told Salon in an interview, of waiting till after an election to bring indictments, lest an investigation unnecessarily affect the outcome of the vote. It was perhaps not irrelevant, though, that Nov. 7, 2006, promised to be hard on Republicans, and that the Republican senator, Jim Talent, was in a close race, and that Kansas City was full of Democratic voters.

"Talent lost his seat to Democrat Claire McCaskill on Nov. 7, and the Democrats took control of the House and the Senate. Not long thereafter, the Bush administration finally lost its free pass to politicize the U.S. attorneys, the Civil Rights Division and the rest of the Department of Justice. The decision to fire eight federal prosecutors, most of them highly rated for their performance, attracted the attention of the new Congress. Six years into the Bush era, investigations have, at last, ensued....

"Optimists believe that once this administration's term comes to an end in 2008, the division may once again be able to enforce the nation's civil rights laws without regard to partisan motives. Others, like Joe Rich, are more pessimistic. "They can try to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again," Rich told Salon, "but you've lost career people with the institutional memory to do that." In his testimony on Capitol Hill, Rich asserted that only "vigilant oversight" would restore the Civil Rights Division and the Department of Justice to their historic role of leading the enforcement of civil rights and protection of equal justice under the law...."

Oh, the years it will take to undo the damage done by loyal Bushies. A pox on the House of GOP for generations to come.

Apollo 13 said...

Another thing... seems I'm long-winded this evening... remember Rove's speech in April 2006 addressing the Republican National Lawyers Association? Those guys were helpful in the 2000 election in Florida.

And TPMmuckraker (April 11, 2007, 6:29 PM) cites a McClatchy article, in which Paul Kiel writes, "McClatchy: DoJ Lawyers Double Up as GOP Lawyers."

How cozy.