This week while traveling there will probably be limited posting, but I will at least add links to articles of note when I do go on line to check the news. Today McClatchy asks: Was campaigning against voter fraud a Republican ploy?
This week while traveling there will probably be limited posting, but I will at least add links to articles of note when I do go on line to check the news. Today McClatchy asks: Was campaigning against voter fraud a Republican ploy?
Talk on the blogosphere of voting irregularities typically centers around unsubstantiated claims of tampering with the voting machines and debunked claims about the meaning of raw exit poll date, often allowing the real problems to remain ignored. There’s absolutely no evidence that Republicans steal elections on election day. They are far smarter as instead they rig the system to enhance their chances, using tactics which aren’t subject to recount. McClatchy has looked at how Republicans curb voting in Democratic areas.
As has been seen with Republican misdirection in so many areas, they practice voter suppression under the guise of protecting the integrity of elections. Justice Department civil rights lawyer Hans von Spakovsky advocated changes to the election law which he claimed would reduce fraud, sometimes under the pseudonym of Publius in legal journals. Very little actual fraud of the type von Spakovsky campaigned against was ever proven, but this didn’t matter as long as changes could be advocated which benefited the Republicans:
“Mr. von Spakovsky was central to the administration’s pursuit of strategies that had the effect of suppressing the minority vote,” charged Joseph Rich, a former Justice Department voting rights chief who worked under him.
He and other former career department lawyers say that von Spakovsky steered the agency toward voting rights policies not seen before, pushing to curb minor instances of election fraud by imposing sweeping restrictions that would make it harder, not easier, for Democratic-leaning poor and minority voters to cast ballots.
With all the unsubstantiated conspiracy theories of hacked elections in some of the blogs on the left, we often forget that conservatives also claim that there is widespread election fraud when they lose. These unsubstantiated claims on the right are frequently used to justify imposing increased barriers on voting, increasing the problems in one area where the complaints on the left are justified–voter suppression. The New York Times finds that there has been scant evidence of voter fraud:
Five years after the Bush administration began a crackdown on voter fraud, the Justice Department has turned up virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections, according to court records and interviews.
Although Republican activists have repeatedly said fraud is so widespread that it has corrupted the political process and, possibly, cost the party election victories, about 120 people have been charged and 86 convicted as of last year.
Most of those charged have been Democrats, voting records show. Many of those charged by the Justice Department appear to have mistakenly filled out registration forms or misunderstood eligibility rules, a review of court records and interviews with prosecutors and defense lawyers show.
In Miami, an assistant United States attorney said many cases there involved what were apparently mistakes by immigrants, not fraud.
In Wisconsin, where prosecutors have lost almost twice as many cases as they won, charges were brought against voters who filled out more than one registration form and felons seemingly unaware that they were barred from voting.
Besides the the problems with unsubstantiated claims being used to place barriers to voting, also note further the reports of people being charged with crimes, and even deported, for mistakes such as this:
Mr. Ali, 68, who had owned a jewelry store in Tallahassee, got into trouble after a clerk at the motor vehicles office had him complete a registration form that he quickly filled out in line, unaware that it was reserved just for United States citizens.
Even though he never voted, he was deported after living legally in this country for more than 10 years because of his misdemeanor federal criminal conviction.
Joseph D. Rich, former chief of the voting section in the Justice Department’s civil right division from 1999 to 2005, writes in the Los Angeles Times that Bush has a long history of tilting justice:
THE SCANDAL unfolding around the firing of eight U.S. attorneys compels the conclusion that the Bush administration has rewarded loyalty over all else. A destructive pattern of partisan political actions at the Justice Department started long before this incident, however, as those of us who worked in its civil rights division can attest.
I spent more than 35 years in the department enforcing federal civil rights laws — particularly voting rights. Before leaving in 2005, I worked for attorneys general with dramatically different political philosophies — from John Mitchell to Ed Meese to Janet Reno. Regardless of the administration, the political appointees had respect for the experience and judgment of longtime civil servants.
Under the Bush administration, however, all that changed. Over the last six years, this Justice Department has ignored the advice of its staff and skewed aspects of law enforcement in ways that clearly were intended to influence the outcome of elections.
It has notably shirked its legal responsibility to protect voting rights. From 2001 to 2006, no voting discrimination cases were brought on behalf of African American or Native American voters. U.S. attorneys were told instead to give priority to voter fraud cases, which, when coupled with the strong support for voter ID laws, indicated an intent to depress voter turnout in minority and poor communities.
At least two of the recently fired U.S. attorneys, John McKay in Seattle and David C. Iglesias in New Mexico, were targeted largely because they refused to prosecute voting fraud cases that implicated Democrats or voters likely to vote for Democrats.
This pattern also extended to hiring. In March 2006, Bradley Schlozman was appointed interim U.S. attorney in Kansas City, Mo. Two weeks earlier, the administration was granted the authority to make such indefinite appointments without Senate confirmation. That was too bad: A Senate hearing might have uncovered Schlozman’s central role in politicizing the civil rights division during his three-year tenure.
Rich procedes to provide additional examples of the Bush administration politicizing the Justice Department. He concludes:
This administration is also politicizing the career staff of the Justice Department. Outright hostility to career employees who disagreed with the political appointees was evident early on. Seven career managers were removed in the civil rights division. I personally was ordered to change performance evaluations of several attorneys under my supervision. I was told to include critical comments about those whose recommendations ran counter to the political will of the administration and to improve evaluations of those who were politically favored.
Morale plummeted, resulting in an alarming exodus of career attorneys. In the last two years, 55% to 60% of attorneys in the voting section have transferred to other departments or left the Justice Department entirely.
At the same time, career staff were nearly cut out of the process of hiring lawyers. Control of hiring went to political appointees, so an applicant’s fidelity to GOP interests replaced civil rights experience as the most important factor in hiring decisions.
For decades prior to this administration, the Justice Department had successfully kept politics out of its law enforcement decisions. Hopefully, the spotlight on this misconduct will begin the process of restoring dignity and nonpartisanship to federal law enforcement. As the 2008 elections approach, it is critical to have a Justice Department that approaches its responsibility to all eligible voters without favor.
Maryland appears to be the first state to pass a scheme to effectively eliminate the electoral college by getting enough states to agree to give all their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the popular vote. The measure only takes effect if enough states pass the plan to provide a majority of electoral votes. The plan was passed in California but vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger. It has passed in one house in Arkansas, Hawaii, and Colorado.
While there are valid arguments for eliminating the electoral college, such a change in how elections are conducted should be done by Constitutional amendment. There is already enough controversy surrounding close elections, and a back door change in a manner such as this will inevitably lead to court battles should the change affect the outcome.
My previous post on the system, posted at The Democratic Daily after the California legislature passed this plan, is reprinted under the fold. (more…)
The Washington Post reports:
The three Democrats on the Federal Election Commission revealed yesterday that they strongly believe President Bush exceeded legal spending limits during the 2004 presidential contest and that his campaign owes the government $40 million.
Their concerns spilled out during a vote to approve an audit of the Bush campaign’s finances, which is conducted to make sure the campaign adhered to spending rules after accepting $74.6 million in public money for the 2004 general election.
Not very surprisingly, the Republicans on the panel claim, “There was no violation of the law.”
After the hanging chads of the 2000 Florida election electronic voting machines were installed to attempt to prevent a repetition of that fiasco. Instead they created problems of their own. The New York Times reports that Florida is now moving to voting systems with a paper trail:
Gov. Charlie Crist announced plans on Thursday to abandon the touch-screen voting machines that many of Florida’s counties installed after the disputed 2000 presidential election. The state will instead adopt a system of casting paper ballots counted by scanning machines in time for the 2008 presidential election.
Voting experts said Florida’s move, coupled with new federal voting legislation expected to pass this year, could be the death knell for the paperless electronic touch-screen machines. If as expected the Florida Legislature approves the $32.5 million cost of the change, it would be the nation’s biggest repudiation yet of touch-screen voting, which was widely embraced after the 2000 recount as a state-of-the-art means of restoring confidence that every vote would count.
Having a Republican such as Crist champion election reform might help end the feeling that it is a Democratic issue, leading many Republicans to dismiss election reform as merely an attempt to dispute elections the Democrats lost. This trend towards requiring a paper ballot is also being seen in other states:
Other states that rushed to buy the touch-screen machines are also abandoning them. Earlier this week, the Virginia Senate passed a bill that would phase out the machines as they wore out, and replace them with optical scanners. The Maryland legislature also seems determined to order a switch from the paperless touch screens, though it is not clear yet if it will require the use of optical scanners or just allow paper printers to be added to the touch screens.
On Monday, Representative Rush D. Holt, Democrat of New Jersey, plans to introduce a bill in Congress that would require all voting machines nationwide to produce paper records through which voters can verify that their ballots were recorded correctly. A majority of House members have endorsed the proposal, and the changes have strong support among Senate Democrats. Mr. Holt’s bill would also substantially toughen the requirements for the touch-screen machines that have printers, and experts say this could give even more impetus to the shift toward the optical scanning systems…
Election experts estimate that paperless electronic machines were used by about 30 percent of voters nationwide in 2006. But their reliability has increasingly come under scrutiny, as has the difficulty of doing recounts without a paper trail. Federal technology experts concluded late last year that paperless touch-screen machines could not be secured from tampering.
Election Law reports on a bill introduced by Senators Obama and Schumer: The Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2007:
Among other things (such as setting up a task force and requiring the production of reports on deceptive voter practices), this bill would do two main things: (1) it would criminalize knowlingly making certain false speech in connection with elections, such as fraudulently giving information about polling place locations. (2) It would allow a private party to seek an injunction in federal court to stop the giving of such fraudulent information.
Election Law does note that there might be legal challenges if this passes due to concerns over whether provisions restrict freedom of speech. The New York Times also has an editorial on the bill. Full text of the bill is here.
There sure seems to be a lot of talk of stolen elections around the blogosphere today. Several blogs, such as Michael Oates Palmer at Huffington Post, note the conviction in Ohio and try to tie it into Robert F. Kennedy, Jr’s Rolling Stone article. While there are certainly flaws in the election system which need to be fixed, I already discussed how this case provides no evidence of a stolen election. Even Right Wing Nut House does a better job of covering this story than much of the reality based community.
The 2000 election also was in the news today as three of the Supreme Court justices have defended their roles in preventing the recount. Unlike the accusations of theft in 2004, there is a much stronger case for 2000 having been decided unfairly by the Court. Talk Left has already debunked many of the false statements in this article. The media consortium’s review showed that Gore would have won if there had been a full state wide recount (although he would not have won with the more narrow recount he was seeking).
It was inevitable that Kerry’s decision not to run would lead to speculation as to the reasons. The Politco has a plausible explanation–the big money needed isn’t there this year. Another possible factor is that, while earlier Kerry might have hoped that he had the best chance to survive as the anti-Hillary candidate, Obama’s emergence as a strong contender ended that hope.
Then there’s the more absurd ideas. AP reports that two election workers were convicted “of illegally rigging the 2004 presidential election recount so they could avoid a more thorough review of the votes.” Brilliant at Breakfast offers a not so brilliant theory that this explains the reasons Kerry is not running as they revive the tin foil hat theories which have been throughly refuted in the past. While there is no doubt that the system is broken, the errors discovered just do not have much impact on the ultimate result, or Kerry’s decision. As AP reports:
Special prosecutor Kevin Baxter, who was brought in from Erie County to handle the case, did not claim the workers’ actions affected the outcome of the election — Kerry gained 17 votes and Bush lost six in the county’s recount.
This, along with other errors which might be discovered, hardly make up for the 118,000 margin by which Kerry lost Ohio. Other reports also provide evidence against the stolen election theories:
“This was not done for political reasons,” the case’s special prosecutor, Kevin Baxter, said in his closing argument. “It was so you didn’t have to do a full hand recount. Politics didn’t matter.”
Update: With all the knocking of Kerry, here’s a view from one of his fund raisers, Robert Zimmerman:
“The ultimate irony of it all is that John Kerry made an enormous contribution to shifting the national debate on Iraq. Some of the positions Republicans attacked Kerry for in 2004 are the same ones they hold now. His advocacy of phased redeployment from Iraq and his strategies for fighting terrorism have now become accepted thinking among even some leading Republicans. Even George Will, of all people, has acknowledged that Kerry was right about how to fight terrorism.”
Josh Marshall also writes that “I think he ran a much better campaign than the conventional wisdom now allows.”
Besides placing checks on the Executive Branch, the Democratic victories in the midterm elections are providing another benefit. They have reduced the talk in the liberal blogosphere about stolen elections. Before the election I received responses to some of my posts critical of the most tin-foil hat theories claiming that the Republicans could easily change the election results and there was no way they could lose.
Clearly the Republicans do not have a magic button to push in order to change election results, even in the Diebold machines. Many of the theories of a stolen election were based upon misinterpretation of the exit polls. DemFromCt has a front page post at Daily Kos which reviews data on exit polls, such as the work by Democratic pollster Mark Blumenthal disputing the claims made by people like Robert Kennedy, Jr. The post notes how exit polls have historically over-estimated Democratic votes and that “exit polls are designed to see how people voted, not to predict winners…The bottom line is that data that’s used to support a pre-existing agenda is likely to be misread. The exit polls didn’t prove Kerry won in 2004…”
There are problems which need to be corrected in elections, but the arguments based upon exit poll results,and the conclusions of a stolen election based upon them, are not valid and distract from the real issues.
From The New York Times:
State and national Republicans will pay $135,000 to settle a suit involving a scheme to jam Democratic get-out-the-vote calls on Election Day 2002, officials said Saturday.
”Although we believed our case was very strong, the cost of the trial as well as expected appeals by the New Hampshire Democratic Party would have easily matched or exceeded the present value of the settlement,” state Republican Chairman Wayne Semprini said.
Republicans had hired a telemarketing firm to place hundreds of hang-up calls to phone banks for the Democratic Party and the Manchester firefighters union, a nonpartisan group offering rides to the polls. Service was disrupted for nearly two hours.
Democrats had wanted more than $4 million in damages — the cost of seven months’ work for the get-out-the-vote effort. Republicans maintained they should only have had to pay about $4,000 — the cost of rental and use of the phones.
Yesterday there were reports that voters in Democratic areas of Virginia were getting phone calls such as the following to try to scare people into not voting:
“This message is for Timothy Daly. This is the Virginia Elections Commission. We’ve determined you are registered in New York to vote. Therefore, you will not be allowed to cast your vote on Tuesday. If you do show up, you will be charged criminally.”
MSNBC now reports that the FBI is investigating:
Jean Jensen, Secretary of the Virginia State Board of Elections, confirms that the FBI is now looking into possible voter intimidation in the US Senate race between Republican incumbent George Allen and Democrat Jim Webb. Jensen says state officials alerted the Justice Department yesterday to several complaints of suspicious phone calls to voters that attempted to misdirect or confuse them about election day. She adds she has now been contacted by FBI agents. The FBI in Richmond refuses to comment.
In a written statement issued by the Webb campaign, state Democratic party counsel Jay Myerson says he believes that Republicans are behind an orchestrated effort to suppress votes for Webb. Republican officials, including the executive director of the Virginia Republican party, say the GOP and the Allen campaign are focused on mobilizing voters and have not discouraged anyone from voting.
When the voters don’t want you, the obvious thing to do, if you are a Republican, is to keep the voters from voting. Documents obtained by The Washington Post demonstrate that voter suppression is a major Republican strategy in Maryland:
While many liberals have concentrated on the electronic voting machines, and this is certainly a potential problem which must be watched, the established problems to date have been techniques such as voter suppression which give Republicans an edge as opposed to shenanigans after the votes have been cast.
Farhad Manjoo of Salon reviews the HBO Documentary, Hacking Documentary. With all the unsubstantiated claims that are being accepted uncritically on some liberal blogs, it is good to read that this documentary is factual. Here’s a portion of the review:
Computer security is not an easy topic to explore on film, but “Hacking Democracy” conveys the danger in a remarkably simple manner. It does so by focusing on the slipperiness of one company, Diebold, a leading provider of touch-screen machines that has long been Harris’ chief target. Diebold has all you could ask for in a corporate enemy — ties to the Republican Party, a history of both lying to and currying favor with officials, a brusque and secretive posture in its dealings with critics and the press, and, worst of all, a pattern of technological ineptitude so startling you sometimes wonder if the people who work there are trying to sabotage the vote. The problem, Harris makes clear, isn’t just that electronic voting technology is inherently untrustworthy — the scary thing is that we’re getting bad technology from people who act oblivious to the danger. Either they don’t know how vulnerable their equipment is (which they should, as various studies have discovered alarming security flaws), or they know and aren’t admitting it. Neither scenario inspires confidence. (Diebold alleges that “Hacking Democracy” is riddled with “inaccurate reporting,” and it has called on HBO to cancel the broadcast.)
The film’s other virtue is its commitment to the facts. Regular readers know that I’ve frequently criticized people in the election-reform movement for making claims that they don’t have evidence to back up — especially that George W. Bush stole the 2004 presidential election, an allegation that, as I’ve argued before, casts any effort to repair our elections as little more than a hobbyhorse of the far left. “Hacking Democracy” criticizes the 2004 race (as I have as well), but the film doesn’t argue that Kerry won, and, in the main, it avoids conjuring the vote-stealing conspiracies that Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Mark Crispin Miller and others saw in 2004. “It’s not quite as simple a picture,” Harris says of theories that the GOP has the voting companies in its back pocket. “The state of Maryland and the state of Georgia have Democrats very tightly wed to using the Diebold system, and it’s the Republicans who are fighting against it there. And in my own home county, King County, Washington, it’s the Democrats who are pushing these systems and the Republicans who are a little bit skeptical.”
Indeed, more than partisan mischief, “Hacking Democracy” really documents a parade of electoral ineptitude stretching from sea to shining sea. Here and there you find well-meaning officials and outside groups trying to make sure the vote goes well — but to watch this film is to see that too many county-level functionaries who run elections believe that covering their asses, rather than assuring an accurate vote, is the real point of the game. In one scene, Harris and her friends show up at the elections office in Volusia County, Fla., a couple of weeks after the 2004 vote. They find a garbage bag sitting outside the county’s warehouse, and when Harris tears it open she sees “poll tapes” — each voting machine’s printed tally of how many votes it recorded on Election Day — floating about in the muck. “I would think … you would be very concerned about this,” Harris says to Deanie Lowe, Volusia’s elections supervisor. “I mean, you can’t throw away polling place tapes … that are signed by six poll workers and put them in the shredder. I think we all understand that.” But Lowe offers no explanation. One county employee dismisses the problem, sputtering to Harris, “Basically you’re making a molehill out of a mountain.”