Tally Ho!: The GOP's Hounding of Voters

Rehnquist is dead, but his spirit lives. The Supreme Court and Rove's man at the FEC pump life into "voter fraud" scheme.

A snapshot of current American electoral politics is one of the ugliest pictures of the year, now that the increasingly conservative Supreme Court has decided to hear a major voter-fraud/national photo ID case before next year's elections.

The GOP-engineered presidential-vote debacle in 2000 has developed into what may become a major scandal involving the use of photo IDs, which the GOP has been trying to engineer in time for next year.

"Voter fraud" — a purported invasion of polling places by illegitimate voters — is the battle cry of Republican officials hoping to stem turnout by likely Democratic voters in battleground states.

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And "voter fraud" is right: The requirement that voters present photo IDs is their scheme, and Hans von Spakovsky is their standard-bearer at the Federal Election Commission. That uncomfortable sensation felt by small-d democrats is their cherished poll being shoved up a place where the sun don't shine.

Who said Karl Rove left the building? Coupled with the appointment of Michael Mukasey to oversee the Justice Department and its Civil Rights Division, the GOP is setting itself up well for '08, fighting a winnable war against U.S. voters while it fights an impossible war overseas. Rove's fingerprints are all over this, whether or not he's still using his White House keyboard.

Iraq has left the Republicans flaccid, but their "voter fraud" canard and accompanying strategy threaten to give the GOP yet another election.

Shades of Bill Rehnquist! Before he was chief justice of the U.S., Rehnquist personally blocked black people from voting in Phoenix in 1964, using "voter fraud" as his excuse. I wrote about that in September 2005 ("Rehnquist Death Gives Bush Chance to Deepen American Crisis"), recalling Dennis Roddy's riveting column in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that itself recalled Rehnquist's totalitarian behavior in Arizona as a GOP operative.

Rehnquist died in September 2005, but that didn't help because John Roberts, who favors corporate citizens over human citizens, took his place. An event that may turn out to be equally vital to the GOP occurred three months later, when Bush made a recess appointment to the FEC of von Spakovsky, a former Republican county chairman in Georgia. Before his FEC appointment, von Spakovsky was the chief civil-rights violator in the Justice Department's civil-rights division, leading the move to suppress minority and poor voters.

Von Spakovsky is up for confirmation to another FEC term. And the Roberts Supreme Court announced yesterday that it will hear the issue involving national photo IDs and voting — just in time for next year's election. This is dangerous, because it will likely bollix up '08 voting in key states.

There's plenty to read on this topic. From Paul Kiel at Talking Points Memo this past June:

A group of former voting rights attorneys in the Division put it most succinctly in a letter to Sen. [Dianne] Feinstein … urging rejection of his nomination: von Spakovsky was "the point person for undermining the Civil Rights Division's mandate to protect voting rights." Von Spakovsky reported to [the division's Bradley] Schlozman, and the two worked together to purge voters from the rolls, ensure that voter ID laws were approved with no fuss, and punish lawyers who did not toe the line.

Kiel refers to a 2004 piece by Jeffrey Toobin in the New Yorker whose headline says it all: "Poll Position: Is the Justice Department poised to stop voter fraud — or to keep voters from voting?"

See Lou Dubose's 2006 account of how von Spakovsky collaborated with Rove to scheme Tom Delay's crooked redistricting in Texas earlier this century. More to the current point, Dubose noted at the time:

The White House human resources shop found [von Spakovsky] on a county board overseeing elections in Atlanta and appointed him director of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice.

He had additional voting rights experience that qualified him for his DOJ job. He had served on the board of the Voting Integrity Project, a regional franchise in the Republican Party’s national voter-suppression ancillary operation.

In 2000, while von Spakovsky was on the board of Voting Integrity, the group worked to cleanse Florida voting roles of African-American "felons." Unfortunately, their felons list included the names of thousands of innocent people.

Dahlia Lithwick's piece two days ago in Slate is also vital for understanding the back story on von Spakovsky.

Legal beagles can parse Bob Bauer's analysis yesterday of the politics swirling around the vote case the Supreme Court has now agreed to hear.

For a very recent story hinting at the bad smell emanating from the Justice Department, see "The Stooge," by David Martin of Kansas City's The Pitch.

As for following this issue, though, nothing beats wonk lawyer Rick Hasen's Election Law site, though Hasen is perhaps too hopeful that the high court will protect the rights of voters.

As I've pointed out before, in a September 2004 piece about dubious electronic-voting machines, Hasen is always a captivating and current legal-news live wire.

Those who can't live without the New York Times can learn some things from an April 12 story, "In 5-Year Effort, Scant Evidence of Voter Fraud," co-bylined by Ian Urbina, whose copy I used to have the pleasure of editing.

But you must keep clicking on the excellent McClatchy home page (formerly the Knight-Ridder D.C. Bureau), and definitely read Greg Gordon's story last April, "Administration pursued aggressive legal effort to restrict voter turnout." Gordon noted:

For six years, the Bush administration, aided by Justice Department political appointees, has pursued an aggressive legal effort to restrict voter turnout in key battleground states in ways that favor Republican political candidates.

The administration intensified its efforts last year as President Bush's popularity and Republican support eroded heading into a midterm battle for control of Congress, which the Democrats won.

Facing nationwide voter registration drives by Democratic-leaning groups, the administration alleged widespread election fraud and endorsed proposals for tougher state and federal voter identification laws. Presidential political adviser Karl Rove alluded to the strategy in April 2006 when he railed about voter fraud in a speech to the Republican National Lawyers Association.


Next year those of you who can vote might want to vote early and vote often.

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