New York

Lost in the Funhouse


I emailed a Republican informant after his poll training yesterday afternoon to ask how his party was handling the fact that U.S. District Judge Dlott had enjoined the use of partisan challengers. His gloating response came yesterday night: “Problem solved. The appeals court ruled we have the right to be there.” And now that Justice Stevens this morning has rejected the plaintiffs’ attempts to stay the order, it’s the law of the land–end of story, as far as the legal challenges go.

It’s all rather confusing, and no purpose would be served by wending backwards through the labyrinth, other than to state the bottom line: the Republicans got their maximally desirable scenario. One partisan poll-challenger per precinct–this after earlier rulings, favorable to the enemies of vote suppression, were set to allow only one challenger per polling place. Under the previous scenario there would have been only 548 challengers. Now, there will 1,434.

1,434 partisan Republican operatives will be at polling places across Ohio doing what they can to make sure that as few Democrats vote as possible.

Now here’s the analysis.

Part of the confusion was due to a rivalry between Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell and Republican Attorney General Jim Petro. Petro said that Blackwell had incorrectly stated the law when he decided (several turns of the screw ago) that partisan poll challengers wouldn’t be allowed.

It raised the possibility that one politically ambitious Ohio Republican was tripping up another politically ambitious Ohio Republican in a rush to show the world that he wasn’t a vote-suppressor. Competing with one another to not look like Katherine Harris: an apparently heartening development.

But only apparently. Democrats being what they are–law-abiding–the Ohio Democratic Party’s vote-protection field generals have had their hands full keeping up with every twist and turn in the evolving legal situation. “We are in uncharted waters,” Mark Griffin, Cayahoga County coordinator for Ohio Victory 2004 wrote in an anguished letter to volunteers yesterday. “In the last nine days, we have had 5 different standards to follow…. At that point, we just went to the bar. After all, we figured that the rule would probably change before the drinks arrived.” And each time a new ruling arrived, Democrats retooled–sending out hundreds of credentials to their own poll watchers via Quicksilver Delivery Service Friday afternoon, for example, after the number of allowable challengers went from zero to 1,434 in an instant.

Republicans being what they are, they apparently just kept on proceeding as if they would always get their 1,434 challengers. At least that’s the impression I get from my Republican correspondent, who dodged my questions about how the radically changing legal climate had changed the party’s election-day plans.

That raises two possibilities. One is that the cat fight between Petro and Blackwell was staged–creating a climate in which the legal situation ping-ponged back and forth, knocking Democrats off their stride as they struggled to accomodate themselves to each new development.

The other possibility is that the Republicans, in this instance at least, are innocent of conspiracy.

It hardly matters. The bottom, bottom line: Democrats poll-defenders are not as prepared for the situation that presents itself this morning as they could be, because they attempted so assiduously to follow the twists and the turns. The Republicans? They kept on plowing ahead like the course was a straight as a stretch of desert interstate.

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