By Brad Friedman on 7/24/2008, 11:00am PT  

As we broke earlier this week, after previous snubs and threats of subpoenas, Ohio's disgracefully-partisan former Sec. of State J. Kenneth Blackwell was finally set to testify to the House Judiciary Committee today (as well as another legendary GOP vote suppressor, former FEC chair and DoJ Voting Rights Division gamer, Hans von Spakovsky.)

After a late start, and a then a blackout of the Judiciary Committee's webcast feed just after Blackwell began his opening statement ("Thank you Mr. Chairman..." and then suddenly the feed went out), things picked up again during the opening statement of GOP propagandist/attorney Cleta Mitchell who went on and on about the same old nonsense concerning "voter fraud" via voter registration applications submitted by ACORN, the GOP's old "voter fraud" strawman...

For those who haven't been keeping up with the Republican's disingenuous, years-long attacks on ACORN, it should be known that while a handful of ACORN's hired hands around the country have submitted fraudulent registration forms --- most famously, in Republican Lore, for "Dick Tracy", "Donald Duck" and "Mary Poppins" --- there is no known case of Dick, Donald or Mary ever actually casting a vote, fraudulent or otherwise.

Furthermore, and far more notably, ACORN itself is the one who notifies election officials about such questionable registration forms, since they attempt to verify, by phone, every single registration form gathered. When they can't, they flag them as possibly fraudulent and turn them in that way, as they must do by law, to local election officials.

Republicans don't like ACORN because, plain and simple, the organization registers millions of voters each year. Much of that registration is in low-income areas and therefore, far and away those registered tend to be voters who lean towards Democrats. Republicans are only in favor of "democracy," in general, when they perceive they may benefit from it.

So with unapologetic wingnut Cleta banging the same tired old drum, and unable to demonstrate any actual "voter fraud" of note (most such fraud, far and away, occurring via absentee ballots, as noted by panelist Dan Tokaji, election law professor from Ohio State University, thus restrictive polling place Photo ID measures she and all faith wingnuts advocate would do nothing to prevent that sort of fraud) the usual partisan lines were drawn up through the first recess of the committee. That recess is now occurring so that members can cast some votes on the House floor.

While we missed Blackwell's opening statement due to the blackout, and just after both Nadler and Conyers' noted that the Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division, Voting Unit failed to supply a witness today --- leaving them with a blackout as per what the situation will be like in 2008 --- the feed was restored in time to hear Ranking Republican Franks' fawning "disclosure" to Blackwell.

"I believe you're an example of what an elected official should hold themselves to," Franks noted to the hard-right partisan former SoS and Co-Chair of Bush/Cheney's Ohio election committee, "So, in that sense, I'm very biased in your favor."

Blackwell then went on, as expected, to repeat the same old nonsense in response to questions from the Democrats on the committee. For example (paraphrasing):

"We have bi-partisan election boards in Ohio, so nothing could have gone wrong." (Never mind that we know many of the "Democrats" on those boards never voted in a Democratic Primary until just before being appointed to the board) "Ohio's provisional ballot count rate is among the best in the country, so it's fine that we don't allow voters to cast provisional ballots in precincts other than theirs" (Never mind that we didn't count provisional ballots cast at the right polling place, but at the wrong precinct/table in the same room!), etc.

This hearing, of course --- in particular Blackwell's testimony --- should have occurred years ago, and this should have been the first of dozens of such hearings concerning the debacle that was the Ohio 2004 Presidential Election. Blackwell, however, had refused to appear previously, and the Democrats, in general, have taken their sweet time in putting these issues front and center following their ascendancy to the majority. Though their early work --- notably Conyers' field hearings in Columbus, and his "Preserving Democracy: What Went Wrong in Ohio" report [PDF] --- was crucial and well-recommended, even if the rest of the Democratic party was too cowardly to actually read it or act on the mountain of evidence presented showing a mountain of evidence demonstrating Ohio's '04 election was irreparably gamed.

That same election remains in contention today, as we reported earlier this week, with a lawsuit having been re-opened as of last week, with new details now coming out concerning the GOP operatives who built both Ohio's election reporting network, as well as the Congressional firewall still in use today for Conyers' committee.

In short, there is a Pandora's Box of toxins here which one hearing is quite unlikely to even begin to disinfect. But we'll take what we can get at this point, even as almost all of the same people and procedures are in place for a rerun of the nightmare in 2008, should they choose.

We'll keep our eyes on the hearings when they return. And, if possible, later today, we'll try to post some notable video exchanges as we happen to be able to get at them.

You can watch the hearings yourself, once they resume, via the Judiciary Committee's RealPlayer webcast feed.

UPDATE: Sparks began to fly after the recess. Working on getting some video of some of the exchanges if possible. Will update this item when/if I do...