-- Brad Friedman
As you'll note by the increase in items in John Gideon's Daily Voting News, coverage of election concerns is again reaching a fevered pitch. When it comes to election machines, most of those reports come far too late to effect any real change (other than perhaps to help encourage election officials to ensure there will be plenty of paper ballots on hand, to make sure they tell voters and poll workers about them, and then to finally count those damned ballots!)
It's clear, however, that while most election officials likely do their job honestly, there are a great number of them around the country who have little interest in voters --- certain voters --- being allowed to excercise their franchise at all.
While there is little time to do much about the machines, as they prepare to melt down, there is still time do something on the front-end voter suppression issues. Yet sadly, despite a few spotty efforts around the country, it seems those parties that do have an interest in voters actually voting (such as Obama and the DNC) have little clue about what they are facing. At least from what I've been able to learn about coordinated plans --- or lack thereof --- to combat the Republican assault on voting.
And, all the while, as Democrats dither, the well-coordinated Republican War on Democracy continues apace around the country, with new and disturbing reports coming out almost by the hour, revealing the national extent of the GOP's anti-democracy campaign.
The effort, by a number of election officials in so-called "swing states" around the country, meant to keep Democratic-leaning voters, such as students and minorities, from casting votes this year, is remarkable and growing. It is, of course, also appalling...
Suppress the Student Vote...
As Gideon's DVN noted yesterday, we saw good coverage by Greg Gordon at McClatchy on the latest attempts to keep students from being able to excercise their legal franchise in swing states like Colorado, Virginia, and South Carolina. Rightwing election officials in those states are sending out an alarming amount of false information meant to do nothing more than discourage student voters, in order to suppress the overall Democratic totals.
The anti-student, anti-democracy scam, now reported in at least three states, includes scare-tactics published by election officials, notifying students (incorrectly) that they may lose student aid and scholarships, etc., if they register to vote where they go to school.
As the McClatchy piece highlights, the democracy-hater of the hour is El Paso County, CO, clerk and recorder Robert Balink.
The election clerk, who was also a Republican National Convention delegate, claims, now that he's been caught, that his office "mistakenly published information that was incorrect" when he sent a notice to the president of Colorado College, urging him to circulate the (dis)information that students from out of state could not be claimed as dependents on their parents' tax forms if they registered to vote in Colorado.
The language in that "mistakenly published information" is remarkably similar to the notice put out by the despicable Montgomery County, VA Registrar, E. Randall Wertz a few weeks ago, in the Virginia Tech college town, reading:
So who is it in the Republican National Party that is passing out that disinformation to registrars in swing states, directing them to publish that bullshit in college towns in order to scare student voters away from voting? Have the Democrats bothered to try and find out? These aren't accidents, people.
Wertz' office has, since they were caught, retracted [PDF] the phony information. But not before a number of students reportedly cancelled their registrations in the county, as based on the inaccurate edict. Certainly many others didn't catch the retraction or won't bother to register, for fear of what it may cost them (and their parents). Virginia is, of course, up for grabs this year between McCain and Obama.
McClatchy reports that a similar situation has also been occuring in South Carolina, where a caller to the Greenville County registrar who had identified herself as college freshmen, was incorrectly advised that she "should vote where [her] parents live" if they were claiming her as a dependent.
A York County official, who was similarly called for information, "stated flatly: 'You can't vote here.'"
Of course, Greenville County, now that they've been caught, claims that the statement was "an error".
Suppress the Low-Income/Minority Vote...
And then there is the continuing concerns about challenges to voter eligibility as based on home foreclosure lists. The issue finally popped nationally after a GOP official in Macomb County, MI, reportedly told a local media outlet that the Republicans had planned on doing exactly that.
"We will have a list of foreclosed homes and will make sure people aren't voting from those addresses," Macomb's Republican Party chair, James Caribelli is said to have told the Michigan Messenger. After the outrage began, following the first article, Caribelli retracted his statement (actually, he now claims he never said it) in a
But in that same follow-up, Eric Doster, a former MI Republican Party counsel who plans to represent GOP election challengers on Election Day, said that his party was planning to create challenge lists based on returned direct mail. The practice is known as "vote caging" and the national Republican Party has been under two federal consent decrees, signed in the 80s, declaring that they would no longer engage in the practice.
Doster, however, said the state party plans to use caging lists to challenge voters anyway. "I know this has been done in years past," he told the Messenger, before adding, incorrectly and without evidence, that "both parties may be doing this."
The MI issue occurred two weeks ago, and state Democrats, as we reported last week, finally took action by filing an injunction, hoping to stop it. Rep. John Conyers then followed up at the House Judiciary Committee by requesting a "complete investigation" from the DoJ's Michael Mukasey, and demanding that John McCain order his campaign, and the GOP, to knock it off. I'm sure they'll both get right on that.
Yesterday then, the New York Times finally jumped into the fray, reporting about the concerns of using foreclosure lists to challenge voters in Michigan, as well as in Ohio and elsehwere, given that some 1 million homeowners have found themselves on such lists over the last two years.
Responding to the concern in the Times was the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC)'s chairwoman, Rosemary Rodriguez, whole told reporter Ian Urbina that, "Our biggest concern is that many of these voters will stay home or that poll workers will give misinformation."
Based on the information from election officials in the section above on student voting, you can bet your bottom dollar that there will be plenty of "misinformation" given by pollworkers, after they receive it in their training by those same Republican election officials who are the foot soldiers in this War.
Urbina goes on to report that the "flashpoints" in these battles, are likely to be in swingstates...
He goes on to report that...
As mentioned, Mukasey is no doubt getting on that straight away.
In Ohio, Democratic Sec. of State Jennifer Brunner responded to the increasing concerns this week, by issuing a directive [PDF] outlining the process for challenging voters based, in part, on evidence that their home was foreclosed. She notes that foreclosure alone is not grounds for removal from the voting rolls. Though the Ohio laws on all of this are certainly confusing enough to allow for chaos on Election Day...if any particular party had an interest in creating same.
The Times goes on to note [the "updated" text within is theirs]:
[After this article was published, Mr. Bennett sent an e-mail message adding that the Ohio Republican Party condemns "any effort to challenge the eligibility of voters based on home foreclosures."]
The back-peddling ass-coverage by the Ohio Republican Party chair, Bennett (who has a history of filthy tactics, even as he'd been simultaneously the ORP chair and chief of Cuyahoga County's (Cleveland) Election Commission, until he was fired, along with all of the other members, Republican and Democrat alike, by Brunner once she took office) is little suprise. Like his compatriot Dosten in MI, you'll note Bennett's narrow point that they won't challenge "based on home foreclosures."
The door to other challenges, of course, remains wide open, and will be fully exploited between here and November 4th and, I'd predict, also seen on Election Day in ways that will make the disaster of 2004 look like a tea party.
Bennett, in classic Bennettesque mock outrage, went on to issue a statement at the Ohio Republican website, claiming these concerns to be little more than "Leftwing Conspiracy" (sound familiar yet?) "based on nothing more than conspiracies being perpetuated by leftwing bloggers and the Obama campaign.
"Let me be very clear on this," he said, "We absolutely condemn any effort to challenge the eligibility of voters based on home foreclosures."
Of course you do, Bob.
John Kerry reportedly lost Ohio in 2004, by just 118,443 votes. That result, even as reported by Bush/Cheney's 2004 Ohio co-chair and Republican Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, was close enough that had just 6 votes, in each Ohio precinct, been recorded for Kerry instead of Bush, we'd have a different person sitting in the White House today.
And yet, as the Times reports:
The greatest concern, at least for me, is that these challenges on Election Day (whethere genuine or not) will succeed in holding up lines at the polls in such a way as to make the lines in 2004 look like nothing. After several days of asking various questions to Brunner's office, in trying to get a clearer understanding of their policy and directives, I've come to learn that only poll workers or judges can challenge voters on Election Day. That point, unfortunately, offers little comfort.
Given that we're talking about Ohio here, one of the worst political snakepits in the country, the Republicans will have plenty of their own poll workers and judges in place to challenge anybody and everybody they can, however they can dream up a reason --- legitimate or otheriwse --- for doing so.
Will the Democrats have their own folks in place to fight this ground war? Given their lackluster pushback against assaults on voters in dozens of states so far, it seems unlikely they'll be prepared to get it right again this year either. 2004 redux.
In Michigan yesterday, the Democratic-led House passed a bill "intended to keep voters who are dealing with home foreclosure from being challenged at the polls," according to the Michigan Messenger. The bill must now pass muster in the Republican-led Senate. We'll see if it makes it out alive in time to have any effect whatsoever on Election Day.
Take Action on Your Own...
Rather than waiting for either Democrats or Republicans, I'd recommend you take matters in your own hands...
- You can sign up to be a poll worker in any state, via PollworkersForDemocracy.com.
- You can check your registration status, and/or make changes to it, in all 50 states, via VotersUnite.org's handy reference page. (Deadline in most states is Oct. 6th)
- You can demand your favorite candidate take the StandingForVoters.org pledge to not conceed the election this year, until every vote is counted, and all questions about election results have been answers.
I recommend you take all of the above actions. Pretty please.