Thursday, June 07, 2007

voter registration blues

Today I came across an article exposing the fact that hundreds of public-assistance agencies had illegally failed to offer voter registration to their mostly poor and minority clients.

In 1993, Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act, which imposed the requirement that public-assistance agencies provide voter registration services for their clients. However, there is strong evidence that "after these agencies registered 2.6 million people to vote in 1995-1996, the total registered plunged to about 1 million in 2003-2004." This according to Greg Gordon reporting for McClatchy Newspapers.

"Tennessee, Colorado and Maryland," writes Gordon, "are the only states whose registration numbers didn't decline from figures eight years earlier."

Michael Slater, the Oregon-based deputy director of the national registration group Project Vote, maintains that the Justice Department's civil rights division failed to enforce that part of the law.

Officials for three voter and civil rights groups, as well as former lawyers in the division, all of whom challenged the Justice Department in 2004, armed with evidence that this infringement was indeed the case, said that the Justice Department "has largely ignored the voter registration sections of the law while aggressively using a narrower provision to sue or threaten to sue states that have failed to purge the names of allegedly ineligible people from voter rolls." The groups coming forth were Project Vote; Demos, a New York-based think tank; and People for the American Way, a civil rights group.

The Department, of course, insists that the civil rights division "vigorously defends all the voting laws it is charged with enforcing."

A report on the failure of nearly every state to comply with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) came out in July 2005, and is available here. As the introduction states, "the report offers both a review of the as yet unfulfilled promise of the NVRA in public assistance agencies in the statute's first decade and a plan of action for recomitting ourselves to fulfilling the promise in the months and years ahead."

There is so much orchestrated manipulation done to ensure liberal-leaning voters don't vote, it's disgusting. From voter roll purges, computer "glitches" to voter intimidation. Not just that, numerous new restrictive voter registration laws have been passed in many states. In addition to all those barriers to voting, now we have "non-compliance" with federal law from social service agencies.

Let's look at some of these strategies in a little more detail.

According to Jordan Green's report DOJ ACTIONS ON ELECTION LAW BENEFIT REPUBLICANS, "the Center for Voting Rights and Protection describes Republican vote suppression as combining several tactics: making loud and unsubstantiated claims about vote fraud in predominantly minority precincts; running campaigns of misinformation or fear that target vulnerable minority constituencies; posting armed and uniformed off-duty police officers outside of polling places; photographing, tape-recording or videotaping voters; and using aggressive, face-to-face challenging techniques at polls."

Here is an example from Green's report of a strategy designed to disenfranchise largely Democrat-voting minority voters:

The DOJ has focused significant resources on protecting language minority rights at the polls, but in its handling of provisional ballot issues – which affect the voting rights of students and immigrants who are expected to largely vote Democratic – the department has pursued a strategy of partisan disenfranchisement by narrowing access to the polls.

. . . Making sure every eligible voter is able to cast a ballot in free and fair elections is the job of the Voting Section of the Department of Justice. Included in the Voting Section’s mandate is enforcement of “statutory provisions designed to safeguard the right to vote of racial and language minorities, disabled and illiterate persons, overseas citizens, persons who change their residence shortly before a Presidential election, and persons 18 to 20 years of age.” These are some of the voters expected to rely on provisional ballots the most.

The Voting Section, under the umbrella of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, has taken what could be considered a “states’ rights” position on provisional balloting. The department sided in late October (2004) with three Republican state election officials in the courts in defense of the most restrictive interpretation of who gets to vote by provisional ballot.

In a 2004 report assessing President Bush’s civil rights record, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights stated: “History offers myriad examples of using equipment, people and processes to manipulate elections and disenfranchise voters. If measured by the pace at which it enacted and funded HAVA, or is promoting implementation, the administration appears unmotivated by political pressure, sense of duty, morality, law, or personal agenda to ensure that America has robust, well-designed election systems to preserve the vote, the bedrock of the nation’s democracy.”

HAVA is the Help America Vote Act, a law passed by Congress in 2002. Under HAVA, voters who believe they are registered, but whose names are not on the rolls are entitled to cast “provisional ballots,” which will be counted (or not) later, once their eligibility is confirmed. This again according to Green.

Voting issues are also at the forefront of the ongoing U.S. attorneys scandal. As Bernard Weiner of Dissident Voice writes, "The DOJ, it turns out, is basically run as an arm of the White House’s political operation: inquiring about ideology and party affiliation (which is illegal) before appointing applicants to judicial jobs, staffing the Civil Rights Division with those antagonistic to civil rights and thus not following the law, etc. And other government agencies are similarly infected as well, holding workplace seminars on ways to aid 'our candidates,' which is also illegal."

As Barry Grey reports in his article entitled Testimony by Justice Department official sheds light on White House conspiracy to manipulate elections, published today on the World Socialist Website:

The testimony of a senior Justice Department official before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday provided new insight into the anti-democratic political conspiracy, orchestrated from the White House, that lies at the heart of last year’s purge of nine US attorneys.

The main witness at the hearing, Bradley J. Schlozman, has played a significant role in implementing the Bush administration’s strategy of packing the Justice Department’s legal staff, including the country’s top federal prosecutors, with right-wing Republicans for the purpose of disenfranchising Democratic voters, intimidating Democratic-leaning interest groups, and manipulating elections.

The purge of US attorneys was carried out to pursue a policy of bringing trumped-up voting fraud charges to cripple voter registration drives in poor and minority communities and throw likely Democratic voters off of registration rolls in key “battleground” states.

It is an effort to expand on a national scale the methods that were used to disenfranchise working class voters in the disputed Florida election of 2000, which resulted in the theft of the presidential election and the installation of Bush in the White House.

Schlozman, 36, is one of a group of right-wing lawyers who were recruited into the Justice Department after Bush took office and rapidly elevated to high positions. As a top official in the Justice Department’s civil rights division—for five months in 2005 he was acting head of the division—Schlozman purged long-time career lawyers and replaced them with lawyers recruited from Republican organizations such as the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation.

There you have it. Plus, there was the not-to-be-missed witness testimony by DOJ's Monica Gooding two weeks ago, in which she referred to "vote caging" possibly done by the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, Tim Griffin. Griffin, during the 2000 Bush-Cheney campaign, incidently worked as deputy research director for the Republican National Committee (RNC) conducting “oppo” (opposition) research.

"Vote caging," writes Dahlia Lithwick of Slate Magazine, "is an illegal trick to suppress minority voters (who tend to vote Democrat) by getting them knocked off the voter rolls if they fail to answer registered mail sent to homes they aren't living at (because they are, say, at college or at war)."

Journalist Greg Palast, who has written about the Republican practice of caging during the 2004 Presidential elections extensively, "supplies evidence linking Tim Griffin . . . to this caging plot," writes Lithwick. "Specifically, a series of confidential e-mails to Republican Party muckety-mucks with the suggestive heading 'RE: caging.' The e-mails were accidentally sent to a George Bush parody site. They also contained suggestively named spreadsheets, headed 'caging' as well. The names on the lists are what Palast's researchers deemed to be homeless men and soldiers deployed in Iraq. Here are the e-mails.

So, the saga of systemic disenfranchisement of predominantly Democrat-voting minority and poor voters continues to unfold.

I predict the next presidential election will be a mess.

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