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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 5/6/09

At Least One Challenge Still Ahead for Specter

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Message Stephen Strahs
The lush blue carpet was rolled out magisterially last week for Arlen Specter by top Democrats, as the five-term senator announced that he was switching parties.  Specter finally took the plunge after reading some cruel polling data, but it didn't hurt that his old friend and fundraiser extraordinaire Governor Ed Rendell and Vice President Joe Biden had been cajoling him for months to come on over.  Or that the President was so "thrilled" to have Arlen on his team (so were the Eagles when they got Terrell Owens) that he promptly offered "my full support" in the Democratic primary (more on that below).     



Sure, it's another nail in the Republican coffin--for now--and maybe a story book final chapter of the venerable Specter's political career.  But he has yet to face at least one grueling obstacle: actually getting his registration changed.  

SURE--as in Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors--hopes that Senator Specter fills out his registration form correctly and that there are no foul-ups on the processing end. No mail mishaps, no data inputting errors and that he can get by the HAVA match process that compares voter list data with that of the Department of Motor Vehicles or the social security system.  What if his middle initial is on his license but doesn't show up on the voter rolls?  Would he get a letter from his Board of Elections requiring a response?  It's no joke; the Senator might not be that familiar with all the subtleties of the process.  Then again, who is? 

I can see it now: the Senator strides confidently into his polling place on Primary Day 2010, all smiles, only to find that he is not on the ballot--at least not on the one he can vote for himself on.  "I'm terribly sorry, Senator, but it says right here in the poll book that you are registered Republican, so you are not authorized to vote in the Democratic primary.  Here's a registration form for next time."  Would he at least get a provisional ballot?  Hard to know.  Maybe there'd be a voter hotline he could call.  

The best approach is for Senator Specter to hand-carry his registration form into Philadelphia's Election Board.  Sure, it means taking time off from work, but think of the possible stakes involved!  Filibusters unbroken, vital programs shelved.  Maybe a VIP like he could even get to watch as his form is processed ("Uh, that's Arlen with an 'e' ").  How's that for Pennsylvania political drama?   

Of course, many Pennsylvanians known by now--after last year's primary--that it's one thing to declare for a new party and quite another to get it cranked through the Commonwealth's SURE voter data base.  Too many voters were startled to find that they were unable to vote in the primary of their choice for a variety of reasons (some, admittedly, simply forgot what party they were legitimately registered in).  Unfortunately, the needlessly complex system requiring voters to withstand an obstacle course to get registered and stay that way remains in force.  And no matter what the level of problems at the polls and the millions spent to fix the state's SURE system--despite no real admission of deficiencies to begin with--we are told by the Secretary of State's office and local election boards that all is well. 

There's another issue facing Specter as a result of his party switch, one that also got little mention last week.  In exchange for avoiding those vengeful Republican primary voters, he will have to woo Democrats whose memories of his voting record go a bit further back than the 2009 stimulus package.  Support for the Iraq war, failing to cast votes against torture and unauthorized wiretaps, voting for the Patriot Act renewal, backing the costly Bush tax cuts for the well-to-do and paving the way for Bush appointees to the Supreme Court are just some of what could be retrieved from the recycle bin of what Specter no doubt hopes are fast fading memories.  The "geezers" among us (count me in) might even dredge up a file named "Anita Hill."

It's not that Arlen Specter is not a formidable political warhorse willing to take on (almost) all challengers.  But from the hurrahs of his new Democratic chums, you'd almost think that the Democratic Primary is a mere formality.  Pennsylvania's Democratic voters get to decide if they want Specter, the political sorcerer, as their senatorial standard bearer.  So it's the people's turn, Mr. President (you remember how that election thing works).  This is, after all, about an election, not a coronation.  Still, I just hope the Senator is taking care of his registration . . .

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I am a citizen, a democrat and an election reform activist.
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At Least One Challenge Still Ahead for Specter

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