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Campaign 2006: Dirty Tricks, Undecided Races

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The elections in 2000, 2002, and 2004 featured Republican dirty tricks: extensive voter suppression and iniquitous vote count manipulation. While 2006 saw some of the latter, the main GOP tactic was once again voter suppression: either directly by purging valid names from voter rolls or indirectly by harassing and misleading phone calls. In roughly 50 key congressional races, likely Democratic voters were bombarded by automatic phone messages, robo calls, that claimed to be from their candidate, but were actually attack ads. GOP dirty tricks were an important factor in seven of the eleven Congressional races whose outcome is yet to be decided.

In Florida 13 Republican Vern Buchanan leads Democrat Christine Jennings by 373 votes in the race for the seat vacated when Katherine Harris ran for Senator. In the days before the election, Jennings supporters were bombarded by an estimated 1 million robo calls . When Dems made it to the polls, many of their votes weren't counted. There were huge problems with touch-screen voting results in Sarasota County where more than 18,000 voters (13 percent of those who cast their ballots) appeared not to have voted in the Congressional race. There were anomalous "undercounts," where votes were cast in races for Governor, Senator, and other races, but not for the House seat. A recount is underway but seems unlikely to resolve the massive vote irregularity. Some say the new 110th Congress will ultimately have to decide the outcome of this race, when the House convenes in January.

Not surprisingly, GOP dirty tricks also played a role in Ohio. A barrage of robo calls impacted the closest races. Many of the calls gave voters the wrong precinct location. In Ohio 2 Republican incumbent Jean Schmidt is ahead of Democrat Victoria Wulsin by 2323 votes. However, roughly 4700 absentee and provisional ballots won't be counted until the week of November 20. In Ohio 15 Republican incumbent Deborah Pryce leads Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy by 2835 votes. There were massive problems with voter rolls in this district and many Ohio voters experienced long lines and multiple challenges. Roughly 18,000 absentee and provisional ballots remain to be counted by an election board that won't start until the end of the month.

In Connecticut 2 Democrat Joe Courtney leads incumbent Rob Simmons by 67 votes; the recount will be completed this week. Republican-funded robo calls impacted this race. They're also blamed for the defeat of Diane Farrell in Connecticut's 4th Congressional district: many Dem voters were turned off by the around-the-clock calls they thought were coming from her.

In Georgia 12 Democrat Incumbent John Barrow leads Republican John Burns by 889 votes. There will be a recount, but the schedule won't be determined until November 15th. If Barrow wins, he will also be among the lucky Democratic candidates who survived a robo call attack.

In New Mexico 1 Republican incumbent Heather Wilson leads Democrat Patricia Madrid by 1487 votes. In the days before the election, her supporters were bombarded by robo calls. Some of these calls gave Dems the wrong precinct location; as a result, when they arrived they were given provisional ballots. (Nationally, only 65 percent of these get counted.) 3756 provisional ballots should be tallied by November 17th.

In North Carolina 8 Republican incumbent Robin Hayes holds a 449 vote lead over Democrat Larry Kissell. Approximately 1500 provisional ballots will be counted by November 17th. North Carolina was also bombarded by robo calls, but most of these went into the 11th Congressional district, where they failed to turn the tide against Democratic Candidate Heath Shuler.

Robo calls played a major role in the defeat of more than a dozen Democratic candidates including Charlie Brown in CA 4, Angie Paccione in CO 4, Tammy Duckworth in IL 6, and Lois Murphy in PA 6.

On November 7th, Democrats won a majority in the House of Representatives. They picked up 28 seats and are likely to get four or five more when all the recounts and appeals are finished. Nonetheless, it's clear that GOP dirty tricks were a major factor in races across the country: they sunk a number of Democratic candidates and beleaguered many others.

The 110th Congress needs to take action to stop these abuses. After impacting four consecutive elections, it's time for the dirty tricks to stop.
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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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