They just wanted to protect the sanctity of the vote. That's the administration's pious explanation for why they fired eight U.S. Attorneys who were Republican enough for Bush to have appointed them in the first place. "The president recalls hearing complaints about election fraud not being vigorously prosecuted and believes he may have informally mentioned it to the attorney general," explained White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. How could you question such a laudable goal?
Of course the justifications keep shifting, as with the Iraqi war. First it was the general performance of the prosecutors. Then a preference for specific replacements.. Now it's concern for the democratic process.
A follow-up by BBC investigative reporter Greg Palast found that 90 percent of those scrubbed were legitimate voters, enough by far to have made Al Gore the winner. And the Supreme Court that handed Bush the presidency was led by William Rehnquist, who got his start harassing black and Hispanic voters in South Phoenix as part of a Republican effort called Operation Eagle Eye. Election fraud was also the watchword in 2004. Ohio Secretary of State (and Bush campaign chair) Ken Blackwell claimed he was just protecting the legitimacy of the vote when he knocked 300,000 voters off the rolls in key Democratic cities like Cleveland, far exceeding Bush's margin of victory. Blackwell also tried to reject new Democratic registrations because an arcane law said they were supposed to be on 80-pound paper stock (presumably more secure), then had to back off when his own official forms failed the same criterion. And he went to court to ensure that provisional ballots would be considered only if cast in the right precinct, defeating their key purpose, even as he sowed voter confusion by pulling machines and closing down polling stations in longstanding Democratic neighborhoods.
But maybe voting integrity really is the issue in the current wave of firings. In the same 2004 election, Karl Rove aide Timothy Griffin, just named the new U.S. Attorney for eastern Arkansas, originated a strategy to send 70,000 letters challenging the addresses of black and Hispanic voters in places like Florida's Jacksonville Naval Air Station, a local homeless shelter, and the historically black Edward Waters College. As Palast writes in another BBC report, Republicans sent the letters out with do-not-forward instructions. When they came back undeliverable, as when soldiers were deployed overseas, Florida then struck the voters from the rolls so even absentee ballots no longer counted. Maybe that's what White House Spokeswoman Perino meant by showing concern for the sanctity of the vote.
If election fraud was a legitimate issue, such abuses might have a shred of legitimacy. Yet the documented cases of deliberate illegal voting are minuscule. For a 2003 report, Securing the Vote, the think tank Demos a national study, seeking documented evidence of actual fraud. They ran comprehensive searches of newspapers and court records, contacted secretaries of state and state attorneys general. Except for cases involving a handful of isolated individuals, every rumor of illegitimate voting turned out to be baseless. The image of armies of unregistered, illegal, and dead people swarming the polls was and is a Republican myth.