By Nathan Henderson-James
This well-researched and timely article from the Washington Bureau of the McClatchy Newspapers shows how deep the Bush Administration's obsession with using the myth of voter fraud to support schemes to suppress the votes of minorities and other marginalized groups runs.
Since 2005, McClatchy Newspapers has found, Bush has appointed at least three U.S. attorneys who had worked in the Justice Department's civil rights division when it was rolling back longstanding voting-rights policies aimed at protecting predominantly poor, minority voters.
Another newly installed U.S. attorney, Tim Griffin in Little Rock, Ark., was accused of participating in efforts to suppress Democratic votes in Florida during the 2004 presidential election while he was a research director for the Republican National Committee. He's denied any wrongdoing.
Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the four U.S. attorneys weren't chosen only because of their backgrounds in election issues, but "we would expect any U.S. attorney to prosecute voting fraud."
Taken together, critics say, the replacement of the U.S. attorneys, the voter-fraud campaign and the changes in Justice Department voting rights policies suggest that the Bush administration may have been using its law enforcement powers for partisan political purposes.
This reporting echoes and augments research done by Project Vote's Legal Department regarding the long history of Adminstration moves to drive down voter particpation, especially among low-income voters and voters of color.
Unanimous or near unanimous Justice Department career staff findings of minority voter suppression were overruled by political appointees. The goal in Texas in 2003 was to, as Tom Delay boasted, create a redistricting plan that would knock Democratic Members of Congress out of office and have them replaced with Republicans. However, eight career professionals in the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ unanimously concluded that plan discriminated against Latino and African-American voters. The political staff, led by Hans von Spakovsky, overruled the career professionals and approved the plan. In 2006, the Supreme Court invalidated the plan in part because of Voting Rights Act violations. Georgia passed a law requiring photographic identification to vote in 2005. Voter identification requirements reduce minority voting. The career professionals were near unanimous in their disapproval of the plan and again the political staff overruled them and approved it. A United States Court of Appeals has since ruled the law unconstitutional.
The details coming to light because of the botched firing of these US Attorneys show that far from enforcing laws, rules, and regulations desiged to faciliate the right of Americans to cast a ballot, the Department of Justice was invovled in ceaseless efforts to erect barriers to the particpation of the most marginalized voters in the electoral system. Voting is a right, not a privilege, indeed it is a right in which all the mechanisms of its accomplishment are in the hands of the state. Therefore it is incumbent upon the government to do everything it can to faciliate the exercising of this right, not dream up schemes to continue to lock legally eligible voters out of the system. The case of the US Attorneys clearly shows our own government failing this test.
Nathan Henderson-James is the Director of Project Vote's Strategic Writing and Research Department (SWORD).