Weekly Voting Rights News Update
By Erin Ferns
This an entry in a series of blogs to keep people informed on current election reform and voting rights issues in the news.
Featured Stories of the Week:
Reports in recent weeks surrounding the issue of so-called “voter fraud” have revealed calculated partisan efforts to suppress low income and minority voters using the full weight of the US Department of Justice. This week's featured stories outline the great lengths that the Bush administration went to in order to ensure the “wrong” people wouldn't vote – organized efforts that extended to the Department of Justice.
Partisan operatives used strict voter ID requirements, voter roll purges and overzealous regulation of “liberal get-out-the-vote drives” in Missouri as “part of a wider effort to protect the GOP majority in Congress,” according to McClatchy Newspapers.
Greg Gordon writes that U.S. Attorney for Kansas City Bradley Schlozman used “voter fraud” to stifle the voter registration drive of ACORN, a community organization representing low- and moderate-income families. Just five days before the 2006 election, Schlozman brought headline-generating indictments against four voter registration workers employed by the organization in Kansas City.
Former Chief of the Justice Department's Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division Joe Rich has said that bringing such indictments before an election is not common practice and is expressly prohibited by internal Justice Department guidelines, according to TPMmuckraker.com. Writer Paul Kiel reveals that the haste to prosecute the voter registration workers before the election also lead to a huge mistake – indictment of the wrong person. Although Scholzman called his effort part of a “national investigation,” only six registration cards were in question. These cases were not unlike the ones which recently fired U.S. Attorney for New Mexico, David Iglesias “declined to prosecute, saying he saw no intent to influence the outcome of an election.”
But the story doesn’t stop there. Earlier, in St. Louis, local officials, led by local political appointee, Scott Leiendecker, tried to stop 5,000 people who registered to vote through ACORN from being added to the rolls. These 5,000 voters were sent letters in late October 2006 warning that their applications wouldn’t be processed if they did not respond by letter and phone to confirm their identity. They sent a second notice rescinding their warning when Project Vote and Advancement Project threatened to sue.
Questioning the credentials of 5,000 applicants wasn’t the only game being played with the voter lists. In 2005, Scholzman authorized a Justice Department lawsuit, alleging that Secretary of State Robin Carnahan's office had not made a “'reasonable effort'” to remove ineligible voters from the rolls. The suit was thrown out on April 13 when a federal judge said the “government had provided no evidence of voter fraud.” Before the 2006 election, the Supreme Court declared Missouri's narrowly passed voter ID law unconstitutional. The law was drafted with the assistance of St. Louis lawyer Mark “Thor” Hearne, who worked as national counsel to President Bush's reelection campaign and later “set up a non-profit group to publicize incidents of alleged voter fraud.”
Gordon and Kiel’s reports show that the real crime marring the integrity of our elections is not voter fraud, but the attempt to gain partisan advantage through manipulation of the federal government.
In Other News:
The use of voter fraud claims to pass voter ID legislation continues, this time in Mississippi and Texas. The Greenwood Commonwealth called Mississippi lieutenant governor Charlie Ross' demand for a special session to consider voter ID a “political stunt.” Gov. Haley Barbour said it is unlikely that he would call the session. Meanwhile, Texas voter ID bill, HB 218 sits in the Senate with heavy opposition from Democrats - including Sen. Mario Gallegos Jr., who had been absent due to illness - while a proof-of-citizenship bill passes the House, according to this Houston Chronicle story.
The extension of voting rights to former felons in Maryland, signed into law last week, inspired this opinion piece in Virginia publication, The Daily Press, on Tuesday. After Florida's recent inclusion of certain former felons in the electoral process, Virginia stands as one of two remaining states to permanently disenfranchise voters charged with or convicted of crimes. Enforcement of its law has varied over the years while the question of a citizen's fundamental right to vote has been debated: “Rights should be restored automatically when a sentence has been served, not treated as a privilege dispensed at the discretion of a governor, based on personal preferences.”