The ‘Hubris’ of the Supreme Court’s Voting Rights Ruling

By Garrett Epps, The Atlantic, Jun 25 2013

“Hubris is a fit word for today’s demolition of the [Voting Rights Act],” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her dissent from the 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, announced Monday.

She nailed it.

The decision invalidated the requirement of “preclearance” of voting changes by states and jurisdictions with particularly bad records of racial discrimination. (My colleague Andrew Cohen looks at the practical effect of this decision on voting rights.)  But beyond that, it illustrates the absolute contempt that the Supreme Court’s conservative majority harbors toward what is, after all, the central branch of our federal government: Congress, elected by the people and charged with exercising “all legislative powers” granted by the Constitution.  

A brief reading of the Constitution reveals how seriously the Framers took the idea of congressional centrality.  An even briefer glance at the Fifteenth Amendment shows that the Framers of that measure trusted Congress, not courts, with setting national policy against racial discrimination in voting.

Not this Court, which Monday invalidated Section Four of the Voting Rights Act — not on the grounds that it hasn’t worked; not even on the grounds that it won’t work; but on the grounds that the Court didn’t think Congress did as good a job as it could have.

In an opinion by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, the five conservatives (Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel A. Alito) brushed aside a measure they explicitly agreed was (1) needed when originally enacted (2) dramatically successful since enacted and (3) reauthorized by Congress four times over 40 years, each time with a detailed legislative process and with careful adjustment to its terms.

To understand the success of the VRA, we must briefly review how it works. The act as a whole forbids certain kinds of manipulation of voting laws to exclude or dilute minority votes.  The “coverage formula” provision in sections 4 designate certain sections of the country, on the basis of history, as being the most flagrant offenders of the Fifteenth Amendment’s command that “[t]he right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Under Section 5, those jurisdictions had to get preapproval from the Justice Department or from a federal court before they could change their voting procedures at all. The reason was that previous voting-rights laws had been neutralized when the Deep South jurisdictions invented new ways not covered by the laws of blocking black voters. This time, the state would have to justify its restrictions, rather than forcing the government and citizens to go to court each time a new stratagem appeared.

Each of the first three times the act was reauthorized, Congress changed slightly the Section Four formula for determining “covered jurisdictions.” It also included new procedures to allow jurisdictions to get out of preclearance by proving they had cleaned up their act. The most recent reauthorization, in 2006, kept the “coverage formula” the same, but adjusted the law carefully to cover new forms of racial discrimination not apparent in 1965.

After that change, the vote to approve was almost unanimous in a Republican-led House and entirely unanimous in a Republican-led Senate, and the bill was signed into law with great flourish by a Republican President, who hailed it, correctly, as “an example of our continued commitment to a united America where every person is valued and treated with dignity and respect.” It was, by any sane model of self-government, an American success story, of a flexible, successful law, adjusted for changing conditions, achieving a significant national goal.

On Tuesday, at the Court, this entire successful 45-year bipartisan effort was brushed aside as farce. The factual record amassed in 2006 was extensive, the majority concedes; but it is also irrelevant. “Congress did not use the record it compiled to shape a coverage formula grounded in current conditions … we are not ignoring the record; we are simply recognizing that it played no role in shaping the statutory formula before us today.”

The evidence for this startling assertion was … well, there was no real “evidence,” if by that you mean proof.  What there was instead was a simple declaration that Congress must not have used the record because it didn’t change the Voting Rights Act enough. The Court could have done a better job, and the Court didn’t think the problem was such a big deal any more after all.

As Andrew points out, in practical terms this result is bad enough.  But beyond the question of voting rights lies this underlying contempt for Congress.  Stanford Law Professor Pamela Karlan described the emerging attitude brilliantly in her recent essay, “Democracy and Disdain.” We saw it displayed during oral argument in the health-care cases, when, for example, Justice Scalia suggested striking down the whole law if any part of it was unconstitutional, on the grounds that Congress couldn’t be trusted to fix it to the Court’s satisfaction. It has been apparent in the campaign-finance cases, which dismiss the judgments of legislators on the role of money in politics on the grounds that, in essence, they must be rigging the system to get themselves re-elected. It also glimmers as the substrate of decisions restricting anti-discrimination laws, reading broad language more and more narrowly on the cynical grounds that Congress could not have meant what the statutes seem to say.

The idea that the Court should approach congressional statutes with a presumption of contempt has few grounds in the Constitution or history generally; it has even fewer in the specific area of voting rights.  The preclearance requirement, the majority says, “imposes substantial federalism costs’ and ‘differentiates between the States, despite our historical tradition that all the States enjoy equal sovereignty.’”  In addition, it suggests that preclearance violates the Tenth Amendment’s rule that “all powers not specifically granted to the Federal government are reserved to the States or citizens.” But it makes no attempt to apply these quasi-constitutional platitudes to the text of the provisions at hand. That’s because they don’t apply. The Fifteenth Amendment makes clear that states have no “reserved power” over violations of the right to vote “by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” These are transferred from state authority to federal prohibition. And Congress, not the courts, is to enforce that prohibition “by appropriate legislation.”

In other words, the majority’s limits on Congress’s power do not flow from the text, history, or structure of the Constitution; as Ginsburg’s dissent persuasively shows, they do not flow from the Court’s earlier precedent either. They flow from a sense by five justices (none of whom has ever served a day in legislative office) that Congress, on the whole, can’t do as good a job at anything as they can.  

This is hubris indeed. Today it has damaged the ability of citizens to use the ballot to call their rulers to account. But that damage is only a part of a hole slowly widening in the fabric of constitutional congressional authority. There’s no reason to believe that this majority does not intend further unraveling in the near future.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/06/the-hubris-of-the-supreme-courts-voting-rights-ruling/277211/

Copyright © 2013 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All Rights Reserved.

 

Rig the Vote

By CHARLES M. BLOW, New York Times, January 25, 2013

Excerpt

If you can’t win by playing fair, cheat. That seems to be the plan of Republican lawmakers in several battleground states that stubbornly keep going for Democrats during presidential elections. Thanks in part to gerrymandering, many states already have — and will continue to have in the near future — Republican-controlled legislatures. Republican lawmakers in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin are considering whether to abandon the winner-take-all approach to awarding Electoral College votes and replace it with a proportional allocation. That change would heavily favor Republican presidential candidates — tilting the voting power away from cities and toward rural areas — and make it more likely that the candidate with the fewest votes over all would win a larger share of electoral votes..

Full text

If you can’t win by playing fair, cheat.

That seems to be the plan of Republican lawmakers in several battleground states that stubbornly keep going for Democrats during presidential elections. Thanks in part to gerrymandering, many states already have — and will continue to have in the near future — Republican-controlled legislatures.

Republican lawmakers in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin are considering whether to abandon the winner-take-all approach to awarding Electoral College votes and replace it with a proportional allocation.

That change would heavily favor Republican presidential candidates — tilting the voting power away from cities and toward rural areas — and make it more likely that the candidate with the fewest votes over all would win a larger share of electoral votes.

One day I will have to visit the evil lair where they come up with these schemes. They pump them out like a factory. Voter suppression didn’t work in November, and it may even have backfired in some states, so they just devised another devilish plan.

Pete Lund, a Republican state representative in Michigan, “plans to reintroduce legislation that would award all but two of Michigan’s 16 Electoral College votes according to congressional district results,” said an article Friday in The Detroit News.

The paper continued, “The remaining two would go to the candidate winning the statewide majority.”

Lund, who proposed a similar bill in 2012, made Republicans’ intentions completely clear, saying, according to the article: “It got no traction last year. There were people convinced Romney was going to win and this might take (electoral) votes from him.”

These bills are a brazen attempt to alter electoral outcomes and chip away at the very idea of democracy, to the benefit of Republican candidates.

The Detroit News also reported that, according to an analysis by Mark Brewer, the state Democratic Party chairman: “Romney would have gotten nine of Michigan’s electoral votes and Obama would have received seven in 2012 under Lund’s proposal. Instead, Obama garnered all 16 Michigan electoral votes en route to his national tally of 332.”

Meanwhile, Obama beat Romney in the state by a margin of nearly 450,000 votes.

Virginia’s bill is further along than Michigan’s. It’s already being debated.

For reference, although Obama won the state of Virginia and all of its electoral votes last year, as he did in 2008, according to The Roanoke Times on Friday, “If the system had been in effect for the 2012 election, Republican Mitt Romney would have won nine of Virginia’s 13 electoral votes, and President Barack Obama would have won four.” Keep in mind that in November, Obama won the state by almost 150,000 votes.

Republicans in Virginia are just as forthright about their intention to tilt the electoral playing field in their favor.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that the sponsor of Virginia bill’s, Charles W. Carrico Sr., a Republican, “said he wants to give smaller communities a bigger voice.” Carrico told The Post, “The last election, constituents were concerned that it didn’t matter what they did, that more densely populated areas were going to outvote them.”

Yes, you read that right: he wants to make the votes cast for the candidate receiving the fewest votes matter more than those cast for the candidate receiving the most. In Republican Bizarro World, where the “integrity of the vote” is a phrase used to diminish urban votes and in which democracy is only sacrosanct if Republicans are winning, this statement actually makes sense.

David Weigel of Slate explained the point of the Virginia plan this way: “Make the rural vote matter more and make the metro vote count less.”

Luckily, as the Roanoke paper noted Friday, Ralph Smith, the powerful Republican Virginia state senator, isn’t on board:

“Smith said this morning that he opposes the legislation, calling it ‘a bad idea.’ Smith sits on the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, which will hear the bill next week. Without Smith’s support, it’s unlikely the bill could get to the Senate floor.”

Paul Bibeau, who writes “a blog of dark humor” from Virginia, points out a numerical oddity about the effects of the Virginia law that turns out, upon reflection, to be more stinging than funny: “This bill counts an Obama voter as 3/5 of a person.”

That is because, as Talking Points Memo says, “Obama voters would have received almost exactly 3/5 of the electoral vote compared to their actual population — 30.7 percent of the electoral vote over 51 percent of the popular vote.”

This is not where we should be in 2013, debating whether to pass bills to reduce urban voters to a fraction of the value of other voters and hoping that someone with the power to stop it thinks it’s a “bad idea.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/26/opinion/blow-rig-the-vote.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130126&_r=0

Can National Grassroots Push Depose the ‘Billion Dollar Democracy’?

Published on Friday, January 18, 2013 by Common Dreams – Jon Queally, staff writer

Excerpt

Elec­tions are now awash in unreg­u­lated money and ruled by the nation’s wealth­i­est, but can a grass­roots effort stem the assault on democracy? …hop­ing that fun­da­men­tal changes can be made to cor­rect the cor­ro­sive impact of shadow money and undue influence….Thanks in large part to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 deci­sion in Cit­i­zens United v FEC, the 2012 elec­tion was the most expen­sive in the his­tory of the world. And though the 2012 elec­tion is behind us, many activists—now equipped with the expe­ri­ence of what a mod­ern democ­racy con­trolled by mil­lion­aires and bil­lion­aires looks like—are hop­ing that fun­da­men­tal changes can be made to cor­rect the cor­ro­sive impact of shadow money and undue influence…Lioz and Bowie [authors Billion-Dollar Democ­racy] write: “The out­sized role of money in our elec­tions is a dark cloud over our democracy—but there is a sil­ver lin­ing. Not since Water­gate has there been so much energy behind finally build­ing a democ­racy in which the strength of a citizen’s voice does not depend upon the size of her wallet.”

Full text

Can National Grassroots Push Depose the ‘Billion Dollar Democracy’?

Elections are now awash in unregulated money and ruled by the nation’s wealthiest, but can a grassroots effort stem the assault on democracy?

A new report released Thursday puts an exclamation point on the outlandish and outweighed influence that wealthy individuals and corporations have in a post-Citizens United world by showing that a mere 32 wealthy donors—with an average gift of almost $10 million each—gave as much money to largely unregulated Super PACs in 2012 than all the country’s individual small donors gave to the Obama and Romney campaigns combined.

And though the 2012 election is behind us, many activists—now equipped with the experience of what a modern democracy controlled by millionaires and billionaires looks like—are hoping that fundamental changes can be made to correct the corrosive impact of shadow money and undue influence.

As the new report by U.S. PIRG and Demos, “Billion-Dollar Democracy,” shows, those 32 multi-million dollar gifts, in essence, outweighed the collective voice of 3.7 million individuals who gave individual and transparent campaign contributions to the candidate of their choice. Moreover, most did so under a veil of secrecy using shadow non-profit groups and shell corporations created specifically to launder political giving by masking the identities of financial sources.

“Americans who are wondering why it seems tougher to get ahead or even get a fair shake in today’s economy should look to big money politics for answers,” said Adam Lioz, report co-author and Counsel for Demos. “When a tiny group of wealthy donors fuels political campaigns, they get to set the agenda in Washington, and the rest of us are left to argue over that agenda.”

And U.S. PIRG’s Blair Bowie, the report’s other co-author adds: “The first post-Citizens United presidential election confirmed our fears that the new unlimited-money regime allows well-heeled special interests and secret spenders to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens.”

Thanks in large part to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v FEC, the 2012 election was the most expensive in the history of the world.

But now, the reality of this new world of campaign giving, coupled with nationwide attempts in 2012 making it hard for many poor and vulnerable people to vote, has prompted many to demand an end to such preferential treatment of the wealthiest in a democracy engulfed in cash and renewed calls for broader and more equitable poll access.

“At the same time we’ve seen record amounts of unaccountable corporate money spent on elections, we’ve also seen a deliberate attack on the rights of voters to participate in our democracy,” said Aquene Freechild, senior organizer for Public Citizen, which is hosting nationwide events this weekend for its ongoing Democracy Is For People campaign.

According to the group, concerned citizens and voters will gather across the country in the coming week to demand an end to the combined threat of unlimited corporate spending and resurgent voter suppression tactics found in many states.

To voice their outrage and demand fundamental change, progressive groups—including Public Citizen, NAACP, U.S. PIRG, Common Cause, MoveOn, Organic Consumers Association, League of United Latin American Citizens, Hip Hop Caucus and others—have planned nationwide days of action called Money Out/Voters In taking place this coming weekend.

As Public Citizen’s president Robert Weissman, along with advocate Mark Green, wrote regarding the events that will bring “public interest, labor, voting rights and faith groups” together under one banner and cause:

Generations of traditional campaign finance groups have worked against a democracy-for-sale. And heroic voting rights groups have long sought to fulfill Dr. King’s plea at the Washington Monument in 1957: “Give us the ballot! Give us the ballot!” But rarely have these two communities worked together to stop the rigging of the political system. Until we ensure that popular majorities become public law, it will be hard to accomplish so much of what is urgent—a more progressive tax code, immigration reform, climate change legislation, a living wage, labor reform and gun violence reduction.

So on January 19, scores of groups and thousands of people around the country will organize around a three-part Democracy-for-All program: a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United; public funding of public elections, in Washington and state capitols; and guaranteed voting rights so potentially 50 million more Americans can vote [in the next election].

Such events seem prove what the authors of the ‘Billion Dollar Democracy’ concluded as well.

In an op-ed published alongside their new report, Lioz and Bowie write: “The outsized role of money in our elections is a dark cloud over our democracy—but there is a silver lining. Not since Watergate has there been so much energy behind finally building a democracy in which the strength of a citizen’s voice does not depend upon the size of her wallet.”

Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/01/18

 

Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/01/18

Why Americans Can’t Vote

by Jeffrey Toobin, New Yorker, December 4, 2012

When President Obama claimed victory in last month’s election, he observed that many voters had waited on long lines to cast their ballots, adding, “By the way, we have to fix that.” That was a promise he won’t be able to keep. There’s no fix in the works—and there probably never will be.

It was a pretty terrible election, as far as access to the polls goes. As usual, the worst situation was in Florida, where waits of four hours were common both in early voting and on Election Day. But, of course, 2012 wasn’t even the worst election in Florida in the last dozen years. Observers of American politics may recall certain difficulties with the 2000 race in the Sunshine State. But even that fiasco—which arguably (that is, probably, or rather definitely) changed the outcome in the state and nation—led to no significant reform. Because the problems in 2012 did not even arguably change the results, even in Florida, the urgency for reform is commensurably smaller.

As we think about addressing the voting problems of 2012, it’s worth remembering the legislative response, such as it was, to the 2000 disaster. In 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, as weak and inconsequential a bill as ever purported to address a national crisis. What did HAVA do? It established some modest standards for voting equipment and provisional voting. And it created the Election Assistance Commission, which was available to give advice to states. But it did virtually nothing to address the principal problem with American elections—which is that the states, not the federal government, run the shows.

State control came about partly because of the Constitution. Our federal government has limited powers, and running elections is not one of them. But the Constitution is also a flexible document, and there’s a good chance that the federal government could take a larger role in preserving the fairness of elections if Congress wanted to establish one. But with the House of Representatives in Republican hands, there’s basically no chance of that happening: the G.O.P.’s interest has run in the other direction, toward passing state measures, like voter-i.d. laws, that tend to restrict the franchise. Republicans do better in low-turnout elections (like the 2010 midterms), and they have made an institutional commitment to suppressing the vote.

So, in light of the post-2010 “reforms,” 2012 was worse than 2000. The notorious butterfly ballot in Palm Beach County, which clearly cost Al Gore the state and the election, came about largely because of the incompetence of local election officials in 2000. (I wrote a book, “Too Close to Call,” about the recount.) But at least before that Election Day, Florida officials played it fairly straight. The Republican officials who ran Florida state government in those days made no wholesale attempts to disenfranchise Democratic-leaning voters. (Well, not many attempts.)

What was different about 2012 was that voter suppression went from (largely) accidental to (completely) intentional. In virtually every state where Republicans took control in the 2010 midterms, they changed the laws to make it harder for their political opponents to vote. Most of these attempts were styled as attempts to limit “voter fraud,” a virtually non-existent problem in the United States. (A former official of the Florida Republican Party recently acknowledged that the purpose of these laws was to hurt Democrats, not to address any real problem.)

To a surprising extent, Democrats and their allies were successful in using the courts to wrest the worst of these laws off the books before Election Day. In some states, like South Carolina, the Justice Department used Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to stop some of the worst laws. But the Supreme Court is currently weighing a case about whether to declare Section 5—the heart of the Act—unconstitutional. If the Court does strike down Section 5, that will be one more dagger in the heart of voting rights.

But the problem is bigger than just the future of this important law. As long as states run elections, even the occasional invocation of the Voting Rights Act will not preserve the integrity of the system. States are poorer than the federal government and less competent at major projects of this sort. States often defer the business of running elections to local counties, which have even less expertise (and money) than statehouses. And in all respects, states and their county seats are more subject to political manipulation than is the federal government.

Some groups, like the Brennan Center, at New York University, are making admirable attempts to build on the (modest) public outrage about the flawed mechanics of the 2012 election. Still, even these good works cannot undo the structural problem with American elections. Unless and until the federal government takes over the business of running our elections—which will, in all likelihood, never happen—the process of voting will remain the shambles we saw on November 6, 2012.

Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2012/12/why-americans-cant-vote.html?printable=true&currentPage=all#ixzz2ENgrxk00

Most American Voters Elected a Democratic House, But We Got a Tea Party Congress

by  MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT, November 26, 2012

BuzzFlash isn’t the first site to note that approximately 53,952,000 Democratic votes were cast for congressional representatives, while only about 53,403,000 votes were cast for House Republicans.  (Curiously enough that is about the same popular vote victory that Al Gore won in the 2000 election: 540,000 votes.)

Yet, the Boehner/Cantor Tea Party tilt remains in the House of Representatives.

As PolicyMic explains:

Republican gerrymandering of electoral districts isn’t as sexy to kick up a fuss about, nor does it make for as good memes, but it’s safe to say that elaborate redistricting helped the party to win their current House majority. And to win by redistricting, looks an awful lot like cheating. Professor Geoffrey Stone emphasized that:

“Although the Republicans won 55% of the House seats, they received less than half of the votes for members of the House of Representatives. Indeed, more than half-a-million more Americans voted for Democratic House candidates than for Republicans House candidates. There was no split-decision. The Democrats won both the presidential election and the House election. But the Republicans won 55% of the seats in the House.

This seems crazy. How could this be?

This answer lies in the 2010 election, in which Republicans won control of a substantial majority of state governments. They then used that power to re-draw congressional district lines in such a way as to maximize the Republican outcome in the 2012 House election.”

Take Pennsylvania, for instance, the Democrats received 2,710,827 votes for congressional candidates; the Republicans, 2,642,952.  Although it was a slim victory, the Dems won the popular vote in Pennsylvania as far as electing representatives to Congress.

Astonishingly, however, due to gerrymandering from the Tea Party tsunami election of 2010, which left the Pennsylvania legislature and governor in full control of the GOP, only 5 Democratic reps to Congress were elected in 2012, while the Republicans will send 13 reps to DC!

In Ohio, Secretary of State John Husted – who unrelentingly tried to suppress Democratic votes in the 2012 election – has denied he was proposing to change the allocation of electoral votes in the Buckeye State to winners of congressional districts.   (Only Nebraska and Maine currently employ such a presidential election system.) But you can’t blame him for launching such a partisan trial balloon, given that his allegiance is to the Republican Party, not the people of Ohio. Under such a system for Ohio in 2012, Romney would have been awarded 12 of the 18 electoral votes in the state (due once again to gerrymandering).

In summary, citizens of the United States elected a Democratic President and a Democratic Senate.  Minus the partisan tactic of gerrymandering, the American people also elected a Democratic House.

President Obama should remember this when he deals with the Tea Party tilt of the gerrymandered Republican House.  John Boehner does not represent the majority of the United States voters; he represents the pathology of a minority.

http://truth-out.org/buzzflash/commentary/item/17656-most-american-voters-elected-a-democratic-house-but-we-got-a-tea-party-congress

Five Practical Reasons Not To Vote Republican

by Paul BuchheitCommon Dreams, October 8, 2012

There is no shortage of reasons not to vote Republican. The litany includes tax cuts for the rich, cutbacks in government programs, obstructing needed legislation, disregard for the environment, denial of women’s and other human rights, military escalation.

But the following five reasons have to do with money — specifically, who’s paying for the $1 trillion of annual tax savings and tax avoidance for the super-rich? And who’s paying for the $1 trillion of national security to protect their growing fortunes? The Republicans want that money to come from the rest of us.

1. Economic Darwinism — Republicans want the Poor to Pay

Paul Ryan’s proposed budget would take about a half-trillion dollars a year from programs that support the poor. This is a continuation of a 15-year shredding of the safety net by Republicans. The GOP-controlled Congress of Bill Clinton created Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), which has experienced a 60% drop in its caseload despite growing poverty, and which, according to the Urban Institute, provides “maximum benefits [that] even in the more generous states were far below the federal poverty level of $1,525 a month for a family of three.”

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), another vital program that serves 50 million “food insecure” Americans, would be cut by $16 billion under the House version of the Farm Bill. The average recipient currently gets $4.30 a day for food.

Republicans also voted to end the Child Tax Credit, and favor a tax plan that would eliminate the Earned Income Tax Credit.

2. Payroll Tax — Republicans want the Middle Class to Pay

Encouraged by the steady Republican demand for lower corporate tax rates, big business has effected a stunning shift in taxpaying responsibility over the years, from corporate income tax to worker payroll tax. For every dollar of payroll tax paid in the 1950s, corporations paid three dollars. Now it’s 22 cents.

It’s gotten worse in recent years, as corporations decided to drastically cut their tax rates after the start of the recession. After paying an average of 22.5% from 1987 to 2008, they’ve paid an annual rate of 10% since. This represents a sudden $250 billion annual loss in taxes.

Republicans claim that almost half of Americans don’t pay taxes. But when payroll and state and local taxes are considered, middle-income Americans pay at about the same rate as the highest earners. Only about 17% of households paid no federal income tax or payroll tax in 2009. And average workers get little help from people who make most of the money. Because of the $110,000 cutoff for payroll tax deductions, the richest 10% of Americans save $150 billion a year in taxes.

3. Job Shrinkage — Republicans want Young People to Pay

The jobs that exist for young Americans are paying much less than just a few years ago. During and after the recession, according to the National Employment Law Project, low-wage jobs ($7.69 to $13.83 per hour) dropped by 21 percent, and then grew back at a 58 percent rate. Mid-wage jobs ($13.84 to $21.13 per hour) dropped by 60 percent and grew back at a 22 percent rate. In other words, the median wage is falling fast.

Unemployment for workers under 25 stands at 16.4 percent, twice the national average. Half of recent college graduates are jobless or underemployed.

Yet Republicans killed a jobs bill that was supported by two-thirds of the public.

An academic study of employment data over 64 years found that an average of two million jobs per year were created under Democratic presidents, compared to one million under Republican presidents. Similar results were reported by the Bloomberg Government Barometer.

4. Retirement Planning — Republicans want the Seniors to Pay

There’s a common misconception in our country that most seniors are financially secure. Actually, Census data reveals that elderly people experience greater inequality than any other population group, with the poorest one-fifth receiving just 5.5% of the group’s total resources, while the wealthiest one-fifth receives 46%.

The senior wealth gap is further evidenced by data during the great 30-year surge in inequality. The average over-60 wealth was five times greater than the median in 1995, as would be expected with a small percentage of ultra-high-net-worth individuals and a great majority of low-wealth people. Further confirmation comes from 2004 Harvard data that shows rising inequality within all age groups, including the elderly. Indeed, an MIT study found that about 46% ofU.S. senior citizens have less than $10,000 in financial assets when they die.

For the vast majority of seniors, Social Security has been life-sustaining, accounting for 55% of their annual income. Because of this successful and popular program, the senior poverty rate has dropped from 50% to 10%, and due to life-long contributions from working Americans the program has a $2.7 trillion surplus while contributing nothing to the deficit. Yet Republicans want to undo it.

5. Public Fire Sale — Republicans want Society to Pay

The common good is threatened by the Republican disdain for public resources. Drilling and mining and pipeline construction continues on public lands, and the House of Representatives has voted over 100 times since 2011 to subsidize the oil and gas industry while weakening environmental, public health, and safety requirements. The “land grab” is pitting corporate muscle against citizens’ rights.

Sadly, most of Americaenvisions a new era of energy independence that increases our world-leading consumption of energy while depending on a proliferation of dirty technologies to extract it. Threats of methane emissions, water pollution, and earthquake activity don’t deter the fossil fuel enthusiasts.

It gets worse. Republicans are eager to sell public land. Paul Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” proposes to sell millions of acres of “unneeded federal land” and billions of dollars worth of federal assets. His running mate Mitt Romney admits that he doesn’t know “what the purpose is” of public lands.

That brings us to the heart of the reasons not to vote Republican. Their reckless belief in the free market, and their dependency on corporatization and privatization to run the country, means that middle-class Americans keep paying for the fabulously wealthy people at the top who think they deserve everything they’ve taken from society.

 

Paul Buchheit is a college teacher, an active member of US Uncut Chicago, founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org, RappingHistory.org), and the editor and main author of “American Wars: Illusions and Realities” (Clarity Press). He can be reached at paul@UsAgainstGreed.org.

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/10/08

 

Has America’s Stolen Election Process Finally Hit Prime Time?

Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman, CommonDreams.org, December 30, 2011

It took two stolen US Presidential elections and the prospect of another one coming up in 2012.

For years the Democratic Party and even much of the left press has reacted with scorn for those who’ve reported on it.

But the imperial fraud that has utterly corrupted our electoral process seems finally to be dawning on a broadening core of the American electorate—if it can still be called that.

The shift is highlighted by three major developments:
1. The NAACP goes to the United Nations

In early December, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the largest civil rights organization in America, announced that it was petitioning the United Nations over the orchestrated GOP attack on black and Latino voters.

In its landmark report entitled Defending Democracy: Confronting Modern Barriers to Voting Rights in America, the NAACP directly takes on the new Jim Crow tactics passed in fourteen states that are designed to keep minorities from voting in 2012.

The report analyzes 25 laws that target black, minority and poor voters “unfairly and unnecessarily restrict[ing] the right to vote.” It notes “…a coordinated assault on voting rights.”

The Free Press has been reporting on this coordinated assault since the 2000 election, including the heroic struggle of voters in Ohio to postpone the enactment of the draconian House Bill 194 that was the most restrictive voting rights law passed in the United States. (See Voting rights activists fight back against new Republican Jim Crow attack in Ohio)

The NAACP points out that this most recent wave of voter repression is a reaction to the “…historic participation of people of color in the 2008 presidential election and substantial minority population growth according to the 2010 consensus….”

It should be no surprise that the states of the old Confederacy – Florida, Georgia, Texas, and North Carolina – are in the forefront of repressing black voters. Three other Jim Crow states with the greatest increase in Latino population – South Carolina, Alabama, and Tennessee – also implemented drastic measures to restrict minority voting.

The report documents that a long-standing tactic under fire since the 1860s – the disenfranchisement of people with felony convictions – is back in vogue. This has been coupled with “severe restrictions” on persons conducting voter registration drives and reducing opportunities for early voting and the use of absentee ballots complete these template legislative acts.

Most of these new Jim Crow tactics were initially drafted as model legislation by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a secretive and conservative corporate policy group whose founder, according to the NAACP, is on record in favor of reducing the voting population in order to increase their own “leverage.”

The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that the 25 laws passed in these 14 states could prevent as many as 5 million voters from voting, a number easily exceeding the margin of victory in numerous presidential elections.

Ohio’s HB 194, which awaits a 2012 referendum vote, would disenfranchise an estimated 900,000 in one of our nation’s key battleground states.

An important statistic in all the legislation is that 25 % of African Americans lack a state photo identification, as do 15% of Latinos, but by comparison, only 8% of white voters. Other significant Democratic constituents – the elderly of all races and college students – would be disproportionately impacted.

Ohio voters have just repealed a draconian anti-labor law passed by the GOP-dominated legislature and the state’s far-right governor John Kasich. Whether they will do the same to this massive disenfranchisement remains to be seen. But the fact that it’s on a state ballot marks a major leap forward. Ohio activists are also drafting a constitutional amendment that includes revamping the registration, voting and vote count procedures.(Can we transform labor’s Buckeye victory into a new era of election protection?)

2. The Justice Department awakens

On Friday, December 23, 2011, the U.S. Justice Department called South Carolina’s new voter ID law discriminatory. The finding was based in part on the fact that minorities were almost 20% more likely than whites to be without state-issued photo IDs required for voting. Unlike Ohio, South Carolina remains under the 1965 Voting Rights Act and requires federal pre-approval to any changes in voting laws that may harm minority voters.

The Republican governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley denounced the Justice Department decision as “outrageous” and vowed to do everything in her power to overturn the decision and uphold the integrity of state’s rights under the 10th Amendment.

The US Supreme Court has upheld the requirement of photo ID for voting. Undoubtedly the attempt by US Attorney General Eric Holder to challenge this will go to the most thoroughly corporate-dominated Court in recent memory. The depth of the commitment of the Obama Administration to the issue also remains in doubt.

3. The EAC finally finds that voting machines are programmed to be partisan

Another federal agency revealed another type of problem in Ohio. On December 22, 2011, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) issued a formal investigative report on Election Systems & Software (ED&D) DS200 Precinct County optical scanners. The EAC found “three substantial anomalies”:
• Intermittent screen freezes, system lock-ups and shutdowns that prevent the voting system from operating in the manner in which it was designed
• Failure to log all normal and abnormal voting system events
• Skewing of the ballot resulting in a negative effect on system accuracy

The EAC ruled that the ballot scanners made by ES&S electronic voting machine firm failed 10% of the time to read the votes correctly. Ohio is one of 13 states that requires EAC certification before voting machines can be used in elections. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported in 2010 that the voting machines in heavily Democratic Cuyahoga County had failed during testing for the 2010 gubernatorial election. Cleveland uses the same Republican-connected ES&S ballot scanners – the DS200 opti-scan system. Ohio’s Mahoning County, home of the Democratic enclave of Youngstown, also uses the DS200s. The same opti-scan system is also used in the key battleground states of Florida, Illionois, Indiana, New York, and Wisconsin.

Voting rights activists fear a repeat of the well-documented vote switching that occurred in Mahoning County in the 2004 presidential election when county election officials admitted that 31 of their machines switched Kerry votes to Bush.

But a flood of articles about these realities—including coverage in the New York Times—seems to indicate the theft of our elections has finally taken a leap into the mainstream of the American mind. Whether that leads to concrete reforms before another presidential election is stolen remains to be seen. But after more than a decade of ignorance and contempt, it’s about time something gets done to restore a semblance of democracy to the nation that claims to be the world’s oldest.

 Bob Fitrakis is a Political Science Professor in the Social and Behavioral Sciences department at Columbus State Community College. He and Harvey Wasserman have co-authored four books on election protection, including Did George W. Bush Steal America’s 2004 Election?, As Goes Ohio: Election Theft Since 2004 , How the GOP Stole America’s 2004 Election & Is Rigging 2008, and What Happened in Ohio
Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/12/30-2

RNC to Open With Politician Who “Should Be in Jail” by Greg Palast

Truthout | News Analysis, August 27, 2012

Robert F Kennedy Jr. looks over Tim Griffin’s caging emails. (Photo via Greg Pallast)”Tim Griffin should be in jail.” That’s the conclusion of civil rights attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr. after going through the evidence I asked him to review.

But Griffin’s not in jail: he’s in Congress. And Tuesday, he’ll be the first Congressman the Republicans have chosen to bring to their convention podium.

Predictably, I haven’t seen one US press report noting that in 2007, Griffin resigned from the Justice Department in disgrace, ahead of what could have been (should have been), his indictment.

Kennedy thought a couple of other characters should join Griffin in the lockup: first, Griffin’s boss, the man whom George W. Bush gave the nickname, “Turdblossom”: Karl Rove.

And there’s yet another odiferous blossom, Griffin’s assistant at the time of the crime: Matt Rhoades. Rhoades isn’t in jail either. He’s the campaign director of presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

(Note: This story is based on the investigations in Palast’s new book, “Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps” – with a forward by Kennedy and comics by Ted Rall.)

Kennedy had gone over the highly confidential emails we’d gotten from inside Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington. (How we got our hands on private emails from the top dogs in the Republican campaign, well, that’s another story. I can say, they were sent directly from the computer of Griffin. Rove, a computer expert, is careful not to have his own.)

“What they did was absolutely illegal – and they knew it and they did it anyway,” Kennedy told me.
What they did was called voter “caging.” The RNC sent letters by the thousands to soldiers, first class, marked, “DO NOT FORWARD.” When the letters were returned undelivered, the Republicans planned to use these “caged” envelopes as evidence the voters were “fraudulent” – then challenge their ballot.

A soldier mailing in his or her vote from Iraq would have that ballot disqualified – and the soldier wouldn’t even know it.

That’s not just sick, it’s a crime, a violation of the Voting Rights Act drafted by Kennedy’s late father. And it was a crime because of whom the RNC caging crew attacked: not just any soldiers, but soldiers of color.

Running a vote-challenge operation based on racial profiling is a go-to-jail felony.

And after the soldiers, the “Turdblossom” gang targeted students at traditionally black schools (away on summer break), homeless men and a few precincts of Jewish voters. In other words, anyone whose politics was Blue-ish.

Look for yourself. Here is one Griffin “caging” list, targeting the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Florida.
(go to source for image – Caging lists from GOP emails that Palast uncovered in 2004.)
The emails were dated August 2004, just before the presidential election. “Caging” would cost Bush’s opponent John Kerry more than one state. At the time, Rove was senior counselor to the president, Griffin head of “Research” at the RNC and his gofer Rhoades director of Opposition (read “Smear”) Research.

But they did more. Rove and Griffin were up to their necks in the firing of federal prosecutors. One, the US attorney for New Mexico, David Iglesias, told me the two illegal acts were tied together: Captain Iglesias (he’s a Naval JAG), himself a Republican, said he was fired because he refused to go along with RNC demands that he arrest innocent citizens on fake charges of fraudulent registration. Iglesias was horrified at this Soviet-style tactic. “I thought I was a Jedi warrior, but it turns out I was with the Sith Lords.”

So, Rove had Bush fire him and seven other prosecutors, including Bud Cummins, US attorney for Arkansas. In his place, Bush appointed … Tim Griffin.

Things Go Better With Kochs

Griffin won’t talk to me, nor will Rove nor Romney’s man Rhoades about the racial caging game and the related firing of federal prosecutors.

But never mind: I have his personal emails and the testimony of Captain Iglesias. And that was enough, in 2007, for BBC to put the “caging” evidence and the real story of the prosecutor firing on the air.

By the next morning, Griffin resigned his post at US attorney for Arkansas. He was in tears.

But Tim’s tears were soon wiped away – by the Koch brothers. In 2010, Koch interests dumped $167,183 into Griffin’s campaign for Congress. For $167,183, your average Congressman will wash your car – with their tongue.

Tim won the Little Rock seat, and here he is in Tampa. Despite the fact that he’s an unknown freshman from an unswing state, he’s been given the extraordinary honor of speaking for the entire Republican Congressional delegation.

And now you know why: In Congress, he’s Rove-bot No. 1, owned and operated by Koch Industries.

Why would the Kochs do this for the disgraced Griffin? Answer: It’s what Griffin does for them.

Among other favors, Griffin is the top cheerleader in the House for the XL pipeline – whose approval is vital to the billionaire Kochs making more billions.

But wait! The Kochs don’t own the XL pipe nor the Canadian tar sands from which it comes. So, why do they care?

Well, that’s another story, in another chapter, “XXXL Pipeline” in “Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal the Election in 9 Easy Steps,” out September 18. Author’s proceeds from the book go to the not-for-profit Palast Investigative Fund for reporting on voter protection issues, which has partnered with Truthout to bring you these investigative findings – and the comic book inside by Ted Rall.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.  Greg Palast
Greg Palast’s investigative reports are broadcast by BBC Television’s Newsnight. His new book is Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps (7 Stories Press/Palast Investigative Fund).
http://truth-out.org/news/item/11158-rnc-opens-with-politician-who-should-be-in-jail

Making The Election About Race By Thomas B. Edsall

New York Times, August 27, 2012 

Excerpt

The Republican ticket is flooding the airwaves with commercials that develop two themes designed to turn the presidential contest into a racially freighted resource competition pitting middle class white voters against the minority poor.

Ads that accuse President Obama of gutting the work requirements enacted in the 1996 welfare reform legislation present the first theme. Ads alleging that Obama has taken $716 billion from Medicare – a program serving an overwhelmingly white constituency – in order to provide health coverage to the heavily black and Hispanic poor deliver the second. The ads are meant to work together, to mutually reinforce each other’s claims….

Sharp criticism has done nothing to hold back the Romney campaign from continuing its offensive – in speeches and on the air – because the accuracy of the ads is irrelevant as far as the Republican presidential ticket is concerned. The goal is not to make a legitimate critique, but to portray Obama as willing to give the “undeserving” poor government handouts at the expense of hardworking taxpayers.

Insofar as Romney can revive anti-welfare sentiments – which have been relatively quiescent since the enactment of the 1996 reforms – he may be able to increase voter motivation among whites whose enthusiasm for Romney has been dimmed by the barrage of Obama ads criticizing Bain Capital for firing workers and outsourcing jobs during Romney’s tenure as C.E.O. of the company…There is extensive poll data showing the depth of Republican dependence on white voters…Most importantly, the Pew surveys show that 89% of voters who identify themselves as Republican are white. Faced with few if any possibilities of making gains among blacks and Hispanics – whose support for Obama has remained strong – the Romney campaign has no other choice if the goal is to win but to adopt a strategy to drive up white turnout….

On television and the Internet, however, the Romney campaign is clearly determined “to make this about” race, in the tradition of the notorious 1988 Republican Willie Horton ad, which described the rape of a white woman by a convicted African-American murderer released on furlough from a Massachusetts prison during the gubernatorial administration of Michael Dukakis…

The longer campaigns go on, the nastier they get. Once unthinkable methods become conventional…

The principle media consultant for the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future, which will be running many of the anti-Obama ads over the next ten weeks, is Larry McCarthy, who produced the original Willie Horton ad.

Full text

The Republican ticket is flooding the airwaves with commercials that develop two themes designed to turn the presidential contest into a racially freighted resource competition pitting middle class white voters against the minority poor.

Ads that accuse President Obama of gutting the work requirements enacted in the 1996 welfare reform legislation present the first theme. Ads alleging that Obama has taken $716 billion from Medicare – a program serving an overwhelmingly white constituency – in order to provide health coverage to the heavily black and Hispanic poor deliver the second. The ads are meant to work together, to mutually reinforce each other’s claims.

The announcer in one of the Romney campaign’s TV ads focusing on welfare  tells viewers:

In 1996, President Clinton and a bipartisan Congress helped end welfare as we know it by requiring work for welfare. But on July 12, President Obama quietly announced a plan to gut welfare reform by dropping the work requirement. Under Obama’s plan, you wouldn’t have to work and wouldn’t have to train for a job. They just send you a welfare check. And welfare-to-work goes back to being plain old welfare. Mitt Romney will restore the work requirement because it works.

The ad includes the following text and photograph:

Web sites devoted to examining the veracity of political commercials have sharply criticized the ad.

The Washington Post’s fact checker, Glenn Kessler, gave the welfare ads his lowest rating, four Pinocchios. The Tampa Bay Tribune’s Politifact was equally harsh, describing the ads as “a drastic distortion” warranting a “pants on fire” rating. The welfare commercial, according to Politifact, “inflames old resentments about able-bodied adults sitting around collecting public assistance.”

Sharp criticism has done nothing to hold back the Romney campaign from continuing its offensive – in speeches and on the air – because the accuracy of the ads is irrelevant as far as the Republican presidential ticket is concerned. The goal is not to make a legitimate critique, but to portray Obama as willing to give the “undeserving” poor government handouts at the expense of hardworking taxpayers.

Insofar as Romney can revive anti-welfare sentiments – which have been relatively quiescent since the enactment of the 1996 reforms – he may be able to increase voter motivation among whites whose enthusiasm for Romney has been dimmed by the barrage of Obama ads criticizing Bain Capital for firing workers and outsourcing jobs during Romney’s tenure as C.E.O. of the company.

The racial overtones of Romney’s welfare ads are relatively explicit. Romney’s Medicare ads are a bit more subtle.

“You paid into Medicare for years – every paycheck. Now when you need it, Obama has cut $716 billion from Medicare,” the ad begins, with following picture on the screen:

The ad continues:

Why? To pay for Obamacare. The money you paid for your guaranteed health care is going to a massive new government program that is not for you.

In essence, the ad is telling senior voters that the money they paid to insure their own access to Medicare after they turn 65 is going, instead, to pay for free health care for poor people who are younger than 65.

The Romney Medicare ads have a dual purpose. The first is to deflect the Obama campaign’s attack on the Romney-Ryan proposal to radically transform the way medical care for those over 65 is provided. The Associated Press succinctly described the Romney-Ryan proposal:

Starting in 2023, new retirees on the younger side of the line [those younger than 55 in 2012] would get a fixed amount of money from the government to pick either private health insurance or a federal plan modeled on Medicare.

Those going on Medicare after 2022 would have to choose between “premium support” – in other words, a voucher program – to pay for private health care coverage or an option to enroll in a program similar to existing Medicare but without specified funding levels – which means an end to the guaranteed medical coverage currently provided for those over 65.

The liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities sums up the likely future of health care for seniors under the Ryan proposal for reform:

The C.B.O. estimates that by 2030 the House Budget Committee plan would increase the out-of-pocket share of health care spending for a typical Medicare beneficiary from the current 25-to-30% range to 68%. By 2050, the House plan would cut federal health care spending by approximately two thirds. Both plans would place substantial administrative burdens on the most vulnerable and infirm of Medicare’s enrollees. And both would surrender the considerable leverage that Medicare can bring to bear on providers to reduce spending and improve quality.

Polls in key swing states and nationally show that, at present, voters trust Obama more than Romney to deal with Medicare, and strongly prefer to leave the Medicare program as is.

Asked whether “Medicare should continue as it is today” or “should be changed to a system in which the government would provide seniors with a fixed amount of money toward purchasing private health insurance or Medicare insurance” voters in Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin decisively chose to keep Medicare unchanged – by 62-28 in Florida, by 64-27 in Ohio, and by 59-32 in Wisconsin.

When asked whom they trust more to handle the Medicare issue, Florida voters in a Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News poll, reported on August 23, picked Obama over Romney by a 50-42 margin. InOhio, Obama’s margin was 51-41; inWisconsin, it was 51-42.

A separate Pew Research Center survey released on August 21 found that 72 percent of voters had heard “a little” or “a lot” about what Pew described as “a proposal to change Medicare into a program that would give future participants a credit toward purchasing private health insurance coverage.” Of those familiar with the proposal, a plurality, 49 percent, opposed it, while 34 percent favored it.

The bipartisan Battleground Poll conducted August 5-9 by the Tarrance Group, a Republican firm, and Lake Research Partners, a Democratic firm, found that voters trusted Obama over Romney to handle Medicare and Social Security by a 49-45 margin. The same survey found that voters trusted Congressional Democrats over Congressional Republicans to handle Medicare and Social Security by a 48-40 margin.

Romney’s Medicare ad is designed to undermine that relatively modest but potentially crucial advantage. It is artfully constructed to turn the issue of health care into a battle over limited tax dollars between a largely white population of seniors on Medicare and a disproportionately minority population of the currently uninsured who would get health coverage under Obamacare.

Medicare recipients are overwhelmingly white, at 77 percent; 10 percent of recipients are black; and 8 percent Hispanic, with the rest described as coming from other races and ethnicities.

Obamacare, described in the Romney ad as a “massive new government program that is not for you,” would provide health coverage to a population of over 30 million that is not currently insured: 16.3 percent of this population is black; 30.7 percent is Hispanic; 5.2 percent is Asian-American; and 46.3 percent (less than half) is made up of non-Hispanic whites.

Politifact described the Medicare ad as “half true”:

Romney’s claim gives the impression that the law takes money that was already allocated to Medicare and funds the new health care law with it. In fact, the law uses a number of measures to try to reduce the rapid growth of future Medicare spending. Those savings are then used to offset costs created by the law – especially coverage for the uninsured – so that the overall law doesn’t add to the deficit. We rate his statement Half True.

Politifact also rated a claim Romney made later on the stump – that “there’s only one president that I know of in history that robbed Medicare,  $716 billion to pay for a new risky program of his own that we call Obamacare” – as “mostly false.”

The Romney campaign’s shift of focus toward welfare and Medicare suggests that his strategists are worried that just disparaging Obama’s ability to deal with the struggling economy won’t be adequate to produce victory on November 6.

The importance to the Romney-Ryan ticket of two overlapping constituencies – whites without college degrees and white Medicare recipients – cannot be overestimated. Romney, continuing the Republican approach of 2010, is banking on a huge turnout among key white segments of the electorate in order to counter Obama’s strengths with minority voters as well as with young and unmarried female voters of all races.

There is extensive poll data showing the depth of Republican dependence on white voters.

On August 23, Pew Research released its latest findings on partisan identification, and the gains that the Republican Party has made among older and non-college whites since 2004 are remarkable.

Just eight years ago, Pew reports, whites 65 and over were evenly split in their allegiance, 46 percent Democratic, 46 percent Republican. In the most recent findings, these voters are now solidly in the Republican camp, 54-38, an eight point Republican gain. Elderly women were 9 points more Democratic than Republican in 2004, 50-41, the opposite of where they are now, 51-42 Republican. Older men, who were 51-41 Republican in 2004, are now 59-33 Republican.

Similarly, white voters without college degrees, of all ages, have gone from 51-40 Republican in 2004, to 54-37 in 2012, according to Pew.

Most importantly, the Pew surveys show that 89% of voters who identify themselves as Republican are white. Faced with few if any possibilities of making gains among blacks and Hispanics – whose support for Obama has remained strong – the Romney campaign has no other choice if the goal is to win but to adopt a strategy to drive up white turnout.

The Romney campaign is willing to disregard criticism concerning accuracy and veracity in favor of  ”blowing the dog whistle of racism” – resorting to a campaign appealing to racial symbols, images and issues in its bid to break the frustratingly persistent Obama lead in the polls, which has lasted for the past 10 months.

The result is a campaign run at two levels. On the trail, Paul Ryan argues that “we’re going to make this about ideas. We’re going to make this about a positive vision for the future.” On television and the Internet, however, the Romney campaign is clearly determined “to make this about” race, in the tradition of the notorious 1988 Republican Willie Horton ad, which described the rape of a white woman by a convicted African-American murderer released on furlough from a Massachusetts prison during the gubernatorial administration of Michael Dukakis and Jesse Helms’s equally infamous “White Hands” commercial, which depicted a white job applicant who “needed that job” but was rejected because “they had to give it to a minority.”

The longer campaigns go on, the nastier they get. Once unthinkable methods become conventional.

“You can tell they” – the welfare ads- “are landing punches,” Steven Law, president of the Republican super PAC American Crossroads, told the Wall Street Journal. Law’s focus group and polling research suggest that the theme is not necessarily going to work. “The economy is so lousy for middle-income Americans that the same people who chafe at the rise of welfare dependency under Obama don’t automatically default to a ‘get-a-job’ attitude – because they know there are no jobs.”

As the head of a tax-exempt 501(c)4 independent expenditure committee, Law cannot coordinate campaign strategy directly with the Romney campaign. Nonetheless, he is sending a warning. The welfare theme, Law said, “needs to be done sensitively. Right now it may be more of an economic issue than a values issue: In other words, more people on welfare is another disturbing symptom of Obama’s broken-down economy, rather than an indictment of those who are on welfare or the culture as a whole.”

Will the Romney campaign heed Law’s advice to keep it subtle? The principle media consultant for the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future, which will be running many of the anti-Obama ads over the next ten weeks, is Larry McCarthy, who produced the original Willie Horton ad.

Thomas B. Edsall, a professor of journalism at Columbia University, is the author of the book “The Age of Austerity: How Scarcity Will Remake American Politics,” which was published earlier this year.

http://campaignstops.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/27/making-the-election-about-race/?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20120827

Inside the plan to steal the election By Steven Rosenfeld, Alternet.org

Saturday, Aug 25, 2012 

Excerpt

The conservative initiative True the Vote is designed to obstruct the voting process at every turn…the heart of the GOP election fraud brigade at the Colorado summit…they had big money behind them and were organizing on a scale that recalled the early days of the Christian Coalition.

...Fund’s 2004 book, Stealing Elections, one of the first Republican tirades to make outsized and false claims that Democrats were involved in vast conspiracies to illegally vote…True the Vote is a voting vigilante group …They represent the most extreme views on the Right when it comes to voting—that the process is filled with corruption that is bound to be exploited by local political bosses and machines, which, of course, are Democratic. Where liberals see that a third of all eligible voters in America do not vote and want to make the process more accessible, the right believes to do so would mean the end of America as they know it.

America is filled with leave-me-alone, blame-the-government types and paranoid groups on the left and right. But most fringe groups have not been given millions by rich right-wingers between 2009 and todaythree main focuses: policing new voter registrations and winnowing existing voter rolls; training polling place watchers to spot and protest all kinds of slights that undermine voting; and filing suits to prompt states and counties to purge voter rolls. It claims it has 300 active chapters in three dozen states… All of this is to prevent illegal voting, presumably for Democrats.they want officials to follow the law as they see it, which is not always as the law isin 2012, if you’re a new national group fueled by voting fraud fantasies, a God-given mission, and have plenty of money and spunk, you have a capacity to create chaos for unsuspecting voters, and confidence that you’ll be around long after November.

“They are convincing otherwise civic-minded people that there’s massive voter fraud out there and that their work is needed to protect the ballot,” said Matt Angle, a Democratic strategist who has been deeply involved in Texas voting rights battles for years. “They’re playing on fears and civic duty and promoting themselves all along the way… They think they are doing something patriotic. To me, that is the most distasteful thing.”

Full text

The Colorado Summit

I grabbed some handouts, stepped into the windowless conference room, got some coffee, and sat at one of a half-dozen cloth-covered tables. It didn’t feel like a political freak show. To be honest, it felt a bit familiar. To my right was a woman in her 50s, a quality control manager from Colorado Springs who was worried about elections. Around the table were Tea Partiers, a young woman who was a GOP county leader, and retirees concerned about government and democracy. I could relate to their worries that American democracy was in big trouble. These were civic-minded grassroots people not unlike those I’d met in Ohio after the 2004 election, when I helped publicize the ways that state’s GOP tried to suppress and steal John Kerry’s votes.

In the eight years since Ohio, I’ve learned that what really happens in elections is more complicated than easily minted conspiracy theories. At worst, I thought most attendees were low-hanging fruit, ready to be molded by this movement’s disingenuous national leaders—like Fund, who knows the real facts and ignores them, or Christian Adams, an embittered ex-Justice Department civil rights attorney who felt he could not work for Eric Holder and quit, and now inveighs against the DOJ’s liberal biases. Later, when a handful of attendees started snickering at California’s gays and civil unions, and loudly applauded an Oliver North-like local Republican County chairman who cited the most deadly Nazi fighter pilot’s wartime survival credo in his powerpoint—as advice on beating Obama—I thought, wow, let’s hope this crew is all bark and no bite.

The summit began with a classic political attack video—dark imagery, brooding camera angles, dropping all the names of liberals that Republicans love to hate, such as ACORN and Project Vote (which helped run ACORN’s voter drives). The screen decried “dead people” on the rolls, duplicate registrations, double voting, registrations with addresses from empty lots, and other would-be horrors that scholars say are the vast exception not rule in voting. Anita MonCrief, an African American who worked at Project Vote before quitting and becoming a conservative celebrity, recounted how poor people were paid to register voters, often turning in faked names and multiple registrations. (These are easily caught by election offices). Then the founder of the King Street Patriots, out of which True the Vote emerged, took the stage. You may have seen Katherine Englebrecht on Fox News. She’s tall, trim, blonde, articulate and driven—a typical activist.

“How did we as an organization get from working at the polls a few years ago to feeling the need to put together a video like that?” she began. “That is a story I would like to open today’s event with and share with you, what we’ve seen, and I suspect many of you possibly have seen yourselves.” She paused and looked at the room—perhaps 60 people filled the tables. “How many of you have worked at the polls before?” A few hands went up. “Okay. As a general statement, if you work at the polls, it is hard to find volunteers?” More murmurs and yeses were heard. “Agree or disagree, the process might lend itself to manipulation?” “Yes,” a woman shouted.

“I am just going to go way out here, agree or disagree,” she continued. “If you don’t have enough volunteers, and you have a process that is weak, can those weaknesses be exploited for political gain?” More fervent yeses replied. Englebrecht paused. “I think you’re right, and a lot of people across the country think you’re right.”

The way Englebrecht told her story, you would think she was another suburban mom whose faith-and-family moorings were upended during the 2008 presidential race and couldn’t stop shuddering at the way the mainstream media was not telling the truth—prompting sleepless nights, smeared glitter and glue on her kitchen floor as she made protest signs, her subsequent discovery of kindred spirits in the Tea Party, and a husband who asked her, “Have you lost your mind?” But according to Houston’s Maureen Haver, who ran a non-profit doing voter registration drives in Harris County’s poor and minority neighborhoods in 2008 and was among the first liberal registration groups to be attacked by Engelbrecht, there’s more to her story than what she shared in Denver.

Englebrecht didn’t say she and her husband live outside Harris County—where Houston is located and is more populous than 22 states. They run an oil services company worth millions. She has a record of disrupting public meetings going back to 2009, Haver said, when pre-Tea Party activists disrupted that summer’s congressional town hall meetings. Englebrecht didn’t say that she and her husband this year started a new company with the provocative name, Plan B Firearms. Acccording to Tea Party Web sites, “Plan B” refers to the steps ”patriots” might have to take if Obama gets re-elected.

No, in Denver, she put on a plucky smile and earnestly pitched for volunteers to enroll in True the Vote’s training sessions—to either review voter rolls online, or to join their fall poll watcher brigades to prevent electoral skullduggery. Of course, she added that True the Vote was a “non-partisan” organization, even though they were selling black T-shirts with Ronald Reagan’s profile on them. (They also had Elvis shirts.)

Republican ‘Election Integrity’

True the Vote’s paranoid and possibly disruptive civic activism in 2012 comes from its very predictable history. It is hardly the first group to peer behind the curtain of how elections are run in America, and quickly assume that anything and everything that could go wrong, would go wrong, and be used against their comrades. As Englebrecht recited their history, it foreshadowed the tools and strategy they’ve since developed and are deploying in 2012’s presidential election.

“We had heard there was a need for people to go and work the polls,” she said, referring to their roots in 2009. “We thought we would go work for a day, and check it off our list and move onto something else…” But then they discovered how erratic elections can be, especially when states pass all kinds of complex laws and rely on poorly paid volunteer poll workers to implement them with little or no training.

“What we saw ranged from levels of confusion and incompetence, frankly that were very disturbing, when you consider the importance of the proceedings in the polls,” she said. “When you have so much slack in the process, you know, whether or not the code was followed based on a wink and a nod… We saw people not show any form of ID whatsoever and be allowed to vote. In Texas, you have to show some form of ID. In Colorado you have to show ID. In some of our sister states, it is even illegal to ask for identification.”

Here is where her propagandizing and right-wingers jump orbits. Engelbrecht was talking to an audience who, by a show of hands, were more than half Tea Party members, avid Drudge Report readers, and mostly vote by mail. In other words, most don’t vote in the venues they were hearing about. But they still shook their heads and gasped anyway.

“We saw people who would come in with multiple registration cards,” she continued. “And when they would present the first one and be told, ‘I’m sorry, it looks as though you already voted in an earlier election,’ they’d go, ‘Huh, how about this card?’” That was good enough for poll workers, she said, her voice rising. “People would come in and want to vote and they’d open the poll book—in Texas, we print out these little labels, and you stick this label in the book and sign your name. Well, the label was in the book and that person’s name was signed. But that wasn’t his signature. Somebody beat ’em to the punch… There’s a lot of latitude for people who want to subvert the process.”

I might have been the only one in the room to realize that most of her anecdotes—if they were true—probably have little or nothing to do with padding elections. They could just as easily be explained by bureaucratic bungling, bad poll worker training, confusion by voters who don’t understand what they got in the mail or other factors. These problems also are not solved by stricter voter ID laws. In some counties, election administration can be as drab as polling places are chaotic. But that’s not a political conspiracy.

Her war stories continued. They were low-rent compared to later speakers, who described a full-throated U.S. Justice Department conspiracy to ignore discrimination against white voters, or Fund telling people that they should enjoy bullying liberals because they were doing God’s work. “Your opposition are cartoon characters. They are. They are fun to beat up. They are fun to humiliate,” he intoned. “You are on the side of the angels. And these people are just frauds, charlatans and liars.”

Propaganda and Internet Tools

True the Vote’s response to the problems it perceives is ambitious. It’s also incredibly error-prone, according to its track record thus far in 2012. The group’s pre-Election Day focus is not just about training poll observers—people who’ll watch how voters are checked in and speak up if they don’t like what they think they see. They’re also focused on voter registration rolls, trying to identify, weed out, challenge and remove people who they believe are illegal or phantom voters. This is where things get dicey.

Drawing on the power of Internet organizing and Tea Party networks, they’ve developed an infrastructure where they “crowd-source” analysis of voter registration records, using software and vetting standards they created. True the Vote will take various state databases, starting with voter registration lists (which are always in flux as people register, move and die), driver’s license databases and jury lists, and look for inconsistencies. If they don’t like the way a person’s signature varies from form to form, it is flagged as suspicious. If they see that too many voters are registered at an address, it is flagged. If a driver’s license has a different address than a voter registration form, it is flagged. Their research team then seeks to turn over these names to county or state officials, who they urge to investigate—and, of course, remove ineligible voters from the rolls.

Mark Antill, their national research director, explained that they developed the software to first identify addresses with the most registrants attached to them. “When you find 80 people [registered] at an empty lot, you push a button and all 80 people get challenged,” he told the room. “When you vote once, and some guy votes twice, that is an issue.”

If the local election officials do not remove names from voter lists (and there are detailed federal laws that mostly bar voter purges within 90 days of an upcoming federal election, and require that names be left on voter lists to ensure that nobody is disenfranchised) then True the Vote wants those offices to take other steps. Antill said Colorado will send a postcard to the voter in question saying he must present proof before getting a ballot this fall; or that he can’t vote by mail until he shows up with documents at a polling place. (He did not say where they got the legal authority to do that, and I didn’t want to be too pushy. But in a state where 70 percent of people vote by mail, and 10 percent vote early, that hurdle could easily prevent infirm elderly people from voting.)

True the Vote’s Texas adversaries have seen these tactics before. “They are challenging new voter applications as they come in. They are challenging registrations that already exist on the rolls,” said Houston’s Haver. “They believe it’s grounds for a challenge if you have six people living at a household on a registration form.” Angle said, “They couldn’t operate in Texas or anywhere else unless they had officials supporting them.”

That is exactly what they have in Texas, Colorado, Florida, Ohio, Kansas and a handful of other states. At the Denver summit, Colorado’s Deputy Attorney General Cynthia Coffman fully backed their agenda. So did Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who told attendees “you will be demonized, called a racist and a vote suppressor” but encouraged them to soldier on.

But True the Vote has not found as welcome a reception in Wisconsin, where the state board overseeing elections—composed of retired judges—rejected its effort to partner with them. This past winter, the group initially sought an official role validating the petitions calling for the gubernatorial recall. After that was rejected, several thousand volunteers across the country looked for errors on their home computers and flagged questionable signers. To be fair, examining 800,000 signatures and addresses in a month is a gigantic undertaking. Where their independent assessment became politically predictable was when they claimed that about 40 percent of the petitions they examined were incomplete or required “further investigation.” Of course, that figure brought the total number of legal signers—in their eyes—below the threshold to qualify the gubernatorial recall.

Following Whose Law?

It’s important to understand why True the Vote feels victimized and how that affects its politics, whether its results are amateurish or not. In Wisconsin, election officials give the benefit of the doubt to the voter when assessing voting documents and deciding disputes. That is true in many states. True the Vote takes the exact opposite approach. If there are any doubts, then in True the Vote’s world the burden of proof immediately shifts to the accused, not the accuser, to defend their voting rights. And if proof is not forthcoming, they believe that person’s voting credentials should be revoked.

Moreover, True the Vote’s assessment—and this is the case in its voter registration program and poll watcher trainings—is based on what they want to see in the law. But that’s not the same as what actually exists in the law. This split leads to a predictable collision between what they think they see, and what they think should be in law, and how local election officials process the same information and officially react to it. A Wisconsin Government Accountability Board report issued in May assessed their vetting of recall petitions. It concluded they “created results that were significantly less accurate, complete, and reliable than the review and analysis completed by the G.A.B.”

Another group affiliated with True the Vote, Minnesota Majority, used a similar method, also based on sloppy database analyses, and presented the Hennepin County Attorney (where Minneapolis is) with what it claimed were more than 1,500 instances of illegal felon voting during the November 2008 election. They claim Al Franken only won because felons illegally voted. That charge, which is repeated in Fund’s new book, was vigorously rejected this month by Hennepin County Prosecutor Mike Freeman. He said they brought 1,500 allegations — but there was only sufficient proof to charge 38 people.

What is dangerous here is that the voter fraud movement’s leaders know these facts, but that’s not what they are telling the grassroots at meetings like Colorado’s summit. Instead, they’re deliberately misinforming local activists who care about elections, and encouraging them to take the law into their own hands when the courts fail them.

“You know the job of a recounter. You count, you count, you count until your candidate is ahead, and then you stop counting,” Fund glibly explained to the Denver conference room. Never mind that he described precisely what the Minnesota Majority did in the Wisconsin gubernatorial recall election—they stopped “disqualifying” petitions when they had the number they wanted.

“We know this,” Fund thundered. “Eleven-hundred felons voted illegally. The margin was 312 votes. Minnesota Majority uncovered this. The media didn’t. The prosecutors didn’t. It had consequences. Al Franken went on to become the 60th vote in the U.S. Senate, in the majority that passed Obamacare.”

What we know is that there is an ascendant nationwide right-wing movement to police American elections. We know that movement is turning to dishonest public intellectuals to educate its ranks. We know the focus is much bigger than new voter ID laws, and that True the Vote may or may not disrupt polling place voting this fall. We also know that after November they will be around to share their “lessons” from the voting wars and push solutions. We might hope that they will be honest about the true scope and scale of voting problems that inevitably will surface, especially as they delve into the details of running elections. However, that’s probably naïve.
 
The conservative initiative True the Vote is designed to obstruct the voting process at every turn. Will it work?
 
I was nervous getting onto the flight to Denver. Since 2004, I have been a national radio producer, investigative reporter, author and consultant—writing about how elections are won, lost, bungled and improved, with a big focus on voter registration. But I had never snuck into a meeting of right-wing voting vigilantes who are the frontline of a national voter suppression strategy, and where the main speaker was a man whose new book I’d aggressively debunked days before, in an AlterNet article lauded by a leading election law blog and Washington Post. The meeting was a state summit organized by a group called True The Vote. The author was John Fund, who absurdly claims that more than 1,000 felons voted illegally in Minnesota in 2008, sending Democrat Al Franken to the U.S. Senate, where he was the final vote that passed Obama’s health care reform.

I didn’t want to be outed or bullied. I support citizen activism and was intrigued, even if I knew I was heading into the heart of the GOP election fraud brigade at the Colorado summit. On the plane, I wondered why many of the right-wing activists I hoped to meet in Denver believe as they do—eyeing almost all phases of the voting process with suspicion and mistaking errors as political conspiracies. The group’s Web site was very thin, but as knowledgeable people told me, they had big money behind them and were organizing on a scale that recalled the early days of the Christian Coalition.

The next day, Saturday, August 18, I got up early, ate quickly and took my props—a copy of Fund’s 2004 book, Stealing Elections, one of the first Republican tirades to make outsized and false claims that Democrats were involved in vast conspiracies to illegally vote, and a blog post saying the summit was open to walk-ins. I looked like I was going golfing and headed for the Sheraton conference center. A few minutes before 9, I got in line behind a manicured middle-aged man wearing an Americans for Prosperity T-shirt, the group founded and still funded by the Koch Brothers, and a few retirees, all white, and asked if they any room left. They nodded. When time came for pay, a perky woman at the welcome desk asked my name for a badge. Next to her sat Fund, selling and signing his book. I quickly replied, “Steve Rose,” what my friends call me. No one blinked. Then I bought the book for $20. He signed, “Keep Fighting. John Fund.”

Once inside, the meeting began with the Pledge of Allegiance, a prayer “for truth in America” in Jesus’ name, and then some of the most incredible tirades against liberals I’d ever heard, including Fund’s messianic exhortation to work against all those who “bear false witness,” which, ironically, is exactly what he and True the Vote does.

Voting Vigilante

True the Vote is a voting vigilante group that never should have grown past its Texas cowboy-meets-Tea Party justice roots. Its top leaders have a jaunty, string ‘em up, guilty-until-proven-innocent mindset. They represent the most extreme views on the Right when it comes to voting—that the process is filled with corruption that is bound to be exploited by local political bosses and machines, which, of course, are Democratic. Where liberals see that a third of all eligible voters in America do not vote and want to make the process more accessible, the right believes to do so would mean the end of America as they know it. They think it’s patriotic to be self-appointed judges, juries and if necessary, citizen police, to stop what they believe is rampant illegal voting. This purview goes far beyond today’s fights over voter ID.

America is filled with leave-me-alone, blame-the-government types and paranoid groups on the left and right. But most fringe groups have not been given millions by rich right-wingers between 2009 and today. As 2012’s presidential election approaches, True the Vote has three main focuses: policing new voter registrations and winnowing existing voter rolls; training polling place watchers to spot and protest all kinds of slights that undermine voting; and filing suits to prompt states and counties to purge voter rolls. It claims it has 300 active chapters in three dozen states. It claims to have thousands of volunteers using its web-based software who are identifying thousands of questionable voter registrations or possibly illegal voters in battleground states. It is trying to partner with Republican election officials to detect and investigate suspicious names, and then stop those people from voting this November unless they prove their eligibility.

On Election Day, it says it wants to deploy one-million people at polling places to watch who shows up, how people are checked for ID, how they are given ballots, and ensure that people who ask poll workers for help fill out their own ballots. All of this is to prevent illegal voting, presumably for Democrats.

True the Vote has training materials online. Members are organizing Election Day hotlines and county-based chains of command for poll watchers. They are lining up lawyers to take their reports to sympathetic state officials. They’re being encouraged by Republicans in high office—such as Florida’s governor, secretaries of state in Colorado, Kansas and Ohio, attorneys general in Texas and Colorado. They are reviving discarded strategies from George W. Bush’s Justice Department by suing the state of Indiana and 160-plus counties all over America, to pressure them to purge voter rolls. They could collect court costs if they win—which would further fund their efforts. These Election Day plans and litigation strategy mimic the liberal groups they revile, such as Project Vote, ACORN, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and labor unions.

They could be very disruptive this fall, were it not for a track record so far in 2012 that has revealed them to be more amateurish than impactful. In fact, their allegations—which election officials have to take seriously—are filled with error rates on par with ACORN’s voter drives. (Part of that is because they want officials to follow the law as they see it, which is not always as the law is—leading election officials to investigate and dismiss a majority of their allegations.) However, bad behavior by some of their poll watchers—such as in Racine, Wisconsin, this June, during the Scott Walker recall election—has prompted that state’s top election board to issue stricter poll watcher guidelines for the fall. But in 2012, if you’re a new national group fueled by voting fraud fantasies, a God-given mission, and have plenty of money and spunk, you have a capacity to create chaos for unsuspecting voters, and confidence that you’ll be around long after November.

“They are convincing otherwise civic-minded people that there’s massive voter fraud out there and that their work is needed to protect the ballot,” said Matt Angle, a Democratic strategist who has been deeply involved in Texas voting rights battles for years. “They’re playing on fears and civic duty and promoting themselves all along the way… They think they are doing something patriotic. To me, that is the most distasteful thing.”

The Colorado Summit

I grabbed some handouts, stepped into the windowless conference room, got some coffee, and sat at one of a half-dozen cloth-covered tables. It didn’t feel like a political freak show. To be honest, it felt a bit familiar. To my right was a woman in her 50s, a quality control manager from Colorado Springs who was worried about elections. Around the table were Tea Partiers, a young woman who was a GOP county leader, and retirees concerned about government and democracy. I could relate to their worries that American democracy was in big trouble. These were civic-minded grassroots people not unlike those I’d met in Ohio after the 2004 election, when I helped publicize the ways that state’s GOP tried to suppress and steal John Kerry’s votes.

In the eight years since Ohio, I’ve learned that what really happens in elections is more complicated than easily minted conspiracy theories. At worst, I thought most attendees were low-hanging fruit, ready to be molded by this movement’s disingenuous national leaders—like Fund, who knows the real facts and ignores them, or Christian Adams, an embittered ex-Justice Department civil rights attorney who felt he could not work for Eric Holder and quit, and now inveighs against the DOJ’s liberal biases. Later, when a handful of attendees started snickering at California’s gays and civil unions, and loudly applauded an Oliver North-like local Republican County chairman who cited the most deadly Nazi fighter pilot’s wartime survival credo in his powerpoint—as advice on beating Obama—I thought, wow, let’s hope this crew is all bark and no bite.

The summit began with a classic political attack video—dark imagery, brooding camera angles, dropping all the names of liberals that Republicans love to hate, such as ACORN and Project Vote (which helped run ACORN’s voter drives). The screen decried “dead people” on the rolls, duplicate registrations, double voting, registrations with addresses from empty lots, and other would-be horrors that scholars say are the vast exception not rule in voting. Anita MonCrief, an African American who worked at Project Vote before quitting and becoming a conservative celebrity, recounted how poor people were paid to register voters, often turning in faked names and multiple registrations. (These are easily caught by election offices). Then the founder of the King Street Patriots, out of which True the Vote emerged, took the stage. You may have seen Katherine Englebrecht on Fox News. She’s tall, trim, blonde, articulate and driven—a typical activist.

“How did we as an organization get from working at the polls a few years ago to feeling the need to put together a video like that?” she began. “That is a story I would like to open today’s event with and share with you, what we’ve seen, and I suspect many of you possibly have seen yourselves.” She paused and looked at the room—perhaps 60 people filled the tables. “How many of you have worked at the polls before?” A few hands went up. “Okay. As a general statement, if you work at the polls, it is hard to find volunteers?” More murmurs and yeses were heard. “Agree or disagree, the process might lend itself to manipulation?” “Yes,” a woman shouted.

“I am just going to go way out here, agree or disagree,” she continued. “If you don’t have enough volunteers, and you have a process that is weak, can those weaknesses be exploited for political gain?” More fervent yeses replied. Englebrecht paused. “I think you’re right, and a lot of people across the country think you’re right.”

The way Englebrecht told her story, you would think she was another suburban mom whose faith-and-family moorings were upended during the 2008 presidential race and couldn’t stop shuddering at the way the mainstream media was not telling the truth—prompting sleepless nights, smeared glitter and glue on her kitchen floor as she made protest signs, her subsequent discovery of kindred spirits in the Tea Party, and a husband who asked her, “Have you lost your mind?” But according to Houston’s Maureen Haver, who ran a non-profit doing voter registration drives in Harris County’s poor and minority neighborhoods in 2008 and was among the first liberal registration groups to be attacked by Engelbrecht, there’s more to her story than what she shared in Denver.

Englebrecht didn’t say she and her husband live outside Harris County—where Houston is located and is more populous than 22 states. They run an oil services company worth millions. She has a record of disrupting public meetings going back to 2009, Haver said, when pre-Tea Party activists disrupted that summer’s congressional town hall meetings. Englebrecht didn’t say that she and her husband this year started a new company with the provocative name, Plan B Firearms. Acccording to Tea Party Web sites, “Plan B” refers to the steps ”patriots” might have to take if Obama gets re-elected.

No, in Denver, she put on a plucky smile and earnestly pitched for volunteers to enroll in True the Vote’s training sessions—to either review voter rolls online, or to join their fall poll watcher brigades to prevent electoral skullduggery. Of course, she added that True the Vote was a “non-partisan” organization, even though they were selling black T-shirts with Ronald Reagan’s profile on them. (They also had Elvis shirts.)

Republican ‘Election Integrity’

True the Vote’s paranoid and possibly disruptive civic activism in 2012 comes from its very predictable history. It is hardly the first group to peer behind the curtain of how elections are run in America, and quickly assume that anything and everything that could go wrong, would go wrong, and be used against their comrades. As Englebrecht recited their history, it foreshadowed the tools and strategy they’ve since developed and are deploying in 2012’s presidential election.

“We had heard there was a need for people to go and work the polls,” she said, referring to their roots in 2009. “We thought we would go work for a day, and check it off our list and move onto something else…” But then they discovered how erratic elections can be, especially when states pass all kinds of complex laws and rely on poorly paid volunteer poll workers to implement them with little or no training.

“What we saw ranged from levels of confusion and incompetence, frankly that were very disturbing, when you consider the importance of the proceedings in the polls,” she said. “When you have so much slack in the process, you know, whether or not the code was followed based on a wink and a nod… We saw people not show any form of ID whatsoever and be allowed to vote. In Texas, you have to show some form of ID. In Colorado you have to show ID. In some of our sister states, it is even illegal to ask for identification.”

Here is where her propagandizing and right-wingers jump orbits. Engelbrecht was talking to an audience who, by a show of hands, were more than half Tea Party members, avid Drudge Report readers, and mostly vote by mail. In other words, most don’t vote in the venues they were hearing about. But they still shook their heads and gasped anyway.

“We saw people who would come in with multiple registration cards,” she continued. “And when they would present the first one and be told, ‘I’m sorry, it looks as though you already voted in an earlier election,’ they’d go, ‘Huh, how about this card?’” That was good enough for poll workers, she said, her voice rising. “People would come in and want to vote and they’d open the poll book—in Texas, we print out these little labels, and you stick this label in the book and sign your name. Well, the label was in the book and that person’s name was signed. But that wasn’t his signature. Somebody beat ’em to the punch… There’s a lot of latitude for people who want to subvert the process.”

I might have been the only one in the room to realize that most of her anecdotes—if they were true—probably have little or nothing to do with padding elections. They could just as easily be explained by bureaucratic bungling, bad poll worker training, confusion by voters who don’t understand what they got in the mail or other factors. These problems also are not solved by stricter voter ID laws. In some counties, election administration can be as drab as polling places are chaotic. But that’s not a political conspiracy.

Her war stories continued. They were low-rent compared to later speakers, who described a full-throated U.S. Justice Department conspiracy to ignore discrimination against white voters, or Fund telling people that they should enjoy bullying liberals because they were doing God’s work. “Your opposition are cartoon characters. They are. They are fun to beat up. They are fun to humiliate,” he intoned. “You are on the side of the angels. And these people are just frauds, charlatans and liars.”

Propaganda and Internet Tools

True the Vote’s response to the problems it perceives is ambitious. It’s also incredibly error-prone, according to its track record thus far in 2012. The group’s pre-Election Day focus is not just about training poll observers—people who’ll watch how voters are checked in and speak up if they don’t like what they think they see. They’re also focused on voter registration rolls, trying to identify, weed out, challenge and remove people who they believe are illegal or phantom voters. This is where things get dicey.

Drawing on the power of Internet organizing and Tea Party networks, they’ve developed an infrastructure where they “crowd-source” analysis of voter registration records, using software and vetting standards they created. True the Vote will take various state databases, starting with voter registration lists (which are always in flux as people register, move and die), driver’s license databases and jury lists, and look for inconsistencies. If they don’t like the way a person’s signature varies from form to form, it is flagged as suspicious. If they see that too many voters are registered at an address, it is flagged. If a driver’s license has a different address than a voter registration form, it is flagged. Their research team then seeks to turn over these names to county or state officials, who they urge to investigate—and, of course, remove ineligible voters from the rolls.

Mark Antill, their national research director, explained that they developed the software to first identify addresses with the most registrants attached to them. “When you find 80 people [registered] at an empty lot, you push a button and all 80 people get challenged,” he told the room. “When you vote once, and some guy votes twice, that is an issue.”

If the local election officials do not remove names from voter lists (and there are detailed federal laws that mostly bar voter purges within 90 days of an upcoming federal election, and require that names be left on voter lists to ensure that nobody is disenfranchised) then True the Vote wants those offices to take other steps. Antill said Colorado will send a postcard to the voter in question saying he must present proof before getting a ballot this fall; or that he can’t vote by mail until he shows up with documents at a polling place. (He did not say where they got the legal authority to do that, and I didn’t want to be too pushy. But in a state where 70 percent of people vote by mail, and 10 percent vote early, that hurdle could easily prevent infirm elderly people from voting.)

True the Vote’s Texas adversaries have seen these tactics before. “They are challenging new voter applications as they come in. They are challenging registrations that already exist on the rolls,” said Houston’s Haver. “They believe it’s grounds for a challenge if you have six people living at a household on a registration form.” Angle said, “They couldn’t operate in Texas or anywhere else unless they had officials supporting them.”

That is exactly what they have in Texas, Colorado, Florida, Ohio, Kansas and a handful of other states. At the Denver summit, Colorado’s Deputy Attorney General Cynthia Coffman fully backed their agenda. So did Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who told attendees “you will be demonized, called a racist and a vote suppressor” but encouraged them to soldier on.

But True the Vote has not found as welcome a reception in Wisconsin, where the state board overseeing elections—composed of retired judges—rejected its effort to partner with them. This past winter, the group initially sought an official role validating the petitions calling for the gubernatorial recall. After that was rejected, several thousand volunteers across the country looked for errors on their home computers and flagged questionable signers. To be fair, examining 800,000 signatures and addresses in a month is a gigantic undertaking. Where their independent assessment became politically predictable was when they claimed that about 40 percent of the petitions they examined were incomplete or required “further investigation.” Of course, that figure brought the total number of legal signers—in their eyes—below the threshold to qualify the gubernatorial recall.

Following Whose Law?

It’s important to understand why True the Vote feels victimized and how that affects its politics, whether its results are amateurish or not. In Wisconsin, election officials give the benefit of the doubt to the voter when assessing voting documents and deciding disputes. That is true in many states. True the Vote takes the exact opposite approach. If there are any doubts, then in True the Vote’s world the burden of proof immediately shifts to the accused, not the accuser, to defend their voting rights. And if proof is not forthcoming, they believe that person’s voting credentials should be revoked.

Moreover, True the Vote’s assessment—and this is the case in its voter registration program and poll watcher trainings—is based on what they want to see in the law. But that’s not the same as what actually exists in the law. This split leads to a predictable collision between what they think they see, and what they think should be in law, and how local election officials process the same information and officially react to it. A Wisconsin Government Accountability Board report issued in May assessed their vetting of recall petitions. It concluded they “created results that were significantly less accurate, complete, and reliable than the review and analysis completed by the G.A.B.”

Another group affiliated with True the Vote, Minnesota Majority, used a similar method, also based on sloppy database analyses, and presented the Hennepin County Attorney (where Minneapolis is) with what it claimed were more than 1,500 instances of illegal felon voting during the November 2008 election. They claim Al Franken only won because felons illegally voted. That charge, which is repeated in Fund’s new book, was vigorously rejected this month by Hennepin County Prosecutor Mike Freeman. He said they brought 1,500 allegations — but there was only sufficient proof to charge 38 people.

What is dangerous here is that the voter fraud movement’s leaders know these facts, but that’s not what they are telling the grassroots at meetings like Colorado’s summit. Instead, they’re deliberately misinforming local activists who care about elections, and encouraging them to take the law into their own hands when the courts fail them.

“You know the job of a recounter. You count, you count, you count until your candidate is ahead, and then you stop counting,” Fund glibly explained to the Denver conference room. Never mind that he described precisely what the Minnesota Majority did in the Wisconsin gubernatorial recall election—they stopped “disqualifying” petitions when they had the number they wanted.

“We know this,” Fund thundered. “Eleven-hundred felons voted illegally. The margin was 312 votes. Minnesota Majority uncovered this. The media didn’t. The prosecutors didn’t. It had consequences. Al Franken went on to become the 60th vote in the U.S. Senate, in the majority that passed Obamacare.”

What we know is that there is an ascendant nationwide right-wing movement to police American elections. We know that movement is turning to dishonest public intellectuals to educate its ranks. We know the focus is much bigger than new voter ID laws, and that True the Vote may or may not disrupt polling place voting this fall. We also know that after November they will be around to share their “lessons” from the voting wars and push solutions. We might hope that they will be honest about the true scope and scale of voting problems that inevitably will surface, especially as they delve into the details of running elections. However, that’s probably naïve.

http://www.salon.com/2012/08/25/undercover_at_true_the_vote_salpart/