|Law Enforcement Used to Suppress the Vote: It happened in 2004 & 2006, and may be happening in 2008|
October 30, 2008In the 2008 election Americans may once again be seeing law enforcement turned into a tool of voter suppression.
It is illegal for law enforcement agents to use their authority to attempt to intimidate or suppress the vote. Section 11(b) of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 states that no person “ whether acting under color of law or otherwise,” shall intimidate, threaten, or coerce any individual for voting or attempting to vote, or for attempting to assist others to vote. Section 12 of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993 provides for criminal penalties against any person who intimidates or attempts to intimidate any person for registering to vote, voting, or attempting to register or vote.
In the past few weeks, however, partisan forces have manufactured hysteria around the myth of “voter fraud” that they have used to help goad law-enforcement into intimidation and politically motivated investigations into eligible voters. As the election approaches Project Vote and other voting rights organizations are seeing law enforcement officials inserting themselves into election administration, and partisan pressure to coerce law enforcement agents into overreaching investigations into the eligibility of legal voters. This climate of suppression and intimidation is all the more troubling because Americans have seen this happen before. In 2006 inquiries into the firings of nine U.S. Attorneys exposed the politicalization of the Justice Department, in which law enforcement’s traditional role of protecting citizen rights was perverted to serve a partisan agenda of voter suppression. The resulting investigation and scandal revealed how trumped-up charges of “voter fraud” were used in 2004 and 2006 to pursue a cynical strategy of intimidation by law enforcement that was designed to hamper voter registration efforts and suppress turnout at the polls.
New Mexico GOP Reportedly Investigating New Latino Voters
The day after Republican presidential candidate John McCain attempted to link his opponent to wild allegations about voter registration fraud, members of the New Mexico Republican Party held a press conference in which they presented voter registration cards for ten voters they claimed cast ballots illegally in the New Mexico primaries. Nine of the ten voters were Latino, all identified as Democratic, and most were 18-19 years old. One of them was a new citizen naturalized in 2007 who was voting for the first time.
Following the press conference ACORN made contact with eight of the ten voters named, and discovered that they were all legitimate voters who were eligible to vote and had no problems with their registrations.
As reported in a New Mexico Independent story last week, two of the voters named have also reportedly been harassed by private investigators. Guadalupe Bojorquez of Albuquerque spoke out Thursday about a private investigator who came to her home to question her family about their right to vote, claiming to be working for the law firm of Pat Rogers. Rogers is a GOP attorney who is conspicuously mentioned in the DOJ Office of the Inspector General’s report on the Attorneygate investigation as one of the key players in New Mexico who put pressure on U.S. Attorney David Iglesias to investigate alleged “voter fraud” cases.
On October 27 Project Vote joined a class action lawsuit filed by the ACLU alleging that members of the GOP illegally used private social security numbers to do background checks of these legal voters and illegally disseminated their confidential voter information to the press. The lawsuit also names the private investigator, Al Romero, for using voter registration information to locate voters and question them about the legitimacy of their registrations.
Overreaching Sheriff’s Department Investigation in Greene County, Ohio
In Ohio, Greene County sheriff Gene Fischer announced two weeks ago that he was “seeking information” about hundreds of people who registered to vote and cast a ballot during Ohio’s five-day window of same day registration and voting.
Despite recent rulings from four different federal and state courts upholding the lawfulness of Ohio’s five-day window, from September 30 to October 5, in which voters could register and cast an absentee ballot on the same day, the County announced they were attempting to “determine whether there was any voter fraud or not," according a quote in an Associated Press story from Tom Miller, chief of the prosecutor’s civil liberty division. Fischer claimed to have been “flooded” with phone calls about alleged voter fraud, yet no actual evidence for an investigation was given. “No one is alleging voter fraud was occurring,” Miller admitted.
Following public outcry and media attention, the Greene County prosecutor’s office announced that that investigation had been cancelled.
Overreaching Prosecutor’s Investigation in Hamilton County, Ohio
Also in Ohio, county prosecutor Joe Deters initiated a grand jury investigation and issued subpoenas for unredacted personal information on 40% of the 671 new voters who cast ballots during Ohio’s five-day window of same-day registration and voting. Deters—citing unspecified allegations of “voter fraud”—launched the investigation and took it upon himself to conduct some attempt to match these voters to government databases and investigate those he determined had problems .
The Hamilton County election board says the complaints of fraud did not come from local election officials, and a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s office says they are “unaware of any specific allegations of illegal voting out of that county.”
"I can't get past the feeling that this is just a partisan thing,'' Tim Burke, a member of the Hamilton County Board of Elections told the Cincinnati Enquirer.”I just don't believe this is anything but partisan politics."
Deters, who also serves as Southwest Ohio chair of the McCain-Palin campaign, removed his office from the investigation amid accusations that the investigation was partisan in nature, and asked that a special prosecutor, O’Neill, be appointed. O’Neill, a Republican, formerly worked for Deters, according to the Enquirer.
Wisconsin Attorney General Sues Government Accountability Board
Last month, the Republican Attorney General of Wisconsin, J.B. Van Hollen—who is also co-chair of that state’s McCain-Palin campaign—filed a lawsuit against the state's Government Accountability Board to force them to cross-check more than 240,000 voter registrations against driver's license records. The impact of the lawsuit would have been to force the voters to use provisional ballots, calling their votes into question and tying up the polls on Election Day.
A judge ruled against Van Hollen's lawsuit, but he and the Wisconsin Republican Party intend to appeal.
Wisconsin GOP Issues a Call for Intimidating Poll Watchers
Also in Wisconsin, the GOP issued a call to policemen, security personnel, and firefighters to serve as “volunteer poll watchers “in inner city precincts. According to the Washington Post “Jonathan Waclawski, the party's election day operations, wrote in a Sept. 8 e-mail that he needed contact information for people "who would potentially be willing to volunteer ... at inner city (more intimidating) polling places. Particularly, I am interested in names of Milwaukee area veterans, policemen, security personnel, firefighters etc. ... If you have any connections with such organizations, please pass that information on."
The move is reminiscent of a disturbing history of attempts to intimidate voters in predominantly minority precincts. In a 2004 report to the Center for Voting Rights and Protection entitled “Republican Ballot Security Programs: Vote Protection or Minority Vote Suppression—Or Both?”, scholars from Rice University discuss the history of what they call “ballot security programs gone bad” which, in the name of protecting against vote fraud, are intended to have a chilling effect on voting in “almost exclusively target heavily black, Latino, or Indian voting precincts.” During the gubernatorial race in Kentucky in 2003, for example, the GOP issued a "Gubernatorial Election Integrity Call to Arms,” very similar to Waclawski’s, calling for 300 monitors to challenge voters in African-American and low-income Louisville precincts. In Orange County, California in 1988, for example, private uniformed security personnel were hired by the GOP to monitor heavily Latino precincts; according to the report, their presence “created a firestorm of protest and set in motion a year-long federal investigation, a civil lawsuit, and new legislation making the hiring of uniformed guards at polling places in California on Election Day a felony.”
More Partisan Politics from the DOJ?
On October 16 an Associate Press story appeared in which anonymous “senior law enforcement officials” leaked news of an FBI investigation into the voter registration fraud allegations surrounding the community organization ACORN. The timing of the FBI leak and investigation—following less than 24 hours after the last presidential debate, in which the Republican presidential candidate John McCain—were viewed with suspicion by many, including the chair of the House judiciary committee, Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI).
That same day Conyers sent a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey and FBI Director Robert Mueller, expressing “shock and disappointment” that the FBI has opened and leaked an investigation into ACORN, “a longstanding and well-regarded organization that fights for the poor and working class.” Conyers pointed out that both the investigation and the leak contradict longstanding DOJ policy about the “need for cautious and sensitive handling of election-related matters during the run up to voting,” and cited a traditional principle requiring that prosecutors “must refrain from any conduct which has the possibility of affecting the election itself.”
“In the wake of recent controversies regarding the intrusion of partisan politics into Department business,” Conyers wrote in a second letter to Mukasey and Mueller on October, “it is troubling to repeatedly learn of repeated federal involvement in apparently dubious investigations against Democratic-affiliated or liberal organizations, but to see no sign of federal concern over an apparently legitimate and serious matter of true fraud that risks concrete electoral impact.”
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