Sunday, October 26, 2008

Mukasey's Dilemma Revisited--and Resolved?

Justice Department Balks on Ohio Vote Originally

published in

By Jason Leopold
October 31, 2008

Despite pressure from Ohio Republicans and President George W. Bush, the Justice Department has declined to intervene in a voter dispute in Ohio that could have purged at least 200,000 voters from registration rolls

Jamie Hais, a spokesman for the civil rights division, said the Justice Department has been "in discussion" with Ohio’s Democratic Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner and is satisfied she has taken steps to ensure compliance with federal laws on voter eligibility.

"The Civil Rights Division is pleased with Secretary Brunner's cooperation, and will continue to monitor the situation in Ohio and take whatever action is deemed appropriate to ensure that there is compliance with the provisions of the Help America Vote Act” of 2002, Hais said.

Additionally, on Thursday, the Justice Department responded to a Wall Street Journal editorial that accused it of not taking Republican accusations of “voter fraud” seriously.

Peter Carr, the Justice Department's acting director of public affairs, wrote to the newspaper that discussions with Brunner led her to issue a directive on Oct. 24 “regarding the processing of duplicate voter registrations and identifying deceased registered voters."

At a press conference Thursday, Brunner confirmed that her office has been working closely with Justice Department attorneys, whom she doubts will get involved in the matter prior to Tuesday's election.

“If we were to just sit back until after the election and do nothing, I wouldn’t blame them for suing us to get it done, but that’s not our intention,” Brunner said. “Our intention all along has been to try to comply" with HAVA.

Last week, President Bush asked Attorney General Michael Mukasey to launch an investigation into the registration of hundreds of thousands of new voters in Ohio, many of whom are expected to vote Democratic.

Bush forwarded to Mukasey a Republican request that he intervene in Ohio to force 200,000 new voters to either verify the information on their registration forms or cast provisional ballots, which are often thrown out after the voter leaves the polling place.

Bush was acting on a letter from Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, who said “unless action is taken by the [Justice] Department immediately, thousands, if not tens or hundreds of thousands of names whose information has not been verified through the [Help America Vote Act] procedures mandated by Congress will remain on the voter rolls during the Nov. 4 election.

“There is a significant risk if not a certainty, that unlawful votes will be cast and counted. … Immediate action by the Department is not only warranted, but also crucial”

Republican presidential nominee John McCain needs Ohio’s 20 electoral votes if he is to defeat his Democratic rival Barack Obama, who is ahead in most national polls and leading in Ohio by five to seven percentage points.

Nullifying Votes

Mark Crispin Miller, a New York University professor and a leading expert on election integrity issues, said Ohio has been shaping up as “the site of litigation by the GOP, so as to nullify a lot of Democratic votes.”

Miller cited “no fewer than nine lawsuits, all of them brought by the Republicans.”

The Ohio Republican Party filed a lawsuit last month against Brunner claiming that voter registration information for hundreds of thousands of new voters did not match official government data, such as Social Security records and driver’s licenses.

The GOP demanded that Brunner turn over county-by-county lists of voters so Republicans could challenge voters with mismatched data. The GOP accused Brunner of violating federal election laws by “actively working to conceal fraudulent activity.”

But Brunner refused, calling the GOP lawsuit a “politically motivated” tactic to disenfranchise voters and create Election Day havoc at polling places.

Voting advocates also note that many mismatches can be irrelevant, such as the use of a middle name in one form but not another or a typographical error in a database.

Further, independent studies have shown that even phony registrations rarely result in illegally cast ballots because there are so many other safeguards built into the system.

For instance, from October 2002 to September 2005, a total of 70 people were convicted for federal election related crimes, according to figures compiled by the New York Times last year. Only 18 of those were for ineligible voting.

In recent years, federal prosecutors reached similar conclusions despite pressure from the Bush administration to lodge "election fraud" charges against ACORN and other voter registration groups seen as bringing more Democratic voters into the democratic process.

On Tuesday, the Ohio Republican Party launched a new statewide ad attacking Brunner and claiming Democrats are trying to "steal the election in Ohio."

“As Election Day approaches, consider this: could Ohio’s election be stolen?” a woman says in the 60-second spot. “Hundreds of thousands of new voter registrations are questionable. Many may be fraudulent. Yet [Ohio] Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner is concealing the evidence.”

The ad is slated to run more than 20 times a day until Nov. 4.

Democratic lawmakers and civil rights groups wrote to the Justice Department asking the agency to live up to its guidelines that discourage voter fraud investigations immediately before elections.

In a letter sent to Mukasey on Tuesday, ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said, “with the election one week away, this kind of intrusion represents partisan politics at its worst.”

Romero added, “In addition, challenging -- or purging -- lawfully registered voters in the days before the election invites chaos and undermines the integrity of the democratic process.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and five congressional Democratic lawmakers from Ohio, also wrote to Mukasey urging him not to intervene in the dispute.

“The eyes of the nation are once again on Ohio in the Nov. 4 election in this critical election,” Brown and the congressional Democrats said in a letter sent to Mukasey last week.

“We have confidence in the work that is being done by Ohio’s bipartisan group of election officials and by Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner. We respectfully request that you refrain from taking any action absent more compelling evidence than partisan political requests.”


Once again, our fate rests in how Michael Mukasey solves the dilemma we all face: wee man, or real man? dweller in a nursery school world, or Paraclete?


Will Justice Hack the Vote?

By Scott Horton

Originally published in October 26, 2008

In my article Vote Machine: How Republicans Hacked the Department of Justice, I surveyed the ways in which the Bush Administration systematically uses the Department of Justice to advance its position in electoral contests around the country. The techniques were varied and ingenious and not limited to the now-obvious shenanigans in the Voting Rights Division. In fact, a series of high profile political figures were targeted with bogus prosecutions run in the midst of election cycles—the case of Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, in which Karl Rove lurked detectably in the background is now perhaps the best known of these. The U.S. Attorneys scandal was, as the Inspector General’s report has now confirmed with copious evidence, largely about the manipulation of elections, and the weight and substance of the allegations, coupled with the stonewalling by Rove, Gonzales, and others was more than enough to convince the Attorney General of the need for a special prosecutor to delve into the matter.

These abuses were cataloged in the Ashcroft and Gonzales Justice Departments, of course. So has Michael Mukasey, who entered office with a firm pledge to put a stop to the political skullduggery at Justice, kept his promise? Maybe not. Right now the spotlight is focused squarely on Michael Mukasey, and in the next days he will make his decision to be an agent of Republican voter suppression, or not.

The immediate question comes out of Ohio, the birthplace of presidents—Republican presidents, that is. Ohio has the strongest G.O.P. profile of the states of the old rustbowl Midwest. Republicans don’t win the White House without Ohio—it’s that simple. But the Ohio G.O.P. has fallen upon extremely hard times. Corruption scandals touching much of the state’s G.O.P. hierarchy and general disenchantment with the performance of George W. Bush—the most disapproved-of president since pollsters started asking that question in the waning days of World War II—have put the party’s privileged position in jeopardy. Ohio voters dealt a severe rebuke to the G.O.P. in 2006, and current polling suggests that they are about to do it a second time, in just a week. In the view of the Ohio Republican leadership, emergency measures were necessary to stem a Democratic tide. So they turned to the old standard, the “voting fraud” fraud. With the voting rolls swelled with new registrants who are largely Democrats and disproportionately drawn from students, minorities and lower and middle income groups, Ohio Republicans knew exactly where to strike: they developed a series of tactics designed to ensure that the roughly 200,000 new voters would not be able to vote, and if they did, their votes could be tossed.

Their ploy has been to press the Ohio Secretary of State to provide information on newly registered voters so they can be challenged on “mismatches,” namely any discrepancy between the registration data and other official databases. A mismatch can occur when numbers are transposed in an address or birthdate, when punctuation changes (for instance, the omission of a period after “Jr.”), when a portion of a name is represented by an initial instead of being spelled out, or when an address includes an abbreviation rather than a fully spelled word (“Ave” rather than “Av” or “Avenue”). The Ohio G.O.P. are set up to challenge each such discrepancy, disqualifying the new voters. And of course they do this not because they suspect fraud, but for tactical advantage—the new registrants are overwhelmingly Democrats.

The first Republican ploy was to sue in federal court. After a panel of the Court of Appeals ruled for the voters, the Republicans took the matter to the entire court en banc. The Sixth Circuit is known as the most politically polarized court of appeals in the United States, and the Republicans reckoned that the majority of the judges who are Republicans would stay faithful to the party that put them in place. They were not disappointed in this expectation. However, the Supreme Court surprised many observers by overturning the G.O.P. victory on highly technical grounds.

With the clock ticking, however, the Republican Party still had one trick up its sleeve. It decided to instruct the Justice Department to implement its plan—doing an end-run around the Supreme Court’s ruling. The Washington Post reports the details: House minority leader John Boehner, the senior figure of the Ohio G.O.P. wrote Attorney General Mukasey demanding that he implement the Republican voter suppression plan in the guise of an investigation of “voter fraud.” When Mukasey did not respond to Boehner’s prompts, he went to the White House. The White House in turn asked the Justice Department to look into the matter.

The sequence of steps here demonstrates how the G.O.P. views the Justice Department as a simple tool for the implementation of their voter suppression projects. Will Mukasey play their game and enlist the Justice Department in an transparent effort to disenfranchise new, overwhelmingly Democratic voters? The Inspector General’s report on the cashiered U.S. Attorneys concluded that similar manipulation of the Justice Department by Karl Rove in the 2006 election cycle was highly abusive. Mukasey applauded this report. But Mukasey has so far been painfully faithful to his master in the White House, and this may be no exception.

If Mukasey acts favorably on the G.O.P. request, he risks several ethics infractions. Mukasey’s law firm served as pro bono counsel to a group of Ohio community action organizations who successfully opposed the G.O.P. initiatives on voter suppression in a federal court lawsuit. It was that litigation success for voter’s rights advocates that led to the Republican Party’s current desperation tactics. Mukasey would not only be betraying his duty to vigorously defend the right of voters to participate in the electoral process, he would be turning the tables on a former client to boot.

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