Thursday, April 12, 2007

All roads lead to Rove

Josh Marshall makes it clear what the real story is that underlies the U.S. Attorney purge story and the deleted e-mail. It's Karl Rove's evil plan for one party rule and the laws be damned. One of the key elements of this plan was the so-called "voter fraud" issue...
But tomorrow's Times has another story that will probably generate less heat but is closer to the core of what the Purge story is about. Since President Bush came into office, the Justice Department has made 'voter fraud' prosecutions a high priority. Yet, not for lack of effort, they've barely been able to find any examples of it. The grand effort has boiled down to a program to send a few handfuls of folks -- mainly black -- to jail for what are in almost every case notional or unintentional voting infractions.

As those of you who follow this issue know, the vast number of the claims about 'voter fraud' are based on poorly kept voter rolls. Joe Smith is registered to vote in New Jersey and New York! The small print is that he lived in New Jersey but then moved to New York. The election board in New Jersey just hasn't taken him off the rolls yet. It may sound like I'm joking. But most of the scare stories about 'voter fraud' are just as stupid as that example.

At TPMmuckraker at the moment, we're giving a very close look to the 'voter fraud' claims in Wisconsin that Karl Rove was so interested in. GOP activists were incredibly disappointed and angry when the US Attorney in Milwaukee brought only a tiny handful of prosecutions, after the activists had charged a massive conspiracy to steal the 2004 elections from Republicans. But the government actually lost a stunningly high percentage of even those cases because they were so weak.

Cynthia C. Alicea, 25, was indicted for double-voting. The evidence was that election officials found she'd registered to vote twice. She was acquited because it turned out election officials told her to fill out another card because the first one had been filled out wrong. Pretty lurid stuff. There was no evidence she'd ever voted twice. The other three people indicted in Milwaukee for double voting were acquited too.

Out of the tiny number of bona fide voter fraud cases, the great majority fall into two categories. The first are cases where workers hired in voter registration drives appear to sign up non-existent people to get paid more money from the sponsors of the drive. The actual examples of this are exceedingly rare. But since the people don't exist, no one ever shows up to vote in their name.

The second are felons or parolees who either register to vote or actually vote, in most cases not knowing they're not eligible to vote.

Here's one great example from the Times article is the case of 43 year old grandmother Kimberly Prude ...

Ms. Prude’s path to jail began after she attended a Democratic rally in Milwaukee featuring the Rev. Al Sharpton in late 2004. Along with hundreds of others, she marched to City Hall and registered to vote. Soon after, she sent in an absentee ballot.

Four years earlier, though, Ms. Prude had been convicted of trying to cash a counterfeit county government check worth $1,254. She was placed on six years’ probation.

Ms. Prude said she believed that she was permitted to vote because she was not in jail or on parole, she testified in court. Told by her probation officer that she could not vote, she said she immediately called City Hall to rescind her vote, a step she was told was not necessary.

“I made a big mistake, like I said, and I truly apologize for it,” Ms. Prude said during her trial in 2005. That vote, though, resulted in a felony conviction and sent her to jail for violating probation.

The whole thing really does pretty much come down to a thankfully not very successful effort to send a bunch of poor blacks to prison for unintentional voting violations.

Past Justice Department policy was not to indict in cases where there was no clear intent to tamper with an election. But the Bush administration did away with that policy leading to serious time for hardened vote criminals like Ms. Prude.

Another example is that of Pakistani immigrant Usman Ali. He'd been in the US for ten years and owned a jewelry store. He was in line one day at the DMV when a clerk put a registration form in front of him along with other forms. Ali hastily filled it out. He never made any attempt to vote. But the mistake got him deported back to Pakistan where he's now trying to rebuild his life with his US citizen wife and daughter.

We're certainly lucky to be rid of Mr. Ali and his efforts to undermine our democracy.

Most of the examples, like these, are genuinely disgusting -- non-malicious errors for which people get serious punishment because federal prosecutors are under immense pressure to find someone to indict for voter fraud. But it's also easy to get lost in or distracted by the individual stories. The bigger picture is what you need to focus on. And the picture looks like this.

Republican party officials and elected officials use bogus claims of vote fraud to do three things: 1) to stymie voter registration drives and get-out-the-vote efforts in poor and minority neighborhoods, 2) purge voter rolls of legitimate voters and 3) institute voter ID laws aimed at making it harder for low-income and minority voters to vote.

This sounds like hyperbole but it is simply the truth. (A great example of this in microcosm was the 2002 senate election in South Dakota -- Johnson v. Thune -- in which Republicans spent the entire election ranting about a massive voter fraud conspiracy on the state's Indian reservations, charges which turned out to be completely bogus but had the aim of keeping voting down on the reservations. You can find much more on this in the TPM archives. Go to the search feature and type in some combinatin of 'fraud south dakota' etc. I'll try to write more recapping the story soon.)

The tie-in with the US Attorney story is that the White House and the Republican National Committee have used the power of the Department of Justice to accomplish those three goals that I outlined above. Only most of the relatively non-partisan and professional US Attorneys simply didn't find any actual fraud. Choosing not to indict people on bogus charges got at least two of the US Attorneys (Iglesias and McKay) fired. And we are seeing evidence that others may have been nudged out less directly for the same reasons. In turn they've been replaced by a new crop of highly-political party operative prosecutors who, in the gentle wording of the Times, "may not be so reticent" about issuing indictments against people who have committed technical voting infractions with no intent to cast a fraudulent ballot. Along the way, the fever to find someone, anyone guilty of committing even a technical infraction has landed folks like Ms. Prude in the slammer. They are what you might call the prosecutorial road kill in the Rove Republican party's effort to ride roughshod over American citizens' voting rights to entrench the GOP as the country's permanent electoral majority.

Who's running all this? Who's put it all in motion. Look at the documents that have already been released. It's been run out of Karl Rove's office at the White House.

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