Just a few dirty tricks to remember them by

Some Election-night thoughts on what has morphed from the Party of Lincoln to the Party of Cheating.

No reason to clog up the election live-blog with this, but before the anger fades I thought I should record some of today’s Republican dirty tricks.

Two or three generations ago, urban Democratic machines engaged in systematic vote-stealing. (Suburban Republican machines in places like Deleware County, PA and Nasau County, NY did the same thing, but got less publicity for it.) There’s much less of that these days. Systematic ballot-box-stuffing is much rarer now. And serious election cheating is now mostly a Republican phenomenon.

(Note that the scattered incidents of “registration fraud” reported in the media all involved registrars paid by the voter who were cheating their employers by filing phony forms; no one was actually planning to vote as “Mickey Mouse.” Media Matters reviews some of Sean Hannity’s claims about “Democratic voter fraud.”

The Republicans, by contrast, hired the former Executive Director of the Arizona Republican Party to set up a phony non-partisan registration group that took registration form from people and then systematically shredded the forms of those who registered Democratic, thus leaving them, unbeknownst to themselves, unregistered. In another case, the College Republicans circulated fake “medical marijuana” petitions and used the signatures to switch students’ registrations to other addresses; if they went to the wrong address to vote, they’d wind up disenfranchised.

That’s consistent with most of the Republican cheating: it’s mostly about vote suppression rather than ballot-box stuffing. (Too early to know whether they’re also planning to cheat on the count with the electronic machines; the fact that they relentlessly opposed every effort to provide for an audit trail.)

And it’s mostly about suppressing the minority vote, and in particular the African-American vote. It’s a really perfect strategy: denying blacks the vote and feedling their paranoia, which then lets the Republicans shrug off their concerns as paranoia. Richard Thompson Ford of Stanford Law School has some thoughts about that up on Slate. Aren’t you glad to know that political correctness is out of fashion? Otherwise, even Republicans might be ashamed to win by deny voting rights to the descendents of the slaves their party icon freed.]

It’s now an established pattern: every two years the Republicans cheat, hoping that once the counting is done no one will remember or care. They’ll just go back and campaign on their “moral values,” while they tell voters that Democrats are going to ban the Bible (which they perhaps need to be reminded contains the commandments “Thou shalt not bear false witness” and “Thou shalt not lie to one another, or deceive one another.”)

Think of this as a tiny effort to punish them for their cheating, and their hypocrisy. Josh Marshall has been on this for months.

If anyone has a validated Democratic dirty trick to report — not some act of gooning by an unknown individual, but organized misconduct — please let me know.

The day started with two fake scandals and one real one. The fake ones were:

False reports that Democratic robo-calls were claiming that Gen. Norman Schwartzkof was backing Kerry. (In fact, having backed Bush four years ago, Schwartzkopf has been loudly neutral.) The actual calls were made by another four-star general, Terry McPeak, who mentioned that during the Gulf War he worked with Schwarzkopf. The phony story showed up on Drudge and was duly reported by lots of newspapers, none of whom seem to have corrected themselves. “A well-told lie can get halfway around the world before the truth is finished lacing its boots on.”

In Philadelphia, Republicans breathlessly reported that some voting machines already had thousands of votes on them, and got some press and blog coverage for the charge. As it turned out, those numbers were from the “odometers” on the voting machines, a security measure that records the total number of votes ever cast on a machine. But once again, the GOP managed to get its scare story out, thus devaluing the real stories about vote suppression. Look, I never said they were dumb. They’re just unspeakably evil.

The real scandal was that a Reagan appointee and a GW Bush appointee on the Sixth Circus overruled two district court judges (one of them a GW Bush nominee), allowing the 3600 people the Republicans had hired as challengers into Ohio precincts. The background was that the Republicans had sent registered letters to a bunch of voters; they then tried to pretend that whoever wasn’t home to get the letters and didn’t go to the Post Office to pick them up didn’t actually live at the registered address. They got their heads handed to them on that, since the challengers had to claim, falsely, that they had “personal knowledge” of matters they knew nothing about.

The Republican strategy was simple. They didn’t have to make successful challenges; all they had to do was tie up the lines. It wasn’t only the chalngees who might get discouraged or intimidated and go home; everyone else in line would get held up as the argument went on.

Here’s how it worked in Kentucky, according to the TNR blog:

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY, 7:16 p.m.: I’ve spent the last 12 hours bouncing through the city from one polling place to another, mostly on the tail of Election Protection 2004 poll monitors associated with the ACLU. Pairs of workers were placed at more than 15 polling sites citywide, many of which were selected because of what occurred there during the 2003 election when GOP poll “challengers” were placed in 18 polling locations, mostly in predominately African American regions of Louisville. Last year, accusations flew wildly about a new breed of racism infecting the polls, although no claims of voter intimidation were officially filed.

This year, the GOP opted out of using challengers, instead installing party-affiliated poll workers at as many sites as it could. One site, deep in the west end of the city (a heavily African American area), was Shawnee High School. There, a Republican poll worker reportedly challenged a number of voters to provide credentials other than typical identification and forced them to wait in already congested lines for illogical amounts of time while he called the board of elections.

As he forced voter Alycia Underwood to stand there waiting, the worker demanded to know her party affiliation. When Underwood refused to answer, he told her she would not be allowed to vote. She said she argued the point with him for several minutes before storming out of the building frustrated and unsure of what had just transpired.

Just outside the door she explained to the two Election Protection workers what had taken place, while a group (including me) gathered to listen. The Election Protection monitors called ACLU lawyers, who worked with Underwood to eventually resolve the situation; it ended with her casting a ballot at a neighboring site.

According to Tomas Bernal, one of the poll monitors, the poll worker who questioned Underwood had done so to a number of others. The sheriff and board of elections officials were summoned twice to diffuse potentially ugly scenes. Bernal and his colleague report that at least 10 voters were deterred by the worker, most of whom said they simply didn’t have time to wait around.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com