It’s Just Like the Election in 2004 All Over Again

If you haven’t yet read Greg Palast’s Armed Madhouse, you might want to do it before November 4 to educate and amuse yourself. There are a lot of reasons to believe that John McCain and his class act from Alaska will win that night. Here are a couple more of them for your reading pleasure.

Richard Jehn / The Rag Blog

Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner

Ohio Republicans Use Lawsuit To Fight for State’s Crucial Votes
By Amy Merrick / September 13, 2008

The Ohio Republican Party spearheaded a lawsuit Friday over a directive from the office of Democratic Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner that would allow some early voters to register and vote on the same day.

The suit, filed by two Ohio voters in the Supreme Court of Ohio, in Columbus, ramps up the battle over voting procedures in a critical swing state with 20 electoral votes. But the parties’ roles are reversed from the 2004 election. This time, a Democrat is setting the rules, and the state Republican Party is charging that those rules favor Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate.

Conflicts over voter registration and voting procedures are heating up across the U.S. as the Nov. 4 election approaches. In Wisconsin, the Republican attorney general sued a state board this week over a process of comparing voter names with driver’s-license records. The Florida Department of State made a last-minute announcement this week that it will begin enforcing a controversial law that requires matching an identifying number on voter-registration forms with government databases that critics say are prone to mistakes.

In Ohio, a recently enacted state law — the subject of the Brunner directive — allows residents, for the first time in a general presidential election, to vote early by absentee ballot without providing a justification. Advocates for the homeless and other groups say they will direct new voters to take advantage of the overlap between early voting, which begins Sept. 30, and voter registration, which ends Oct. 6. During that window, citizens can register and vote simultaneously. The outreach efforts are expected to benefit Democrats.

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, a Cleveland-based umbrella group for service providers, housing activists and others, is making plans to drive about 2,000 shelter residents to polling places during the overlap period. “This is a huge opportunity to prove to elected officials that very low-income people do vote,” said Brian Davis, executive director of the group.

Republican officials are furious, charging that the one-stop process will encourage voter fraud. They argue that a state law requires Ohio residents to register at least 30 days before voting, so same-day registration and voting should be banned.

Ms. Brunner’s position is that early ballots do not constitute votes until they are tabulated on Nov. 4, said Jeff Ortega, a spokesman for Ms. Brunner. In a statement about Friday’s lawsuit, Ms. Brunner said, “It is unfortunate that a small, but vocal, group of Republican leaders continues to inject confusion and chaos in our elections.”

Responding to the charge that Ms. Brunner favors Democrats, Mr. Ortega said, “Secretary of State Brunner has simply tried to provide clear, consistent, statewide standards for election boards in this state on a whole host of issues.”

Ohio’s boards of election are hoping that many people will vote before Nov. 4, easing the strain on an Election Day expected to produce a huge turnout. Ohio had a strong 46% turnout in the March primary, with 15% of the vote coming from absentee ballots.

Another wrinkle this year is the thousands of foreclosures hitting Ohio each month, which could mean many voters no longer live at their registered addresses. Nonprofit groups conducting voter-registration drives are concerned that these people will be challenged at the polls.

Ohio residents must present identification to vote, but they can use utility bills, bank statements, pay stubs or other documents in place of a driver’s license or ID card. Early voters may provide the last four digits of their social-security numbers in lieu of such documents.

In 2004, Ohio was in an uproar over a tactic known as “caging,” in which a political party calls for voters to be stricken from the rolls because mail sent to them was returned as “undeliverable.” In the last presidential election, the state Republican party used returned mail to challenge the registrations of 35,000 new voters, most of whom lived in urban, heavily Democratic areas.

Not many voters were successfully removed, because “there was so much litigation and public backlash,” said Teresa James, a lawyer in Ohio for Project Vote, a nonprofit voter-registration group. But she said some voters likely were intimidated by the challenges and stayed home.

On Sept. 5, Ms. Brunner told election boards that Republicans had passed a law concerning caging that she considered unconstitutional, and that a single returned election notice cannot be used as the sole basis to cancel a voter’s residency. She also said every challenged voter must be notified and given a chance to attend a hearing before Election Day.

Kevin DeWine, deputy chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, said “nothing is off the table” in terms of election tactics, but he declined to be more specific.

Allegations of voter fraud are potent charges that have been part of elections for more than a century. Project Vote, which is running voter-registration drives with the community organization Acorn, says it has responded to the concerns. Recruits are paid by the hour, rather than by the name, to sign up new voters. Project Vote has set up call centers to attempt to contact people listed on all registration cards to verify their information. Canvassers found to falsify registrations are fired and reported to state boards of elections.

While the administration of President George W. Bush has made prosecuting voter fraud a priority, the government has provided little evidence that registration fraud is widespread or that it has a significant impact on elections. The U.S. Department of Justice said in March that it has convicted 102 people of voter fraud of various types since October 2002.

In 2004, a margin of 118,601 votes in Ohio gave President Bush the electoral votes he needed to reclaim the White House. The many election problems in that state still rankle Democrats. After the election, the Democratic staff of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee compiled a list of irregularities and grievances, including 10-hour lines in some urban areas, thousands of Republican challengers concentrated around polling places in minority and Democratic areas, and fake voter bulletins that told Republicans to vote on Tuesday and Democrats to vote on Wednesday.

Some Democrats alleged that J. Kenneth Blackwell, then the secretary of state and co-chairman of the Bush-Cheney campaign in Ohio, deliberately disenfranchised Democratic voters. He denied that partisanship affected his decisions.

Source / Wall Street Journal

And there’s this:

Florida Voting Law May Disenfranchise Thousands
The Brennan Center for Justice and Advancement Project / September 12, 2008.

The state will start enforcing a law that penalizes voters if their names are misspelled in voter registration records and government databases.

Voting rights advocates are alarmed over the Florida Secretary of State’s September 8th decision to enforce the state’s “no-match, no-vote” law, a voter registration law that previously blocked more than 16,000 eligible Florida citizens from registering to vote, through no fault of their own, and could disenfranchise tens of thousands more voters in November.

Secretary of State Kurt Browning’s last-minute decision to implement the law in the final month before the registration deadline will post a significant hurdle to eligible Florida citizens hoping to vote in November. It will disenfranchise voters who do not send or bring a photocopy of their driver’s license to county election officials’ offices after voting, even though these voters will have shown their driver’s licenses when they went to vote at the polls.

“This 11th-hour decision is an ill-advised move to apply a policy the state has never enforced in its current form, at a time when registration activity is at its highest,” stated Beverlye Neal, director of the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, a plaintiff in a lawsuit that challenges Florida’s matching law. “The Secretary’s decision will put thousands of real Florida citizens at risk due to bureaucratic typos that under the ‘no-match, no-vote’ law will prevent them from voting this November,” said Alvaro Fernandez of the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project, another plaintiff in the case.

“Voters who do everything right, who submit forms that are complete, timely, and accurate, will suddenly find themselves unregistered when they go to vote, just because someone somewhere punched the wrong letter on a keyboard,” said Myrna Pérez, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “The no match, no vote policy is unjust and unnecessary, and Florida voters will pay the price this fall,” stated Jean-Robert Lafortune, president of the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition, another plaintiff in the lawsuit.

The law at issue bars any Florida citizen from voting a valid ballot if the state cannot validate their driver’s license number or the last 4 digits of their Social Security number, no matter how much identification the voter is able to bring to the polls. The process starts with an attempt to “match” voter information to other government databases, an error-prone exercise that often fails. For example, the Social Security Administration reports that 46% failure rate when trying to match voter registration applications. State officials admitted in a recent challenge to the law, Florida NAACP v. Browning, that typographical errors by election workers are responsible for most of the failures.

If the state fails to match the voter registration records, many eligible voters who submit registration applications before the October 6th deadline to register may not be notified of the matching failure until they go in person to vote. There, they will be forced to cast provisional ballots, and that provisional ballot will only be counted if the voter submits a photocopy of his or her driver’s license or Social Security card within 48 hours after the election, even if they already showed their driver’s license at the polls.

“The most senseless part is that the state creates these errors, and then makes it unnecessarily hard to fix the problem,” said Myrna Pérez of the Brennan Center. “If the state insists on enforcing this misguided matching provision, it should at least make it possible for voters to show their driver’s license at the poll and validate their registration then and there. To have registered, brought your ID to the polls, and still be told you can’t vote — all because of a bureaucratic error — is ridiculous.”

“It is unfortunate that the Secretary of State launched this policy less than a month before registration deadline. Had he enforced this sooner, there might have been time to troubleshoot the law or investigate its consequences, but this is really the 11th hour and is certain to derail eligible voters. At the very least, counties can and should help avoid the chaos that this law creates by making it possible to fix the problem at the polls,” urged Elizabeth Westfall of Advancement Project, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs.

“In 2006 alone, more than 12,800 citizens submitting complete and timely forms were kept off of the rolls, and the volume of registration in 2006 is nothing like what we anticipate in this presidential year,” said Robert Atkins, a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, also representing plaintiffs. 2006 was a year of unusually low voter registration rates in Florida because of a separate law that shut down voter registration drives that year. “With the huge number of registration forms pouring in at the end of the registration period, county officials may not be able to fix problems that will cause thousands of eligible voters to be disenfranchised,” Atkins added.

The Secretary of State’s announcement Monday poses the latest obstacle to eligible Florida voters seeking to register before the 2008 elections.

In June, a federal trial court in Gainesville, Florida, refused to stop the “no-match, no-vote” law in Florida NAACP vs. Browning after challenges from several voter advocacy organizations. The case was filed in September 2007 by the Florida branch of the NAACP, the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition, and the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project. The plaintiffs are represented by The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law; Advancement Project; Project Vote; Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP; and Greenberg Traurig LLP.

In December 2007, the Gainesville federal court granted a preliminary injunction against the no-match, no-vote law under two federal statutes, ruling that Florida’s law “makes it harder to vote by imposing a matching requirement that is a barrier to voter registration.”

The ruling’s criticism of the no match, no vote law prompted the state legislature to revise portions of the statute — eliminating untenable distinctions between typos made by voters and those made by election officials, and standardizing the notice sent to voters kept off the rolls. Still, voting rights advocates argue that the law’s core burdens remain.

In April, the trial court’s original decision was overturned in split decision from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, following an appeal by the Florida Secretary of State. Plaintiffs in the case returned to the federal trial court to challenge the amended law under the federal constitution, but on remand, the court refused to enjoin the law, citing the changes that the legislature had made to the statute.

For more information about the lawsuit challenging Florida’s voter registration system and how voter database matching laws disproportionately affects Latino voters and other minorities, visit the Brennan Center website here.

Source / AlterNet

Thanks to Diane Stirling-Stevens / The Rag Blog

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