In the last two national elections, a single organization appeared on the scene, spouting all of Karl Rove’s “voting fraud” talking points. It was called the American Center for Voting Rights (ACVR for short). It had instant access and appeared everywhere in the broadcast and print media. It offered expert testimony at Congressional hearings. Where the GOP had a firm hand on the legislative rudder – as in Congress, and in the Georgia and Texas legislatures, it pushed the way clear for legislation designed to drive voters from the polls. Funny thing was, the “facts” it cited turned out not to be facts. And now it seems there is no ACVR. There was no ACVR. ACVR is all a figment of our imagination. Writing at Slate, Prof. Richard Hasen is on to a story that reads like Karl-Rove-meets-Tales-of-Hoffmann:
With no notice and little comment, ACVR—the only prominent nongovernmental organization claiming that voter fraud is a major problem, a problem warranting strict rules such as voter-ID laws—simply stopped appearing at government panels and conferences. Its Web domain name has suddenly expired, its reports are all gone (except where they have been preserved by its opponents), and its general counsel, Mark “Thor” Hearne, has cleansed his résumé of affiliation with the group. Hearne won’t speak to the press about ACVR’s demise. No other group has taken up the “voter fraud” mantra.
The death of ACVR says a lot about the Republican strategy of raising voter fraud as a crisis in American elections. Presidential adviser Karl Rove and his allies, who have been ghostbusting illusory dead and fictional voters since the contested 2000 election, apparently mounted a two-pronged attack. One part of that attack, at the heart of the current Justice Department scandals, involved getting the DoJ and various U.S. attorneys in battleground states to vigorously prosecute cases of voter fraud. That prong has failed. After exhaustive effort, the Department of Justice discovered virtually no polling-place voter fraud, and its efforts to fire the U.S. attorneys in battleground states who did not push the voter-fraud line enough has backfired. Even if Attorney General Gonzales declines to resign his position, his reputation has been irreparably damaged.
But the second prong of this attack may have proven more successful. This involved using ACVR to give “think tank” academic cachet to the unproven idea that voter fraud is a major problem in elections. That cachet would be used to support the passage of onerous voter-identification laws that depress turnout among the poor, minorities, and the elderly—groups more likely to vote Democratic. Where the Bush administration may have failed to nail illegal voters, the effort to suppress minority voting has borne more fruit, as more states pass these laws, and courts begin to uphold them in the name of beating back waves of largely imaginary voter fraud.
Hasen reviews the totality of the voter suppression scheme in his piece. It’s a remarkable project. And in the end, you have to hand it to Rove and his adjutants von Spakovsky and Hearne. They know how to run an effective con game. They pulled it off. And they enlisted the machinery of the Department of Justice in their enterprise.
It’s no less remarkable that they were able to play the media for fools throughout this process. Hasen is particularly good in blowing the whistle on the Wall Street Journal’s John Fund, whose hackery on the voting rights issue over the last several years is now being exposed. A website and a slap-dash of fresh paint and you have a “well-established” and “academically credentialed” think-tank. Except it isn’t. But it seems that, as so often of late, no one in the Emerald City is prepared to look behind that curtain.