Alberto Gonzales is down to his last couple of days as Attorney General, he appears to be focusing his attention on the 2008 elections. What, you might ask, does the Gonzales Justice Department have to do with the next election? Plenty. And they have a clear, predictable objective. In fact it happens to align perfectly with the objective and plans of the Republican Party.
The G.O.P./DOJ plan is simple: the fewer voters the better. In particular they would like to see voter rolls purged where Democratic registration is strong and Republican registration is weak. This process will eliminate some duplicate or improper registrations. It will also disenfranchise thousands of legitimate, properly registered voters who will show up on Election Day to vote and discover that their names no longer appear on the rolls. And a disproportionate portion of these voters will be Black, Latino, or residents of precincts which have a suspicious habit of supporting Democrats. The G.O.P./DOJ view is apparently that these voters are the enemy.
The Department of Justice’s Voting Section is pressuring 10 states to purge voter rolls before the 2008 election based on statistics that former Voting Section attorneys and other experts say are flawed and do not confirm that those states have more voter registrations than eligible voters, as the department alleges.
Voting Section Chief John Tanner called for the purges in letters sent this spring under an arcane provision in the National Voter Registration Act, better known as the Motor Voter law, whose purpose is to expand voter registration. The identical letters notify states that 10 percent or more of their election jurisdictions have problematic voter rolls. It tells states to report “the subsequent removal from rolls of persons no longer eligible to vote.”
“That data does not say what they purport it says,” said David Becker, People for the American Way Foundation’s senior voting rights counsel and a former Voting Section senior trial attorney, after reviewing the letters and statistics used to call for the purges. “They are saying the data shows the 10 worst voter rolls. They have a lot of explaining to do.”
“You are basically seeing them grasping at whatever straws are possible to make their point,” said Kim Brace, a consultant who helped the U.S. Election Assistance Commission prepare its 2004 National Voter Registration Act report, which contains the data tables cited by the Voting Section letter to identify the errant states.
Generally, what we see around the country now is that the DOJ, which once stood as a guard dog for the integrity of elections and the access of the historically disenfranchised to the voting process, now lines up as a good trooper to pursue to the political interests of the Republican Party.
Alabama Makes The Case
There’s no better example of its brazen political intervention in service of the G.O.P. cause than in Alabama, which should come as no surprise to those who read this column. Alabama missed the deadline for implementing a statewide voter registration database. As usual, the DOJ takes strikingly different positions on failures to comply depending on which party controls the statehouse. Alabama being deep, dark red and in the hands of Republican Governor Bob Riley, is entitled to every indulgence and support. It was given until August 31, 2007, to set up the statewide voter registration database.
The issue was bitterly contested between Gov. Riley and Alabama’s senior elections officer, Secretary of State Nancy Worley. The DOJ, of course, intervened aggressively to support the Governor at every turn. It even applied in federal court to move control over the program from the Democratic Secretary of State to the Republican Governor—an almost unprecedented move, viewed by most observers as a brazen power grab. And what in the Justice Department’s view justified the shift of power and authority for elections away from the state official responsible for elections, and to the titular head of the G.O.P. in Alabama? I’m sure it had to do with how Riley came to office in the first place. When the tallying of the vote ended on election night 2002, Don Siegelman was re-elected governor. Then something strange happened. Baldwin County, the state’s G.O.P. bastion, reported that 12,000 votes were being switched to Riley’s column as a result of a “computer glitch.” But independent scholars who have looked at the facts, including an Auburn University statistician, see something else. There was only one possible explanation for this “glitch”–the criminal manipulation of the voting equipment. And that’s how Riley arrived in the Alabama statehouse. And no doubt why, in the view of the DOJ, he should exercise the functions the law gives to the secretary of state. Worley, a Democrat, was disqualified.
So how did the judge, George W. Bush-appointee Keith Watkins, handle this? He appointed Governor Riley as special master with power to handle the matter. The New York Times called the proceedings a “kangaroo court.” And indeed it was. Here’s how an independent voting monitor described what went on:
The Justice Department and the Alabama attorney general, Troy King, both argued that Governor Riley should control the voter database. Mr. King, a Republican, was appointed to his job by Governor Riley after serving as his legal adviser, and when Ms. Worley (pictured at left) realized that Mr. King would not represent her interests, she asked him to let her hire a lawyer to argue her side but the judge refused. Watkins also denied motions by Democratic Party Chair Joe Turnham and Alabama Democratic Conference Chair Joe Reed to intervene in the case arguing that the process had proceeded in a “non-partisan” fashion in the case and that the HAVA Committee, bi-partisan and composed of 23 individuals, was the “model to implement.”
That’s “justice in Alabama,” election-law edition. As usual, it is justice of, by, and for the Republican Party of Alabama. The DOJ marches arm-in-arm to the altar with the Alabama G.O.P. And a George W. Bush-appointee judge celebrates the matrimonial ceremony.