Allison Kilkenny: Unreported


Posted in politics, Republicans by allisonkilkenny on February 17, 2009

The Contraception Freakout

Posted in politics, Republicans, women's rights by allisonkilkenny on January 26, 2009

American Prospect

originalI’ve never bought the idea that opposition to abortion is solely about controlling women’s bodies. I’ve just known too many people who were genuinely sincere in their religious beliefs that abortion is wrong. But I’ve seen little evidence that conservatives’ hostility to contraception, to methods that prevent unwanted pregnancies and therefore abortions, from taking place, could be anything else. Steve Benen writes, via Elana Schor, that Republicans are opposed to money in the stimulus bill that would help state governments assist low-income women in getting contraception coverage:

What’s being proposed is an expansion in the number of states that can use Medicaid money, with a federal match, to help low-income women prevent unwanted pregnancies. Of the 26 states that already have Medicaid waivers for family planning, eight are led by Republican governors (AL, FL, MS, SC, CA, LA, MN and RI — a ninth, MO, had a GOP governor until this past November). If this policy is truly a taxpayer gift to “the abortion industry,” as John Boehner and House Republicans claim, where are the GOP governors promising to end the program in their states? 

Additionally, the process of obtaining a waiver for Medicaid family-planning coverage is extremely cumbersome. A letter written by Wisconsin health regulators in 2007 noted that some states have had to wait for as long as two years before their request was approved. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that eliminating the waiver requirement would save states $400 million over 10 years.

Beyond the fact that this policy would save the government money in the long run (a finding from the same office that didn’t produce that report on the stimulus), are Republicans really arguing that unwanted pregnancies don’t result in a significant financial burden for families that are already struggling in an economy that’s likely to get worse? What’s the moral justification for denying them the choice of preventing pregnancies they don’t want? That having sex should be predicated on yearly income?

— A. Serwer

“I won” — Barack Obama

Posted in Barack Obama, Democrats, Economy, politics, Republicans by allisonkilkenny on January 23, 2009

Good for him.

Talking Points Memo posted a story about Chuck Todd (the poor man’s Tim Russert) wringing his hands over the lack of bipartisan results in the stimulus bill currently sitting in committee.

We’re sitting here watching Robert Gibbs’ White House briefing. And there is a long string of questions about whether Obama can really working in a bipartisan manner if no Republicans are saying nice things about the stimulus bill or voting for the mark-ups out of committee. And Chuck Todd just asked whether Obama would veto a stimulus bill that came to his desk that hadn’t gotten Republican support.

That would be quite a moment.

And Obama’s response to more spineless, moderate Democrat whining?  


President Obama listened to Republican gripes about his stimulus package during a meeting with congressional leaders Friday morning – but he also left no doubt about who’s in charge of these negotiations. “I won,” Obama noted matter-of-factly, according to sources familiar with the conversation.  

Well, knock me over with a fucking feather. Was that tough talk from a Democrat? More, please.

Jeb Bush: GOP Should Set Up “Shadow Government”

Posted in Republicans by allisonkilkenny on December 2, 2008

Jeb Bush
Jeb Bush

Via ThinkProgress, in an interview with NewsMax, President Bush’s brother Jeb says the Republican party should not cave to a Democratic majority. Rather, they should set up a “shadow government” to provide a counter-agenda.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush tells Newsmax that the GOP must broaden its appeal to avoid becoming “the old white-guy party,” and recommends that Republicans create a “shadow government” to engage Democrats on important issues as the incoming Obama administration seeks to enact its agenda.
In a wide-ranging interview with Newsmax, the popular former governor and younger brother of President George W. Bush said the 2008 election was neither “transformational” nor a landslide. For example, he noted that Barack Obama’s significant fundraising advantage over John McCain played a key role in Democratic success this year.

Bush urged Republicans not to abandon their core conservative principles in favor of a “Democratic-lite” agenda. Still, the GOP does need to do some real soul-searching, he said.

“If you take the [last] two election cycles, there’s real cause for concern, no question about it,” he said.

There is good news for Republicans, Bush said: The United States remains “basically a center-right country.” He cited President-elect Barack Obama’s stance on taxes as an example.

The party should establish a loyal opposition and “organize ourselves in the form of a shadow government” that would address key issues, providing the public with “a loftier debate about policy” rather than mere partisanship.


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Cannibal Democrats and Other Very Bad Things

Posted in Barack Obama, Democrats, politics, Republicans by allisonkilkenny on August 7, 2008

If I was going to dress as a Neo-Conservative for Halloween, I would wear an expensive pantsuit (complete with flag-pinned lapel,) carry the Bible under one arm, the Economist under the other, and arrange my hair in a humorless coif at the top of my skull. I would drape a crucifix around my neck and march around the neighborhood. I would glare at everyone with a mixture of suspicion and condemnation.

Instead of accepting candy, or as I would call them “heathen bribes,” (because really, that’s all a Snickers bar is,) I would ask people about their mostly deeply held beliefs. And when the answers inevitably came back to me in the form of unsatisfactory, stuttering, liberal lisps, I would scream at them until I was hoarse and the costumed children around me were all sobbing.

But that’s only if I was going to dress as a Neo-Conservative for Halloween. I would only dress and behave these ways if I was imitating a small-minded, fearful, prejudiced individual so afraid of conflict that they resort to tantrums any time anyone disagrees with them. In previous years, I wouldn’t have categorized Democrats in this school of “Yer With Us Or Yer With The Terrerists.” In this election year, things are different.

Every peace-loving liberal knows the sting of being branded “weak,” “soft on defense,” or if you’re being interviewed by Bill O’Reilly, a “Communist,” or “Nazi” (because we all know how much the Nazis loved peace). In 2003, it wasn’t popular to be against the war, and a lot of Democrats took a lot of heat for having the courage to stand up and say: This is wrong. We’re compromising too much here.

Now, Democrats are making the very same assaults against their own party members. When fellow Democrats express concern over Obama’s shifting stances on a host of issues, or heaven forbid, an interest in hearing from a third-party candidate, all hell breaks lose. Criticizing Obama’s policies and early moves toward triangulation earns one the label “traitor” from the Democratic community itself.

I have received a plethora of frantic e-mails from people across the country about how they’ve been ostracized from their parochial Democratic communities for daring to criticize Obama, or having the gall to suggest Ralph Nader has a place in a three-way debate. These letters read like the sender is being held hostage: “…Felt so alone…Please send help….So tired….so….tired.” I can almost hear the hysterical weeping when I read them.

The assault isn’t just coming from their friends and family. It’s spouting everywhere from the so-called liberal media (the people who claim they’re all for free speech). Take for example this bit of ridiculous: Eleanor Randolph’s mind-numbingly stupid anti-Nader op-ed in the New York Times. It’s short, probably because she realized her opinions were leading her toward a vast pit of despair and wandering premises, so she quickly wrapped things up before critical thinking entered the mix.

In Ralph Nader: Going, Going, Not Gone (GET IT?!) Randolph bemoans the fact that Nader is running for president again because she’s just like SO totally bored with him! Then she she actually expresses confusion over Nader’s anti-corporate greed stances and then goes on to claim none of the Presidential candidates are in the pockets of big business because, well, none of them have publicly claimed to be in the pocket of big businesses! After all, they would admit that kind of thing, people! An air-tight case from an ace reporter. I feel safer knowing this woman is sitting on the board of one of the largest newspapers in the country.

And this is a so-called journalist writing. At least, to her credit, Randolph doesn’t dissolve into hysterical accusations. She admits that the evidence for Nader having lost Gore the 2000 election is weak, and she never accused Nader supporters of being traitors to their own party. If only this was the case everywhere.

It saddens me that the discourse has dissolved into baseless accusations within the Democratic party. The branding goes far beyond “traitor.” To accuse Obama of betraying his base sometimes has far uglier results. The label “racist” is haphazardly catapulted far too frequently, which is all the more unfortunate because some people ARE making racist statements about Obama and his wife, Michelle. But every criticism of Obama isn’t inherently an attack on his race. We’re not all Geraldine Ferraro, thank you very much.

I believe the Democratic party is still the party of reason and compassion. I believe Democrats take pride in their party’s tradition of engaging in open dialogs and discussing conflicting ideas in the hopes of elevating the party’s collective ideologies to new, exciting places. This tradition invites not only their rival parties into the room, but also members of their own party, who for whatever reason, have veered away from the Main Candidate, and are looking elsewhere for answers.

Instead of shunning those who criticize Obama’s handling of FISA and offshore drilling, or those individuals who are considering voting for Ralph Nader come November, Democrats should address the causes of these symptoms of anger and mistrust within their own party, all of which stem from an ideologically sick candidate, who has begun to play fast and loose with his principles.

These disillusioned Democrats aren’t traitors, and don’t deserve the burden of the unfair and immature dismissal: “Well, ENJOY President McCain, asshole!” Such digressions are why Democrats are forever on the defensive and the Republicans, year-after-year, are permitted to set the agenda. Democrats have an identity crisis and continue to publicly shun their brand as the progressive, peace-loving party. Worse than trying to mimic Republicans, now the party has turned cannibalistic and Democrats are attacking Democrats. Obamaniacs hate the Nader Raiders, and the Nader Raiders resent the fact that they feel ostracized for being too liberal and too progressive…whatever those labels mean nowadays.

A party is only as good as its ideas, and if the Democrats turn into the two-dimensional cartoon characters on FOX news, the screaming idiots that shout sound bites at each other from across the table, then they might as well sculpt their hair into humorless coifs, throw crucifixes around their necks, and call themselves Neo-Conservatives.

Cognitive dissonance (the uncomfortable feeling or stress caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously) is a good thing as long as there is resolution. Resolution comes when one ideology is cast aside because the other is deemed possessing a higher value.

Those Democrats disillusioned with Obama aren’t lost causes. In fact, they’re right to feel scathed, confused, and betrayed (a little bit) by their man, Obama. He redacted on his promises, and now he should be held accountable by his own party. Ya’ know, the the same party claiming that politicians should be held accountable for their actions. That’s a universal rule. Yes, even when it’s YOUR guy who is lying, or “triangulating.”

But the Democrats must keep talking and debating if they are to remain the party that likes diplomacy. They can’t be so quick to label their own members as traitors the second things get really tough, Obama’s shining star dims a bit, and he’s revealed as a complex, flawed human being like all the rest.

Why You Should Vote Republican

Posted in Republicans by allisonkilkenny on June 21, 2008

Ahhh….these elections are always so tough.

I’m so glad I finally found a video to explain to me why I should vote Republican.

I don’t deserve health care, i’m not smart enough to make decisions for my own body, it’s okay to be separate as long as the Supreme Court says you’re also equal and because Texas needs a few more billionaires.

Maybe you should vote Republican, too.

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The Health Insurance Scam Revealed

Posted in Barack Obama, Democrats, Republicans by allisonkilkenny on June 1, 2008
I have an idea for a health insurance company, one that is sure to work really well. Here’s the pitch:

You pay me a fee every month—say, between $500 and $1,000—and I pocket the money. In return, in the event you need someone to cover your medical expenses, I’ll tell you in so many words to go fuck yourself, you’re on your own. I’ll use any excuse to deny your claim, and if one of my employees does the unthinkable and puts me in a position of having to shell out money to pay for your freeloading, I’ll send that imbecile to join you on the unemployment line.

I might feel the occasional bout of generosity; I might deign to throw you the occasional bone, just to keep you complacent, and cover some minor thing. But don’t expect me to pay for your heart operation. What were you doing wearing it out by making it beat so much, anyway? Don’t you know that’s a sure-fire way to end up needing surgery at some point? Especially if you don’t take care of yourself by eating right and exercising regularly? And you can forget about that cancer treatment. Drugs cost money. Go buy your own. I’m busy counting.

By the way, you can forget about complaining. Even if you manage to get through the array of computers set up to discourage you from lodging a complaint, any human employee is going to give you the runaround, too. Raise too much of a ruckus, and I’ll just cancel your policy. That’ll show you, you ingrate.

And I won’t stop there. Just in case some uppity customer decides this isn’t legal, or shouldn’t be, I’ll use some of the money you pay me every month to bribe politicians in the form of campaign contributions to pass legislation protecting my right to bilk you for those monthly fees. Oh, sure, you might complain. You might even try to vote out corrupt politicians who accept my bribes, but by the time you get off your lazy ass I’ll have bought pretty much everyone in D.C. and the fifty states who might be capable or inclined to resist. Let’s face it: with campaigns costing more and more money each cycle, politicians listen to those who can fork over a hell of a lot more than that measly ten or twenty dollars you can afford to part with. You’re screwed.

Great idea, right? Well, not for you, but we’re talking about me. You don’t factor into the equation, except as an ever-opening wallet. What’s that? You don’t think it’s so hot a concept? You’re right, it isn’t. But that’s exactly what you buy into whenever you sign up for insurance from companies ranging from Humana to Kaiser Permanente. The only difference between what I pitched to you, and what the health insurance industry tells you, is that I’m being up front about my intentions.

The health insurance industry is the among the biggest and most successful scam operations in the history of the United States. It is set up to get you to pay money in return for almost nothing. And because what little public health care exists is severely underfunded, and qualifications limited only to certain cross-sections of the poor and elderly, this means your options for alternatives are extremely limited. In fact, nearly fifty million Americans have no recourse but to go without insurance, because they cannot afford the premiums (I’m one of them, by the way).

How did all this get started? As Michael Moore pointed out in his excellent documentary, SiCKO (which I blogged about last year), the scam was created when the CEO of Kaiser Permanente at the time had his flunkies meet with then-president Richard Nixon to discuss how the insurance industry could kill two birds with one stone: kill what public health insurance existed, and ensure that it could never return, and become obscenely wealthy in the process. It wasn’t long afterward that Nixon pushed through Congress legislation that would fundamentally alter the health care system of the United States—for the worse.

What Nixon and Kaiser rammed through Congress resulted in the creation of the HMO system we suffer today. It’s the scam outfit that separates you from your money, while denying you coverage for your medical expenses. And you allow it to go on. Why is this? I could write a dissertation about it, but essentially it all boils down to fear and the dominance of the right in the media on issues such as health care. Professor George Lakoff of Berkley University described in 2005 how conservatives have come to shape and control the national discussion, and get Americans to vote against their own interests. The fear element involves scaring you with horror stories of socialism and the loss of freedom, never mind that you’ve already given up your freedom.

The problem is compounded not only by the failure of the Democratic Party to oppose this sort of swindle, but in its embrace of the status quo as a matter of policy. While Barack Obama builds up his illusion of progressivism, his actual history suggests he is not prepared to challenge the status quo at all, but merely is all too willing to continue it. Hillary Clinton joins him in being among the top recipients of bribe money from the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries. The two Democratic rivals for the presidency have even taken millions of dollars in bribe money from health professionals. And we all know where Republican John McCain stands on the issue of health care: more of the same.

This is the scam you pay for with your tax dollars, and the money you pay out of pocket. In my next entry, I’ll tell you how you can do something about it.

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Dems Capture GOP Seat, but Voter Fraud Cases Reported

Posted in Democrats, Republicans by allisonkilkenny on May 4, 2008

Eric Kleefeld, Talking Points Memo

In a further indication that the Democrats are well-positioned to expand their House majority this November, Democrat Don Cazayoux has won a special election tonight for a Louisiana seat that has been in Republican hands for over 30 years.

With 99% of precincts reporting, Cazayoux leads with 49,371 votes, or 49% of the vote, followed by Republican Woody Jenkins at 46,554 votes, or 46%. In a district that voted 59% for President Bush in 2004, that is simply a stunning result.

This is on top of another big Democratic pick-up two months ago, when Bill Foster (D-IL) won the suburban Illinois seat of former GOP Speaker Dennis Hastert.

In short, this year isn’t going very well so far for the NRCC.

But some bad news… reports on more strange phone calls to black households coming out of Baton Rouge.

Story behind the cut.

On election day, a number of homes in Baton Rouge’s predominantly black neighborhoods were phoned with a tape-recorded message asking black voters to teach white Democrats a lesson by staying home and not casting ballots.

The ad signed off as “Friends of Michael Jackson.”

Jackson, a Democratic state representative defeated by Cazayoux in the primary runoff, said he was not involved or connected in any way with the calls. Jackson said he will run for the seat in November.

How Republicans Quietly Hijacked the Justice Department to Swing Elections

Posted in ACORN, politics, Republicans by allisonkilkenny on April 15, 2008

Steven Rosenfeld, IG Publishing, originally posted on

The following is an excerpted chapter by Steve Rosenfeld from the new book “Loser Take All,” edited by Mark Crispin Miller (Ig Publishing, 2008).

Jim Crow has returned to American elections, only in the twenty-first century, instead of men in white robes or a barrel-chested sheriff menacingly patrolling voting precincts, we are more likely to see a lawyer carrying a folder filled with briefing papers and proposed legislation about “voter fraud” and other measures to supposedly protect the sanctity of the vote.

Since the 2004 election, activist lawyers with ties to the Republican Party and its presidential campaigns, Republican legislators, and even the Supreme Court — in a largely unnoticed ruling in 2006 — have been aggressively regulating most aspects of the voting process. Collectively, these efforts are undoing the gains of the civil rights era that brought voting rights to minorities and the poor, groups that tend to support Democrats.

In addition, the Department of Justice (DOJ), which for decades had fought to ensure that all eligible citizens could vote, now encourages states to take steps in the opposite direction. Political appointees who advocate for stringent requirements before ballots are cast and votes are counted have driven much of the DOJ’s Voting Section’s recent agenda. As a result, the Department has pushed states to purge voter lists, and to adopt newly restrictive voter ID and provisional ballot laws. In addition, during most of George W. Bush’s tenure, the DOJ has stopped enforcing federal laws designed to aid registration, such as the requirement that state welfare offices offer public aid recipients the opportunity to register to vote.

The Department’s political appointees have also pressured federal prosecutors to pursue “voter fraud” cases against the Bush administration’s perceived opponents, such as ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), which conduct mass registration drives among populations that tend to vote Democratic. Two former federal prosecutors have said they believe that they lost their positions for refusing to pursue these cases.

The proponents of this renewed impetus to police voters comes from a powerful and well-connected wing of the Republican Party that believes steps are needed to protect elections from Democratic-leaning groups that are fabricating voter registrations en masse and impersonating voters. Royal Masset, the former political director of the Republican Party of Texas, said in 2007 that is an “article of religious faith that voter fraud is causing us to lose elections.” While Masset himself didn’t agree with that assertion, he did believe “that requiring photo IDs could cause enough of a drop off in legitimate Democratic voting to add 3 percent to the Republican vote.”

While voter fraud and voter suppression have a long history in American politics, registration abuses and instances of people voting more than once are rare today, as federal officials convicted only twenty-four people of illegal voting between 2002 and 2005. Moreover, modern voter fraud, when it occurs, has involved partisans from both parties, although it is rarely on a scale that overturns elections. In contrast, new voter registration restrictions, such as requiring voters to show a government-issued photo ID, are of a scale that can affect election outcomes.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School has found that 25% of adult African-Americans, 15% of adults earning below $35,000 annually, and 18% of seniors over sixty-five do not possess government-issued photo ID. While various studies — such as a 2006 Election Assistance Commission report by Tova Andrea Wang and Job Serebrov, and a 2007 study by Lorraine Minnite of Barnard College — have found modern claims of a voter fraud “crisis” to be unfounded, that has not stopped states from adopting remedies that impose burdens across their electorate and on voter registration organizations. “Across the country, voter identification laws have become a partisan mess,” Loyola University Law Professor Richard Hasen said in an Oct. 24, 2006 column, speaking of one such remedy. “Republican-dominated legislatures have been enacting voter identification laws in the name of preventing fraud, and Democrats have opposed such laws in the name of protecting potentially disenfranchised voters.” Hasen was commenting on a little-noticed 2006 Supreme Court ruling, Purcell v. Gonzales, which upheld Arizona’s new voter ID law. The court unanimously affirmed the state’s 2004 law, writing that, “Voter fraud drives honest citizens out of the democratic process and breeds distrust of our government. Voters who fear their legitimate votes will be outweighed by fraudulent ones will feel disenfranchised.”

Hasen said that while the ruling “seem[ed] reasonable enough” at first glance, it actually was deeply troubling, as the Court never investigated if there was evidence of widespread voter fraud, and never examined “how onerous are such [voter ID] laws.” Instead, it adopted the Republican rhetoric on the issue “without any proof whatsoever.” Hasen then quoted Harvard University History Professor Alexander Keyssar on the Court’s rationale. “FEEL disenfranchised? Is that the same as ‘being disenfranchised?’ So if I might ‘feel’ disenfranchised, I have a right to make it harder for you to vote? What on Earth is going on here?”

What on Earth is going on here?

“These things have become partisan,” Democratic California Representative Juanita Millender-McDonald replied at a March 2005 congressional field hearing when asked why she and others in Congress had come to Ohio to investigate the 2004 election. “Images are so critical, especially when the stakes are high and stakes are high in presidential elections,” the now-deceased congresswoman continued, referring to the lingering memory of thousands of African-Americans waiting for hours outside in a cold rain to vote the previous November in Ohio’s inner cities. Many elected Democrats and voting rights attorneys saw the delays as intentional voter suppression resulting from partisan election administration. To some, it stirred memories of the segregated south.

Cleveland Democratic Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones, who six weeks earlier had stood with California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer to contest Ohio’s 2004 Electoral College votes, was also present at the hearing, and had several testy exchanges with Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell over his administration of the election. One particular exchange concerned how Blackwell had spent millions of dollars for advertisements that neglected to tell Ohioans where else they could go to vote if they were delayed at their own polling place — a small but telling example of election administration with partisan implications:

Ms. Tubbs Jones: In this ad you said, “Vote your precinct,” but you never told them that if they couldn’t vote in precinct, they could go to the Board of Elections and vote. Did you, sir?

Secretary Blackwell
: I sure didn’t.

Ms. Tubbs Jones: Excuse me?

Secretary Blackwell: Can’t you hear? I said I sure didn’t.

But while Democrats like Tubbs Jones were looking back at 2004, Republicans were looking ahead at shaping the future electorate to their advantage. The hearing was notable because it signaled the start of a renewed Republican campaign to highlight “voter fraud” as an issue needing legislative redress. The assertions and responses that unfolded that day would be heard in many states in 2005 and 2006 as GOP-majority legislatures “dealt” with the issue. Ohio Republican Representative Kevin DeWine spoke of a proposed voter ID law — which would later pass — and suggested that the Legislature’s concern was not whether the law would pass, but how tough it should be. The state also added strict new rules for mass voter registration drives early in 2005, which were overturned in federal court in February 2008, and later passed a bill facilitating Election Day challenges to individual voters. Ohio Republican State Senator Jeff Jacobson said that these laws were needed to stop “fraudulent registrations” because national groups “are paid to come in and end up registering Mickey Mouse …. The millions of dollars that poured in, in an attempt to influence Ohio, is not normal.”

What Jacobson said was true, though lacking in context. Groups like ACORN and Americans Coming Together had registered millions of new voters in battleground states before the 2004 election, and some of ACORN’s staff — i.e. temporary workers — had filed a handful of registration forms with fabricated names. ACORN discovered the error, alerted the authorities and prosecutions ensued. While those mistakes were cited by politicians like Jacobson as evidence of a national voter fraud crisis, others, such as Norman Robbins, a Case Western University professor and co-coordinator of the Greater Cleveland Voter Coalition, urged the House panel to look at the facts and keep the issue in perspective:

“We desperately need research on all of the issues raised today,” he said. “For instance, what are the real causes and effects of the long lines? How many voters were actually disenfranchised? How long did they take to vote? That would be one set of questions. Does showing an ID increase the reliability of the vote or does it disenfranchise people? Those are answerable questions. How many people truly have been convicted of election fraud? What do we really know about this in terms of cases and conditions.”

To answer those questions, the committee chairman, Republican Bob Ney — who has since been convicted and jailed on bribery charges — turned to a long-time Republican operative, Mark “Thor” Hearne, who introduced himself as an “advocate of voter rights and an attorney experienced in election law.” Hearne, a lawyer based in St. Louis, certainly was experienced. In 2000, he had worked for the Bush campaign in Florida during the presidential recount. He was also the Vice President of Election Education for the Republican National Lawyers Association, which helps the party train partisan poll monitors. In 2004, he became counsel to the Bush-Cheney campaign, where he “worked with White House presidential advisor Karl Rove and the Republican National Committee to identify potential voting fraud in battleground states … and oversaw more than 65 different lawsuits that concerned the outcome of the election.”8 After 2004, “with encouragement from Rove and the White House, Hearne founded the American Center for Voting Rights (ACVR), which represented itself as a nonpartisan watchdog group looking for voting fraud.” The group would go on to urge federal and state officials to prosecute voter fraud, adopt tougher voter ID laws and purge voter rolls. It would also file legal briefs in voter ID cases, urging tighter regulations.

Hearne presented the panel with a report suggesting that fraudulent registrations were threatening U.S. elections. The report listed problems in Ohio cities with sizeable African-American populations — the state’s Democratic strongholds. Nationally, ACVR would use the same approach to identify other voter fraud “hot spots.”

A national pattern

Though the facts were slim, Republicans across the country acted as if a voter fraud crisis was rampant. As a result, Republican-controlled legislatures in Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin passed new voter ID requirements after the 2004 election, although gubernatorial vetoes or court orders nullified these laws in every state except for Indiana. (In January 2008, the Supreme Court heard a challenge to Indiana’s voter ID law.) Meanwhile, two states with Republican-majority legislatures — Florida and Ohio — made voter registration drives more difficult by raising penalties for errors on registration forms, as well as shortening the timeline for organizers to submit these forms — which prevents these groups from checking the registrations for accuracy and completeness. Litigation and court rulings reversed those laws before the 2006 election, but not before the League of Women Voters was forced to halt registration drives in Florida for the first time in the group’s 75-year history. In Ohio, where ACORN was registering approximately 5,000 new voters per week, those efforts were suspended during the litigation, meaning an estimated 30,000 people were not given the opportunity to register.

Since 2004, five other states have imposed new restrictions on voter registration drives — Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, New Mexico and Missouri — according to research by Project Vote, which has worked with the Brennan Center for Justice to challenge these laws. To date, these laws still remain on the books in Missouri and New Mexico. “It’s no secret who these restrictions affect,” wrote Michael Slater, Project Vote’s deputy director, in the October 2007 issue of The National Voter, a publication of the League of Women Voters. “In 2004, 15 percent of all African-American and Latino voters were registered to vote as a result of an organized drive; an African-American or Latino voter was 65 percent more likely to have been registered to vote by an organized drive than a White voter. In the final analysis, spurious allegations of voter fraud give rise to yet more roadblocks on the path to full participation in political life for historically disadvantaged Americans.”

These state-level responses to voter fraud did not occur in a vacuum. Since the creation of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department a half-century ago, the federal government has had great power and influence over how states implement voting rights. But by early 2005, the same mindset shared by GOP legislators in Ohio and other states, and by vote fraud activists like Hearne, could also be found among the Bush administration’s senior appointees overseeing voting rights at the DOJ.

Just four days before the 2004 election, the Department’s civil rights chief, Assistant Attorney General Alex Acosta, wrote to a federal judge in Cincinnati who was deciding whether to allow the Ohio Republican Party to challenge the credentials of 23,000 mostly African-American voters. Acosta supported the voter challenges, saying an order to block them could undermine the enforcement of state and federal voting laws. The challenges, Acosta wrote, “help strike a balance between ballot access and ballot integrity.” The voter challenges were allowed to go forward, although the final judicial ruling came too late for Ohio’s Republican Party to deploy thousands of party members to local precincts to challenge voter credentials.

Another sign of the Department’s shift from its historic mission of enfranchising voters to a new “selective enforcement” mindset could also be seen by 2005 when a coalition of voting rights groups failed to convince the Department to enforce the law that requiring states to offer welfare recipients the opportunity to register to vote. “In January 2005, we had a 10-year report, which documented the 59 percent decline [in registrations] from 1995 through 2004,” said Scott Novakowski of the center-left think tank Demos. He added that many states, including Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Tennessee, were ignoring the registration requirements for welfare recipients. “John Conyers [now the House Judiciary Committee chairman] and 29 other representatives asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to look into this, and there was no response.”

The political stakes in registering low-income voters are enormous. The Election Assistance Commission’s biennial voter registration report for 2005-2006 found that while 16.6 million new registration applications were received by state motor vehicles agencies, only 527,752 applications came from public assistance offices — a 50 percent drop from 2003-2004. As a result, in early 2005, voting rights groups met with the DOJ’s top Voting Section officials — including Hans Von Spakovsky, counsel to the assistant attorney general overseeing the Voting Section, and Voting Section Chief Joseph Rich — to discuss enforcing the public assistance requirement. Von Spakovsky, like ACVR’s Hearne, had worked for Bush in Florida during the 2000 recount and was among a handful of GOP appointees who were established “vote fraud” activists.

Rich, a Civil Rights Division attorney for thirty-seven years, had been chief of the Voting Section for six years when he resigned in April 2005, citing politicization of voting rights enforcement. Rich recalled the meeting about the voter registration requirements, saying that Von Spakovsky — who had become his de facto boss — decided to ignore that part of the law, and instead focus on one line in the statute that allowed the Justice Department to pressure states to purge voter rolls. “Four months before I left, in 2005, Von Spakovsky held a meeting where he said he wanted to start an initiative for states we want to purge … Their priority was to purge, not to register voters … To me, it was a very clear view of the Republican agenda … to make it harder to vote: purge voters and don’t register voters.”

The Bush Administration Voting Section

Rich was one of a number of career attorneys at the DOJ Voting Section who resigned because pressure from the Bush administration had altered the agency’s historic civil rights mission. Between 2005 and 2007, 55 percent of the attorneys in the Voting Section left, according to a report by NYU’s Brennan Center and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which cited, among other things, a “partisan hiring process,” “altered performance evaluations” and “political retaliation on the job.” The shift in enforcement philosophy did not go unnoticed. In July 2006, The Boston Globe reported that the Civil Rights Division had turned away from hiring lawyers with civil rights movement backgrounds. Of the nineteen attorneys hired since 2003, The Globe reported, eleven were members of the conservative Federalist Society, Republican National Lawyers Association, or had volunteered for Bush-Cheney campaigns. Moreover, the Voting Section had virtually stopped filing suits on behalf of minority voters. Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, told the House Judiciary Committee on March 22, 2007 that, “The Voting Section did not file any cases on behalf of African-American voters during a five-year period between 2001 and 2006,” adding that, “no cases have been brought on behalf of Native American voters for the entire administration.” While the Justice Department had all but stopped filing lawsuits on behalf of Native and African-Americans, the Voting Section had more than doubled the number of lawsuits seeking to enforce the providing of bilingual ballots and election materials in Latino and Asian communities, constituencies that were seen as likely Republican swing votes, particularly after the GOP made electoral gains among Latinos in 2004.

That the administration’s appointees overseeing voting rights would politicize the Voting Section should have surprised no one.

Early in Bush’s first term, conservative publications like the National Journal were clamoring for wholesale changes in the Civil Rights Division. “There may be no part of the federal government where liberalism is more deeply entrenched,” the Journal’s John Miller wrote on May 6, 2002. “Keeping ineligible voters off registration lists is the first step in limiting fraud,” wrote Von Spakovsky in a 1997 Georgia Public Policy Foundation article, where he described various scenarios where he believed Democratic partisans were “sending imposters to vote, to request absentee ballots, or to otherwise generate fraudulent votes.” In July 2001, Von Spakovsky began his testimony on “election reform” before the Senate Rules Committee by stating that, “One of the biggest threats to voter rights and election integrity today is the condition of our voter registration rolls. Many jurisdictions now have more registered names on their voter rolls than they have voting age population within their borders. This is an invitation to fraud and chaos since the many invalid and multiple registrations that exist can serve as a source pool for fraud.”

According to a Brennan Center and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law report, there were four “connected pieces of strategy” to politicize the enforcement of voting rights by the Department of Justice from 2004 through 2007: “fomenting fear of voter fraud;” “dismantling the infrastructure of Justice;” “restricting registration and voting;” and “politically motivated prosecutions.” According to the report, from 2003 to 2005, the Voting Rights Section:

* Sent Maryland a letter before the 2004 presidential election saying that the state could reject voter registrations that did not match information on other state databases. That “no-vote, no-match” standard has been criticized as being too strict, due to typos and data-entry errors.

* Pre-cleared congressional redistricting in Texas in mid-decade, instead of waiting for the once-a-decade census report, as has been the standard practice. The Department must approve election law changes in states and counties under jurisdiction of the Voting Rights Act. The Texas redistricting case was seen as leading to the election of four Republican House candidates in 2004. In 2006, the Supreme Court issued a decision upholding parts of that redistricting plan.

* Argued that individual citizens have no right to private action — or the ability to sue to seek redress-under HAVA. That right has been a key component of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, leading citizens to file numerous suits such as one in 2006 by African-American voters in Columbus, Ohio, whose precincts did not receive the same per capita number of voting machines as nearby white suburbs.

* Pre-cleared a new Georgia photo ID law, even though the section’s career attorneys recommended rejecting it. The courts later nullified the law, comparing it to imposing a “poll tax” due to costs associated with obtaining the required government photo ID. The state has since modified the law, relaxing the ID standard.

* Issued an opinion saying provisional ballots could not be given to people who lacked ID. The ballots were created by HAVA to ensure that people who are not on voter rolls could vote, though registrations of those voters must be verified before counting the ballots. The section also said it was okay to cast but not count provisional ballots.

* Tried to pressure the Election Assistance Commission to change its decision on Arizona’s voter ID law, which requires residents to provide proof of U.S. citizenship when registering to vote. Arizona wanted the EAC to add the citizenship requirement to a national voter registration form. The EAC did not grant Arizona’s request, despite supporting emails from Von Spakofsky.

-Filed the first of a half-dozen lawsuits forcing states to purge voter rolls. Only Missouri fought the suit, which it later won, though the Justice Department is appealing that ruling. U.S. District Court Judge Nanette K. Laughrey wrote in her decision that, “It is … telling that the United States has not shown that any Missouri resident was denied his or her right to vote as a result of the deficiencies alleged by the United States. Nor has the United States shown that any voter fraud has occurred.” New Jersey, Indiana, and Maine were also sued by the Department and reached consent decrees — settlements — that included voter purges.

These actions were all part of a growing crescendo of enforcement actions with political overtones leading up to the 2006 election.

Turning toward 2008

As the country approaches the 2008 election, it is an open question how the GOP’s ballot security strategies will affect voting in the battleground states. As in any election, there are a handful of unknowns that could have a major impact. The Supreme Court, for example, will decide whether Indiana’s voter ID law, seen as one of the country’s toughest, places an unconstitutional burden on low-income people and minority voters. Meanwhile, in states where immigration is a hot-button issue, Arizona’s efforts to add a proof of citizenship requirement to the national voter registration form will be closely watched. Under that state’s Proposition 200, which passed in 2004, residents must show proof of citizenship before registering to vote or receiving public assistance. Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located, is now rejecting 30 percent of all new registrations due to inadequate proof of citizenship, according to Jeff Blum of USAction. Since Proposition 200 was implemented in 2005, more than 32,000 voter registrations have been rejected. Meanwhile, in January 2008, the Texas Legislature began consideration of a new voter ID law.

Similarly, efforts by states to comply with HAVA by creating statewide voter lists pose an entirely new set of election administration issues. Since 2000, most states have been struggling to transition to a new generation of electronic voting systems. These paperless systems have been criticized for being unreliable, potentially inaccurate, and accessible to hackers. While some states have moved to restrict the use of these machines, the creation of statewide voter databases — a part of these systems — has not been as widely scrutinized. In some states, officials have instituted strict name-matching requirements to verify the accuracy of voter registrations. Whether typos or other data entry errors will mistakenly remove legal voters — as was the case in California in 2005 — remains to be seen, although Florida recently joined a handful of states, including Washington, where litigation rolled back strict name-matching standards that were disenfranchising legal voters.

Another large unknown concerns voter purges. In April 2007, the Justice Department sent letters to the top election administrators in ten states — Iowa, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Vermont — to pressure them to purge their voter rolls. Former Voting Section attorneys and others said the statistics cited by the Justice Department in the purge letter were flawed and did not confirm that those states had more voter registrations than eligible voters, as the department alleged. “That data does not say what they purport it says,” said David Becker, senior voting rights counsel for People for the American Way and a former Voting Section senior trial attorney, after reviewing the data cited in the Justice Department’s letter. “This stuff disenfranchises voters …. There are eligible voters who will be removed. There is no evidence that rolls need to be cleaned up to this degree. This will make things more chaotic on Election Day. People will be given provisional ballots that won’t get counted.”

Looking toward the 2008 election, it appears the purges — as well as the new voter ID laws, restrictions on registration drives and stricter rules for counting provisional ballots — could be a new and legal way to accomplish a longstanding GOP electoral tactic: thinning the ranks of likely Democratic voters. In numerous elections dating back to the 1960s, the Republican Party has tried to challenge new voter registrations to accomplish this goal, although since 1981 federal courts have blocked some of those efforts as illegal electioneering.

“Until the mid-1960s, the political entity most closely associated with efforts to disenfranchise people of color was the southern wing of the Democratic Party,” wrote Rice University Sociology Professor Chandler Davidson and several graduate students in a paper titled, “Republican Ballot Security Programs: Vote Protection or Minority Voter Suppression — Or Both?” However, the passage of civil rights laws in the early 1960s prompted some Republicans to appeal to southern Democrats who supported the Jim Crow system. Part of that political sea change was that the Republican Party adopted some of the voter suppression tactics used by southern Democrats. Indeed, the debate and remedies framed by the GOP’s contemporary “voter fraud” activists comes from this same political lineage:

“There are several noteworthy characteristics of these programs. They focus on minority precincts almost exclusively. There is often only the flimsiest evidence that voter fraud is likely to be perpetrated in such precincts.

In addition to encouraging the presence of sometimes intimidating Republican poll watchers or challengers who may slow down voting lines and embarrass potential voters by asking them humiliating questions, these programs have sometimes posted people in official-looking uniforms with badges and side arms who question voters about their citizenship or their registration. In addition, warning signs may be posted near the polls, or radio ads may be targeted to minority listeners containing dire threats of prison terms for people who are not properly registered — messages that seem designed to put minority voters on the defensive.”

Will this history of vote suppression tactics repeat itself during the 2008 presidential election? While the Democrats are not saints when it comes to voter suppression — recall how John Kerry’s supporters disqualified signatories to Ralph Nader’s presidential petitions in 2004 — they do not have the same kind of vote suppression apparatus in place as the Republicans do. Indeed, it appears that Republicans are already following Chandler Davidson’s inventory by seeking to regulate the voting process well before the 2008 election. The tactics that can be implemented well before the voting begins — stricter voter ID laws, voter purges, registration drive curbs, tougher provisional ballot laws and easing rulefor voter challenges — are already underway in several states.

First thoughts: The great ’08 paradox – First Read –

Posted in Barack Obama, Democrats, politics, Republicans by allisonkilkenny on March 13, 2008

New Poll from

We all know how accurate polls can be, so take it with a grain of salt…

Interesting polls from NBC and The Wall Street Journal:

The great ‘08 paradox:

The party’s fav/unfav has increased: 34%-49%
Bush’s approval rating remains in the 30s
People who want a president, who takes a different approach than Bush: 76%
Believe they’re worse off than they were four years ago: 43%
Obama beats McCain in a national election: 47%-44%
Clinton beats McCain in a national election: 47%-45%
Republicans say they would have preferred a different GOP nominee: 52%
Democrats that have a negative view of McCain: 44%

Style vs. substance:

Obama would have a better chance of beating McCain: 48%
Clinton would have a better chance of beating McCain: 38%
A candidate’s leadership style and trustworthiness are more important than ideas and policies: 48%
Ideas and policies are more important that style and trustworthiness: 32%
Obama has improved on eight of 10 attributes, including the commander-in-chief question (he trails Clinton here by just five points among Democrats).
Clinton, on the other hand, has stagnated on nine out of 10 attributes and has dropped in the other: being likeable. Overall,
Clinton leads Obama in the Dem horserace, 47%-43%

Legacy watch

Bill Clinton’s legacy viewed favorably (in March ’07): 49%-35%.
Now it’s a net negative: 42%-45%.
His numbers have gradually gotten worse as the campaign has gone on. In November, it was 47%-40%; in January, it was 44%-41%, and now it’s 42%-45%. The reason? His support among African Americans and Obama voters has greatly eroded. Similarly, the poll shows that Obama voters have a more negative impression of Clinton than Clinton voters do of Obama.

Uniting the Dems:

Nearly four in 10 Democrats believe the protracted primary is bad for the party, and just one in four think the long process is good.
Obama voters have a lower opinion of Clinton than Clinton voters have of Obama.
Clinton’s fav/unfav among Obama voters was 69%-17%.
Now it has decreased to 45%-33%.
Meanwhile, Obama’s fav/unfav among Clinton voters was 55%-20%.
Now it’s pretty much the same at 53%-24%.

Other interesting numbers in the poll:

The percentage of respondents who correctly identified Obama as a Christian increased from 18% to 37%.
But those identifying him as a Muslim also increased five points: 8% to 13%
Globalization has been bad for the country: 58%
Congress’ approval rating: 19%.
View Nader in a positive light: 14%

The poll was conducted March 7-10 among 1,012 registered voters, and it has a 3.1% margin of error.