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Friday, April 27, 2007

Vote Fraud: Punk'd

by folkbum

I've been sitting on a couple of draft posts, with a couple of still-in-my-head posts, and I got to thinking: There's a trend, here, and it's a whole lot of people who should know better getting totally punk'd. (And, no, I have never actually seen an episode of that show. But I know its premise, and, believe me, this seems to fit. Except for the part where the host reveals the prank. Apparently that job is now mine, and not everybody is going to have a good laugh at the end.)

The Bush Administration has been punking its supporters all along, and they are now so well trained that they will swallow anything. And I'm starting to feel a little embarrassed for a number of my friends on the right side of the Cheddarsphere who reflexively regurgitate whatever they've been told: They're getting lied to, set up, and used as tools by the Republican party.

Now, let me be clear: I am not a fan of conspiracy theories--just ask all the nutballs who emailed me after I explained how Kevin Barrett is an idiot. But if the documentary evidence is there, and if too many things come together to be called coincidence and instead look like a trend, well, that's when I start to wonder. The title of this post refers to vote fraud, and the pieces of that puzzle--that there's a great big punking going on--are starting to fall into place. But first, context.

The Bush Administration has been duping its supporters from the very beginning. You can go back, for example, to the "Brooks Brothers Riot" of November, 2000: How many Bush supporters fell for that one, the notion that the people of Florida were overwhelmingly demanding a halt to the recount when, in reality, it was a truckload of DC-based aides trying to create that impression? I don't know, but that should have been our first warning sign.

Bush supporters got punk'd again over Iraq's WMDs: From UN inspectors being driven out--empty-handed--in advance of the shock and awe to the outrageous claims about Africa (which Condi will now have to answer for) to the subsequent smear campaign againts Joe Wilson (and the untruths that still percolate through conservatives), the administration has kept its supporters believing the WMD story. (Bush himself regularly repeated--once while standing next to a bewildered Kofi Annan--that Saddam never did let the inspectors in.) All of this makes it so easy for Bush supporters to swallow, without question, garbage like this (which started, natch, with Patrick McIlheran, and which was dealt with here by krshorewood over the weekend). My point is not that the racist and utterly non-credible Dave Gaubatz is part of the Administration's punkery--my guess is that they've given up on that issue--but rather that the punkery has left otherwise smart people so willing to believe the party line that it doesn't matter who says it anymore.

This week featured hearings on the Hill covering the way we were lied to about Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman. Bert touched on this the other day, and how the GOP should be ashamed of itself for buying the BS. Reading the coverage, the coverage and analysis this week (here's a good example), on part of the story struck me more than any other: After the lie had been spread far and wide about Tillman's Sliver Star-worthy death, the conservatives were glad to have him as a symbol: A pro-football player willing to forgo his contract to serve, all for the love of freedom, God, and country. What better PR for the war than that? But the truth came out, of course, that not only did Pat Tillman hate the war in Iraq, thinking, in fact, it was illegal, but he was an atheist, too. And as reality clashed with ideology--with the punking Bush supporters received at the hands of their administration--Bush supporters simply denied the reality.

And the Virginia Tech shootings--it's hard even to wrap my head around how quickly it was assumed that the shooter was Muslim. And since it has become clear he was not--even comparing himself to Jesus in his videos--the right Cheddarsphere just can't square themselves with reality and decides to just believe Cho was a jihadist anyway. How much demonization of Islam had to happen for that particular punking to take? How long have we been told, even out of the president's own mouth, about how evil Islam is?

All of this is prologue, and I'm sorry it's long, but consider what I didn't write about; at some point, the litany becomes too long for even my rambly self. The point here is how long and hard the Bush administration--the Republican Party, more broadly--has worked at turning its supporters into willing tools and stooges (we've even seen it locally).

And it is now also becoming very clear that "vote fraud" and the call for photo ID as a voting requirement, both here in Wisconsin and nationally, is just as organized, just as insidious, and just as phony as all the rest. Every blogger, every pundit, every politician who has demanded photo ID in order to fight the nebulous threat of "fraud" has, quite simply and unmistakably, been punk'd. Just flat punk'd.

I was already working on this theory when something Greg Palast wrote this week set off all kinds of sirens in my head:
That was two years back, while I was investigating strange doings in New Mexico and Arizona, where, simultaneously, state legislators, Republicans all, claimed they had evidence of “voter fraud.” Psychiatrists call this kind of mutual delusional behavior folie a deux. I suspected something else: I smelled Karl Rove.

In the New Mexico legislature, a suburban Albuquerque political hackette, Justine Fox-Young (her real name), claimed to have “several” specific cases of vote identity rustling. Like Joe McCarthy waving his list of “Communists,” she waived documents of “evidence” of illegal voting on the floor of the Legislature
I wonder if you got the same thing, that you heard this before, but this is what I thought of:
At a Milwaukee news conference, party leaders--including the sponsors of the photo ID bill--said the findings of duplicate voters here and in other cities add a new urgency to reforms. They also called on investigators, who already have charged nine people with voter fraud in the city, to expand the review to include the new scenario. [. . .] At the news conference outside a house in the 1600 block of N. Astor St., state GOP chairman Rick Graber was joined by state Rep. Jeff Stone (R-Greendale) and Sen. Joe Leibham (R-Sheboygan), sponsors of the photo ID bill.
A couple of other incidents just like that here in Wisconsin also came to mind and I wondered if it were possible that this was more widespread than just here and New Mexico. And, what do you know, a googling turned up very similar press conferences or statements by Republicans in New Jersey, Washington State, and Iowa, and I bet some enterprising soul with Lexis-Nexis could come up with something like that from every swing state (and probably others) in 2004 and 2005.

These allegations--here in Wisconsin, in Missouri, and elsewhere--have been used to bolster the case for requiring photo ID from voters, and idea that last week passed the Wisconsin state assembly, with some Democrats' help. There will be a lot of pressure on the Democratic-controlled senate to do the same, a move that would pass the amendment on to voters for approval. But Dems need to stand strong.

Of course, the photo-ID requirement won't stop whatever fraud Republicans think they see (just read through that story about Missouri). Take, for example, the recent report that 82 felons may have voted in the November 2006 elections. Every one of those felons provided their real names, so how would an ID requirement have stopped them? And let's not forget those "fraud" cases from 2004. As I noted then, all of the suspected cases initially hyped by Republicans and prosecutors (200 felons, 100 double-voters) came from same-day registrants. What do you have to do to register to vote in Wisconsin? That's right--show proof of identity! If there were hijinks, ID was already involved somehow. Requiring more wouldn't have necessarily stopped any of it.

(Some highlights from those "double-voters" include people like Cynthia Alicea , who filled out two cards at the request of poll workers and then was accused of voting twice. Or the guy who admitted to voting twice but who used his social security card to register the second time--which never should have been allowed, since social security cards are not on the list of valid ID. A photo ID amendment wouldn't stop cases like that.)

Nationally, remember the report I linked last week that identifies three kinds of voter fraud as being pervasive: asbentee ballot fraud, vote buying, and phony registrations by paid-per-signature registrars. None of these are stoppable with photo ID, and polling-place fraud, which might be, is almost non-existent, according to the report. In fact, the only person objecting to the report--besides the Bush Administration cronies who edited the report to make it sound like fraud was more common--was Jason Torchinsky from the American Center for Voting Rights.

ACVR ends up being a key player in this drama, a drama that some very smart people on the interwebs have been piecing together before me, people like Greg Palast and digby. But I want to start with the McClatchy newspapers:
For six years, the Bush administration, aided by Justice Department political appointees, has pursued an aggressive legal effort to restrict voter turnout in key battleground states in ways that favor Republican political candidates.

The administration intensified its efforts last year as President Bush's popularity and Republican support eroded heading into a midterm battle for control of Congress, which the Democrats won.

Facing nationwide voter registration drives by Democratic-leaning groups, the administration alleged widespread election fraud and endorsed proposals for tougher state and federal voter identification laws. Presidential political adviser Karl Rove alluded to the strategy in April 2006 when he railed about voter fraud in a speech to the Republican National Lawyers Association [more here].

Questions about the administration's campaign against alleged voter fraud have helped fuel the political tempest over the firings last year of eight U.S. attorneys, several of whom were ousted in part because they failed to bring voter fraud cases important to Republican politicians. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales could shed more light on the reasons for those firings when he appears Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Civil rights advocates charge that the administration's policies were intended to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of poor and minority voters who tend to support Democrats, and by filing state and federal lawsuits, civil rights groups have won court rulings blocking some of its actions.
The story goes on from there to detail how the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, specifically its Voting Rights Section, became so filled with deeply partisan appointees that you can no longer trust that they intend to protect everyone's rights. Digby identifies one of the Voting Rights Section lawyers as a member of the Republican National Lawyers Association that Rove spoke to, and notes that there are dozens of others like that guy--disturbing.

The McClatchy article also details what they call a "secret unit" in the Voting Rights Section, which includes a guy named Hans von Spakovsky, whom digby reminds us was a part of Bush's Florida 2000 legal team, bringing us right back around to the "Brooks Brothers Riot" that started us off. Digby connects the dots even further back than that, to groups whose sole purpose was to stifle minority--read: Democratic--turnout. No wonder he got tapped by Bush for Florida's legal mess, and no wonder he now works almost in secret at Justice doing what he used to do, only now paid by your tax dollars.

Finally, I turn to digby once more to point out why this story is only going to get worse for Republicans: As more and more documents come out in the US Attorney probe, we will see more and more of these connections to the Bush Administration and the Republican Party.

We know that one of the early reasons given for why the US Attorneys were fired is that they didn't prosecute this non-existent vote fraud: John McKay in Washington State and David Iglesias in New Mexico went on record that they didn't find anything they could prosecute, and now they're out of a job. Our very own Steve Biskupic said he didn't see any wide-spread fraud and wound up on the list at the urging of state Republicans. (Biskupic did get some convictions though, and a few of them even withstood appeals, though not this one.)

It seems only likely that the trail of this vote fraud fraud is going to lead right back to the White House. Maybe we'll never get copies of the memos that spurred near-identical press conferences and charges by elected Republicans and party officials in state after state. Maybe we'll never have the kind of evidence of a conspiracy like we have from 40 years ago (The names are different but it sure sounds like it could have been written for 2004, not 1964.) But there will be more dots to connect than the ones I have here, I am certain.

In the end, though, the dots are pretty strong in what they suggest once you draw the lines: Voter fraud just doesn't happen they way Republicans say it does, no matter how loudly they say it. But because they say it, it gets parroted back by people who ought to know better, who should be smarter than to fall for another punking at the hands of the party that they pathetically try to defend.

So around and around we go: The Republicans lie (it seems to be their ethic, the bloggers and pundits fall for it, bad legislation gets passed and the corrupt Republicans at the stop secure their power just a little more tightly. But for those of us who are watching you guys get punk'd, it's not really funny.

We just feel sorry for you.

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