- The online division of The Sacramento Bee

Published 12:00 am PDT Sunday, April 22, 2007



DOJ strategy: Limit voting in swing states

Political appointees allegedly skewed rulings to influence outcome of elections


After the debacle of the 2000 presidential election, Congress and the Bush administration made a fine show of wanting to restore integrity to a ballot process that was widely seen as a tragic mess.


Then-Attorney General John Ashcroft created a "Ballot Access and Voter Integrity Initiative" that sounded as if it might put teeth into laws to protect rights of minority voters. Congress established the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, a bipartisan agency told to review voting "fraud" and "intimidation."


Now there is evidence that both efforts provided cover for an agenda of disenfranchising voters.


As Greg Gordon of the McClatchy Washington Bureau has reported, Bush appointees in the Justice Department have pursued sweeping legal efforts to restrict voter turnout in battleground states since 2001. His findings should alarm all who care about the right to vote.


Gordon documents how since 2001 political appointees, in nearly every case, came down on the side of Republican Party interests. In Georgia, they reviewed and cleared a state law that tightened voter ID requirements. A court later ruled the law unconstitutional for infringing on the rights of low-income voters.


Bush appointees issued legal opinions that prompted states to disqualify new voter registrants if their identities didn't match database information precisely. They did little to enforce a 1993 law that requires state public assistance agencies to register voters. And they sued six states on grounds they had too many people on voter rolls, resulting in purges.


The Justice Department insists it has a "robust record" of enforcing voting laws, but Joseph Rich, former chief of the department's Voting Rights Section, strongly disagrees. Rich spent 35 years in the department. He left in 2005, fed up, as he wrote in the Los Angeles Times, with political appointees who "skewed aspects of law enforcement in ways that clearly were intended to influence the outcome of elections."


Florida, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Washington were affected by the administration's actions. So was California. In a decision cleared by the Justice Department, former California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson rejected 20,000 voter registration applications in 2006.


Why? In many cases, names entered in voter databases -- such as De La Torre or O'Neal -- did not match up precisely with Department of Motor Vehicles records. Only after an outcry did McPherson reverse his decision.


Equally disturbing is how the supposedly bipartisan U.S. Election Assistance Commission treated findings by its independent consultants. As the New York Times reported, the consultants found minimal evidence of voter fraud nationwide -- impersonation, "dead" voters, felon voters, etc. -- and plenty of evidence of voter intimidation. Apparently that didn't square with the administration's agenda, so the findings were altered.


The Senate put Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on the hot seat last week for firing eight U.S. attorneys, including some who appear not to have met the administration's litmus test for prosecuting voter fraud. Yet this travesty of justice goes way beyond Gonzales. Congress and investigative journalists should track it to its ultimate source.


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