Getting Even

Margaret Talev and Marisa Taylor of McClatchy Newspapers report that

Only weeks before last year’s pivotal midterm elections, the White House urged the Justice Department to pursue voter-fraud allegations against Democrats in three battleground states, a high-ranking Justice official has told congressional investigators.

In two instances in October 2006, President Bush’s political adviser, Karl Rove, or his deputies passed the allegations on to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ then-chief of staff, Kyle Sampson.

Sampson tapped Gonzales aide Matthew Friedrich, who’d just left his post as chief of staff of the criminal division. In the first case, Friedrich agreed to find out whether Justice officials knew of “rampant” voter fraud or “lax” enforcement in parts of New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and report back.

But Friedrich declined to pursue a related matter from Wisconsin, he told congressional investigators, because an inquiry so close to an election could inappropriately sway voting results. Friedrich decided not to pass the matter on to the criminal division for investigation, even though Sampson gave him a 30-page report prepared by Republican activists that made claims of voting fraud.

Friedrich testified in a closed-door session, but a “senior congressional aide familiar with the testimony” described it to McClatchy Newspapers.

After Murray Waas reported yesterday

The Bush administration has withheld a series of e-mails from Congress showing that senior White House and Justice Department officials worked together to conceal the role of Karl Rove in installing Timothy Griffin, a protégé of Rove’s, as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

… I’d say it would be hard for the White House to claim that Karl or somebody was not trying to use the Justice Department to gain advantage in midterm elections. The White House, of course, claims this anyway.

At Salon, Garrett Epps writes that “the assault on voter fraud was a solution looking for a problem.”

Republicans do cherish their little practical jokes — the leaflets in African-American neighborhoods warning that voters must pay outstanding traffic tickets before voting; the calls in Virginia in 2006 from the mythical “Virginia Election Commission” warning voters they would be arrested if they showed up at the polls. The best way to steal an election is the old-fashioned way: control who shows up. It’s widely known that Republicans do better when the turnout is lighter, whiter, older and richer; minorities, young people and the poor are easy game for hoaxes and intimidation.

The latest and most elaborate of these jokes is the urban legend that American elections are rife with voter fraud, particularly in the kinds of poor and minority neighborhoods inhabited by Democrats. In 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that fraudulent voting would be a major target of the Department of Justice. As the New York Times reported last month, the main result of this massive effort was such coups as the deportation of a legal immigrant who mistakenly filled out a voter-registration card while waiting in line at the department of motor vehicles.

But the administration has remained ferociously committed to suppressing voter fraud — as soon as it can find some.

I like this bit:

As part of the Help America Vote Act, Republicans insisted on creating the Election Assistance Commission, which commissioned studies of the asserted problem. When the studies failed to turn up evidence of fraud nationwide, appointed Republican officials on the EAC insisted that the language say only that “there is a great deal of debate on the pervasiveness of fraud in elections” — the same approach to inconvenient evidence that’s made the Bush global-warming policy the envy of the world.

IMO the legend that Democrats only get elected because they cheat has been brewing among Republicans for decades. You might remember that the old big city bosses, from William Tweed of New York to Richard Daley (the Elder) of Chicago, were famous for delivering votes for Democrats using less than honest means. But though he’s been dead for more than thirty years, the ghost of Richard Daley, the last of the bosses, still haunts the GOP.

For decades after the 1960 presidential elections Republicans complained that John Kennedy beat Richard Nixon only because Daley stuffed ballot boxes to deliver Chicago (and thereby Illinois) for Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson likewise fixed the vote in Texas. The legend is that Richard Nixon shrugged it off and let Kennedy get away with stealing the election. The truth is that local and national GOP officials investigated allegations of fraud vigorously and challenged results in many precincts in court. As David Greenburg wrote in Slate awhile back, the only tangible result of the several recounts was that Hawaii’s three electoral votes were taken away from Nixon and given to Kennedy. Otherwise, whatever fraud probably occurred wasn’t significant enough to have changed the outcome.

Nevertheless, I noticed through the years that many rank-and-file Republicans nursed a massive grudge about being cheated at the polls. As a result, IMO, they see fraud every time a Democrat wins an election. And they’ve developed a sense of entitlement that it’s OK for them to cheat back.

An article by Phyllis Schlafly written in December 2000 justifies George Bush’s “win” by dredging up the ghost of the 1960 election (“The stuffing of the ballot boxes in Cook County, Illinois and in Texas has been so well substantiated that it is no longer disputed today.”) and implying that William Daley, Gore’s campaign manager, was a vote-stealer like this old man.

See also this “analysis” of the 2000 Florida recount that presents most of the rumors and allegations flying around at the time —

As this is written, we do not know who will be the next president,” the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal declared on Nov. 9, 1960, as the nation awaited results in the presidential contest between Sen. John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Vice President Richard M. Nixon. The closeness of that 1960 race and the undeniable fraud were followed by the manly response of Nixon. What a far cry that was from the lachrymose Chinese opera now surrounding Al Gore and George W. Bush as history no longer is being repeated but reshaped.

Despite allegations of Democratic election fraud, particularly in Texas and Chicago, where former senator Lyndon Johnson and the family of former mayor Richard J. Daley were past masters at political pilfering, the Nixon campaign surmised that legal challenges would, in the end, be fruitless. The Gore campaign saw the landscape differently. In fact, it produced a “Chad”-aquiddick drama that has cast a cloud over the Sunshine State’s 25 electoral votes — something which may have been foreseen by Gore when he chose Richard J. Daley’s son, William Daley, to be his campaign manager.

The pattern was there. From the hyperactive get-out-the-vote effort launched by the Democratic National Committee and such sympathetic interest groups as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and organized labor, the ward-healing Democrats were well ahead of their more inhibited GOP rivals. With Gore unable to gin up enough energy with his policy lectures and high-spirited, pulpit-pounding pronouncements, the party stepped up its effort to scour every county, district and precinct in search of Gore voters who might be bused, wheeled or carried drooling to the polls. Churches, schools, homeless shelters, mental asylums, nursing homes and even prisons were seen as housing potential voters to do their bit for the veep.

I remember at the time encountering a Bush supporter who was absolutely certain the Gore campaigned had bussed thousands of illegal immigrants across the border to vote for Gore. There were also rumors about thousands of convicted felons who had voted for Gore.

I have no idea if Karl Rove himself believes the legends, but I do know that Karl is brilliant at manipulating right-wing resentment and paranoia about “liberals” and Democrats. That’s where the sense of entitlement comes in; the Right long has believed it is literally at war with us, and all’s fair in war. Take, for example, the so-called “Brooks Brothers riot” of paid GOP operatives who terrorized the Miami-Dade canvassing board into stopping their vote recount. To us, that was bare-knuckle thuggery. But to righties it was a righteous strike for justice against an evil, powerful oppressor.

At this point I don’t think any amount of hard evidence would dissuade these loons that voter fraud is not the massive problem they think it is and that they are not entitled to cheat back. They see themselves as the peasants storming the Bastille. And yes, they’re nuts. What else is new?