Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Tuesday, November 27, 2012 6:09 pm

I am not Pamela C. Marsh

… and it’s a damn good thing for some high-ranking Florida Republicans that I am not. For Pamela C. Marsh is the United States Attorney for the Northern Judicial District of Florida. And were I she, I would have begun convening a grand jury in Tallahassee this morning before my second cup of coffee:

A new Florida law that contributed to long voter lines and caused some to abandon voting altogether was intentionally designed by Florida GOP staff and consultants to inhibit Democratic voters, former GOP officials and current GOP consultants have told The Palm Beach Post.

Republican leaders said in proposing the law that it was meant to save money and fight voter fraud. But a former GOP chairman and former Gov. Charlie Crist, both of whom have been ousted from the party, now say that fraud concerns were advanced only as subterfuge for the law’s main purpose: GOP victory.

Former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer says he attended various meetings, beginning in 2009, at which party staffers and consultants pushed for reductions in early voting days and hours.

“The Republican Party, the strategists, the consultants, they firmly believe that early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates,” Greer told The Post. “It’s done for one reason and one reason only. … ‘We’ve got to cut down on early voting because early voting is not good for us,’ ” Greer said he was told by those staffers and consultants.

“They never came in to see me and tell me we had a (voter) fraud issue,” Greer said. “It’s all a marketing ploy.”

Greer is now under indictment, accused of stealing $200,000 from the party through a phony campaign fundraising operation. He, in turn, has sued the party, saying GOP leaders knew what he was doing and voiced no objection.

“Jim Greer has been accused of criminal acts against this organization and anything he says has to be considered in that light,” says Brian Burgess, Florida GOP spokesman since September.

But Greer’s statements about the motivations for the party’s legislative efforts, implemented by a GOP-majority House and Senate in Tallahassee in 2011, are backed by Crist — also now on the outs with the party — and two veteran GOP campaign consultants.

Wayne Bertsch, who handles local and legislative races for Republicans, said he knew targeting Democrats was the goal.

“In the races I was involved in in 2008, when we started seeing the increase of turnout and the turnout operations that the Democrats were doing in early voting, it certainly sent a chill down our spines. And in 2008, it didn’t have the impact that we were afraid of. It got close, but it wasn’t the impact that they had this election cycle,” Bertsch said, referring to the fact that Democrats picked up seven legislative seats in Florida in 2012 despite the early voting limitations.

Another GOP consultant, who did not want to be named, also confirmed that influential consultants to the Republican Party of Florida were intent on beating back Democratic turnout in early voting after 2008.

In 2008 Democrats, especially African-Americans, turned out in unprecedented numbers for President Barack Obama, many of them casting ballots during 14 early voting days. In Palm Beach County, 61.2 percent of all early voting ballots were cast by Democrats that year, compared with 18.7 percent by Republicans.

(Memo to the Florida Republicans: Jim Greer might well be willing to say anything at all to keep his own butt of prison, assuming the charges against him are legitimate, which is by no means certain at this point. But your main beef with Charlie Crist seems to be that he’s not batshit enough for you. IANAL, but I think you’re gonna need more than that to impeach his testimony when you cross-examine him. And not only does Wayne Bertsch not appear to have an ax to grind, he appears to be writing off a lot of future business by coming forward.)

What would be at issue in this grand jury investigation? Well, its formal title would be Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 13, subsections 241 and 242 of the United States Code:

UNITED STATES CODE
TITLE 18 – CRIMES AND CRIMINAL PROCEDURE
PART I – CRIMES
CHAPTER 13 – CIVIL RIGHTS

§ 241. Conspiracy against rights

If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any inhabitant of any State, Territory, or District in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same; or

If two or more persons go in disguise on the highway, or on the premises of another, with intent to prevent or hinder his free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege so secured -

They shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and if death results, they shall be subject to imprisonment for any term of years or for life.
§ 242. Deprivation of rights under color of law

Whoever, under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, willfully subjects any inhabitant of any State, Territory, or District to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or to different punishments, pains, or penalties, on account of such inhabitant being an alien, or by reason of his color, or race, than are prescribed for the punishment of citizens, shall be fined not more than $1,000 or imprisoned not more than one year, or both; and if bodily injury results shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and if death results shall be subject to imprisonment for any term of years or for life.

Within my lifetime, people of all races and creeds have died in the United States seeking, or trying to protect, the right to vote, and these smart-ass Republican white boys think it’s all a goddamn game. Of course, to them it is all a game. And it will stay that way until they spend a year or 10 in prison and cough up five-figure fines and six-figure legal fees.

As I’ve said before, the evidence strongly suggests that the death penalty is not a deterrent to homicide, even though the likelihood of being caught and punished is pretty high, because homicide is a crime frequently committed in the heat of the moment. But this? This is planned, rational, willful, intentional and cold-blooded. And that is exactly the kind of behavior that harsh penalties combined with the likelihood of being caught and punished will deter.

So were I Pamela C. Marsh, U.S. Attorney for the Northern Judicial District of Florida, I would not wait around for my worthless boss, Eric Holder, to get his thumbs out of his rear end and give me the OK or shoot an email to the Civil Rights Division. I’d do my job prosecuting conspiracies against civil rights in northern Florida and dare Holder, an African American, and his boss, the president, also an African American, to do anything about it. Holder might; after all, Karl Rove did something very similar and was never charged. But my guess is that once that investigation started, even Holder wouldn’t be idiotic enough to try to stop it. And the U.S. would be a tiny step farther down the still-very-long road toward the equal protection under the law that we wrote into the Constitution a century and a half ago.

Saturday, November 3, 2012 7:43 pm

Memo to Mitt and the GOP

I honestly don’t know who’s going to win the presidential election on Tuesday. The New York Times’s much-praised and much maligned Nate Silver gives Obama something like an 80 percent chance, but as Silver himself will tell you, that’s probability only and the other  20 percent — i.e., Romney’s chances — is not trivial.

But I think that the Republicans think they know who’s going to win on Tuesday, and they’re acting like they’re pretty sure it’s not their guy. Consider:

  • Florida Gov. Rick Scott — who, in a nation governed by the rule of law, would have gone to prison for defrauding the government during his previous life as CEO of a for-profit health concern — has tried as hard as he can to limit and harass early voting in Florida. I’m sure the fact that early voters there — as in most of the rest of the country — are predominantly Democratic has nothing to do with it.
  • Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, who already has gotten in trouble with the federal courts over his messing around with voting, has imposed new rules that essentially require the voter to act as his own elections official or else his vote won’t count. Voting rights activists sued last name night, claiming that Husted’s action violates a previous court order, statements by Husted’s own attorneys and Ohio state law as well. Were I the judge in the previous case, I’d have had his ass in jail on a 6-month contempt-of-court sentence before the sun set today, because this is exactly the kind of behavior that contempt-of-court citations — and impeachments — were created to address.

And that’s just government. Here in the Republican-exalted private sector, things are even peachier for representative democracy:

WASHINGTON — The Mitt Romney campaign and its business allies are driving home a final message unlike one we’ve seen in past presidential campaigns: Vote Romney, or you’re fired.

The pressure on workers in swing states to toe the GOP line hasn’t been restricted to any particular industry. Corporate apparel makers in Ohio, truck stop attendants in Ohio and Virginia, casino employees in Nevada, construction workers in Florida, gift-card purveyors in Colorado and Florida, car-parts makers in Michigan, software technicians in Florida and Colorado, coal miners in Ohio, dock manufacturers in Wisconsin, frozen-food packers in Michigan, resort staff in Florida, Virginia and Nevada, and people all over the country who work — or used to work — for Koch Industries or another Koch-owned company have all been given notice by their boss that an Obama victory could lead to layoffs or otherwise harm the company and its workers.

Even workers who’d already been laid off by the Kochs were mailed letters urging them to vote Republican or else “suffer the consequences” of Obama policies that would harm the company.

Romney himself urged conservative business leaders this June to “make it very clear to your employees what you believe is in the best interest of your enterprise and therefore their job and their future in the upcoming elections.”

Before the Supreme Court’s 5-4 Citizens United decision, it would have been illegal for a boss to tell an employee that “their job and their future” was on the ballot on Election Day. But the court now considers such electoral pressure an expression of free speech.

A few observations and opinions:

As I said earlier, this is not the behavior of a party that expects to win on the merits.

More particularly, if you have to engage in conspiracy to deny American voters their civil rights — which carries up to 10 years and a $10,000 fine, Rick Scott and Jon Husted — you’re not only acting like you don’t expect to win, you’re acting like you don’t want to be an American anymore. Well, don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out, because keeping legal voters from voting is about as un-American as it gets.

Americans let the GOP steal the election in 2000, and by a large majority, they think we got the worst president in modern times out of that deal. I doubt they’ll be so willing to let it happen again, particularly when, as is the case this time, it’s so blatant and out in the open.

And finally, for the moron CEOs who are threatening their employees if they don’t vote for Romney — despite the fact that under Obama they’ve posted record profits, amassed record cash reserves, watched the Dow double since this president took office, avoided any punishment for blowing up the whole economy in 2008 AND enjoyed the lowest top marginal income tax rates and corporate income tax rates since the Korean freakin’ War and the greatest income inequality since the days of Jay and Daisy — here’s our response to you:

  • We already had the feudalism-vs.-democracy argument. In 1776. Your side lost. Get the hell over it.
  • The U.S. abolished peonage a long time ago. Get the hell over it.
  • WE ARE AMERICANS. WE DO NOT NEGOTIATE WITH TERRORISTS.

Thursday, March 8, 2012 8:05 pm

Citizens United and this other thing; or, How to steal an election

This short post by Charlie Pierce at Esquire on a World War II veteran who was denied the right to vote on Tuesday because elections officials refused his government issued Department of Veterans Affairs card is a model of providing context, a key function that journalists now more or less refuse to do because it’s hard and they might get called a bad name or something:

As the election year goes on, these kind of stories are going to become a staple of campaign coverage, like watching the candidates try to eat corn dogs in Iowa, flip pancakes in New Hampshire, and pretend to care about baseball in Florida. There is going to be a story like this in every media market. Some ambitious young reporter is going to be assigned to the Old Guy Who Voted In Every Election Since FDR But Who Couldn’t Vote This Time Because Of The New Law beat. There will be pathos. There will be drama. But the fundamental fact that these laws are an organized national assault on the right of the people to elect their own leaders, because sometimes the people elect leadersof whom the rat******s of the organized right do not approve, like Kenyan Muslim Usurpers Of The Alinsky Underground, will get lost in all the pathos and drama. These people will be treated as sob stories, not cautionary tales. They will be used as background election-day “color.” They will be depicted as individual figures of pity and not of what they are: American citizens cheated out of the most precious right they have by a nationwide conspiracy to defraud. See the trees. See the forest, too.

A small quibble: I don’t think it’s “conspiracy to defraud” so much as “conspiracy against rights” as defined in Title 18, Section 241 of the U.S. Code:

If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same;…

They shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and if death results from the acts committed in violation of this section or if such acts include kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill, they shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for any term of years or for life, or both, or may be sentenced to death.

I think “oppress” covers what’s going on here, and given emails that already have been made public, there’s no lack of evidence.

Now, back to Pierce. There are, in order of increasing degree of difficulty, three types of hard-news stories.

There is the event story, such as that of our unfortunate voter.

There is the pattern story, which would note a confluence of similar events.

And, finally, there is the system story, which explains what gives rise to these patterns.

In one reasonably short paragraph, Pierce illustrates how this works. (I won’t say “shows how it’s done” because he makes assertions that, while provable, are not documented in this short blog post.)

The Republicans, given a clown car full of big red noses at the top of the ticket and a nearly unbroken string of losing issues from their economic plans to their drumbeats for war with Iran to their unconscionable defense of Rush Limbaugh to their attempts to ban contraception and shrink government enough to turn it into a transvaginal probe, know that there are only two ways to win in November: outspend their opponents overwhelmingly via the mechanisms made possible by Citizens United v. FEC, and keeping the other side from being able to vote. And if you have to break a few state and federal laws to do it, well, screw the Constitution, we’ve got an election to win.

There have been some encouraging developments along this front, but this was is not over and the good guys — by which I mean the people who believe that every eligible American citizen who wishes to vote should be enabled to do so and not frustrated by government efforts — will not stop.

Let me offer one last bit of systems reporting, or analysis of other people’s reporting, bringing in a topic that might appear mostly unrelated.

There has been a movement afoot among some conservatives lately to repeal the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was enacted to ensure that states that had been the most egregious offenders against minorities in the Jim Crow era didn’t act with respect to voting and elections in ways that would unduly burden minorities. One attractive argument for repeal is that we’re now in a “post-racial era” in which the sins of Jim Crow have been expunged.

But as the effort to enact photo-ID requirements for voting gains steam, it is clear that Jim Crow has not left the building: Racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately less able to obtain photo ID of the type some states are requiring, and requiring people to pay for. (So are the very old, the very young, the disabled, those who do not or cannot drive, ex-offenders who have had their citizenship rights restored, and other groups, all of whom share a tendency to vote disproportionately for Democrats.) Not only does requiring people to pay to get ID suitable for voting violate Supreme Court rulings banning poll taxes, it also violates the Voting Rights Act, which bans not only the intent to discriminate against minorities, but even measures that have the unintended effect of disproportionately harming minorities.

That’s why Republicans, particularly, want to repeal the Voting Rights Act: Repeal would allow them to use the most potent weapon they have to suppress the votes of people who are unlikely to vote for them. They know damn well that racism hasn’t gone away, but that’s almost beside the point. The point is that they’re trying to prevent people from voting who almost certainly will vote against them. (The claim that voting fraud is a substantial problem in the real world, for which photo ID is a practical solution, is a canard. In the real world, vote fraud is vanishingly rare, in part because of the enormous personal risk relative to the reward.)

When people engage in this kind of behavior in almost any other realm, we call it cheating. In elections, we call it a federal felony and assign a significant, meaningful punishment. It’s long past time we started punishing people.

Friday, February 10, 2012 7:20 pm

The REAL voting problem — vote suppression by the GOP — by the numbers

If you’re a regular reader, you know how I feel about voting and the bogus “voter fraud” spectre being raised by the GOP. I’ve argued, to varying degrees of belief on the part of my readers, that the real problem isn’t voter fraud — that is, someone casting a vote he is not legally entitled to cast, by virtue of his not residing where he votes or by virtue (?) of his posing as  an existing eligible voter or by virtue of using an entirely fictitious identity.

Rather, I’ve argued, the real problem is that the Republican Party, apparently believing it cannot win an honest election, is doing everything it can to prevent legally eligible voters from voting, using “voter fraud” as an excuse for measures, such as requiring photo I.D. (an unconstitutional poll tax under another name, as more than one court has found), that it knows will make voting harder for certain large populations — the elderly, very young adults, racial and ethnic minorities, those who do not or cannot drive, and ex-felons — who tend to vote disproportionately for Democrats.

It’s an anti-get-out-the-vote campaign. It’s illegal and it’s unconstitutional (and arguably a federal crime), but the Republican Party and a good bit of our mainstream media are treating it as simply one more debatable notion in the era of postmodern law and politics.

Unfortunately, here in the real world, facts still matter, valid data still matter. And David Rothschild, an economist for Yahoo! Research (and, boy, doesn’t the phrase “an economist for Yahoo! Research” tell you how much the world has changed) with a Ph.D. in applied economics from the Wharton School of Business, tells us that those data show that Republicans, on this issue as on so many others, are full of crap:

Based on the most conservative estimates, then, we can estimate that voter ID laws could disenfranchise between 10,000-500,000 eligible voters for every 1-100 blocked fraudulent votes. Here’s how I get there:

It may seem like a government-issued photo ID isn’t so much to ask to cast a vote—after all, you need one to drive, get on a plane, or have a beer. The fact is that many eligible voters do not have the right documents under new or proposed laws. The right-wing Heritage Foundation trumpets a paper that claims that only 1.2% registered voters lack valid a photo ID. That may seem low, but nearly 130 million votes were cast in the 2008 presidential election, so that would translate into roughly 1,560,000 voters. The Heritage Foundation’s estimate is the lowest I could find. In 2007, the Georgia Secretary of State estimated 198,000 registered voters there did not have government issued photo IDs and in South Carolina, 200,000 registered voters do not have a photo ID that would be valid for voting under the proposed law, according to the state election commission. That translates into roughly 4-5 percent of voters for Georgia and 8-10 percent of voters for South Carolina, based on 2008 registration and vote totals.

Those eligible citizens who do not have a photo ID tend towards the more disenfranchised citizens:25% of African-Americans have no photo ID, 15% of people earning less than $35,000 have no photo ID, and 18% of the elderly have no photo ID. This represents millions of citizens in each category. Such laws also penalize college students since many of these laws require in-state photo IDs, which prevents college students from voting at their college if they attend from out-of-state.

Voter ID laws do not stop people who have fraudulently registered as themselves. The vast majority of these cases are people who believed themselves to be eligible, notably felons that do not know they are ineligible to vote in a given state. States that bar felons, such as Florida, have traditionally been so vigilant in blocking felons that thousands of eligible voters have been inadvertently purged from the voter rolls in the state’s fixation to ensure that felons do not vote. Nor would these laws stop non-citizens from voting as themselves. (Even so, investigations have found voting by non-citizens to be extremely rare; a study of 370,000 votes cast in Milwaukee from 1992-2000 showed 4 votes by non-citizens.)

The main voter fraud that photo IDs would stop, then, is that of a person voting in lieu of another registered voter; this is likely someone who has died, as it is otherwise hard to estimate when a live registered voter will not be voting. Again, studies have shown very few votes by dead people in recent election cycles; this study by the FBI showed that all 89 dead voters in a Maryland election died after they voted. Many other presumed dead voters are caused by clerical errors on death certificates.

(snip)

So here’s the question: if the most conservative estimates are correct and 10,000 eligible voters are disenfranchised so that 100 non-eligible votes can be stopped, do you think that that is a fair deal for democracy?

That’s a good question. Let’s rephrase it:

So here’s the question: if the most conservative estimates are correct and 10,000 innocent people are executed so that 100 murderers can be stopped from getting off scot-free, do you think that that is a fair deal for democracy?

But wait, you say, voting and murder aren’t the same thing, and not getting to vote isn’t like being wrongly executed!

In terms of the consequences, of course, that’s absolutely correct.

But in America, we consider the right to life, absent due judicial process, to be fundamental and absolute. Guess what? We think exactly the same thing of the right to vote. Just as Americans have died over the centuries to protect their fellow citizens’ lives, so, too, have Americans died — and not just in the Jim Crow South — to protect the rights of their fellow citizens to vote. The right to vote is a Big Damn Deal and the closest thing to settled law, outside the realm of life and death, that this country has. Indeed, given our constitutional transgressions post-9/11, you could argue it is the most settled point of constitutional law.

So why are the Republicans doing what they’re doing, besides the tactical fact that if everyone who is eligible to vote does so, they’re going to lose a lot more than they’re going to win?

Because, philosophically, Republicans who support these voter-suppression efforts do not believe that every citizen has the right to vote.  And whatever else you want to call that belief, you need to call it what it is: un-American.

Monday, December 5, 2011 8:02 pm

Quote of the Day, democracy edition

From Digby at Hullabaloo, a better political analyst than anyone now working for The New York Times or Washington Post:

Both parties are woefully corrupt and inept, but only one of them is engaged in systematic vote suppression. It doesn’t make the other side heroes, but it does show one important distinction between the two.

When the Republican Party is running around trying to keep legally entitled people from voting, I think it’s fair to ask why they hate freedom and why they hate America.

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