Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Tweed Effect

“As long as I get to count the votes, what are you going to do about
it?” --- William “Boss” Tweed.

Nothing validates the American Democratic experience like election
day. Be you a Tea Bagger or a Trotskyite, it’s your chance to make
your voice heard.

But truth be told, it’s a day that has seen enough snafus, fraud and
dirty tricks to make old Boss Tweed smile in approval. And this year
promises to be no exception.

According to a report by two nationwide voting rights groups, Demos
and Common Cause, administrative complexities or intentional
interference in the registration and voting process can result in
individuals not voting or casting ballots that count, as was the case
for 3 million eligible voters in 2008's presidential election.

In the past, I tended to take this alarmist view with a grain of
salt. The losing party always cries foul, the winners claim the
spoils. But it seems each year things get worse.

Now, Tea Party members have started challenging voter registration
applications and have announced plans to question individual voters
at the polls whom they suspect of being ineligible, according to
published reports.

In response, liberal groups and voting rights advocates claim that
such strategies are scare tactics intended to suppress minority and
poor voters.

That conflict is underscored in the Demos/Common Cause report, which
states that the current political climate is not conducive to an
orderly state of things. Health care reform, the tea party movement,
the party in power watching that power dissipate and the immigration
debate combine to make it a particularly volatile season.

"When the stakes are this high, the rules of the game -- and whether
or not they are enforced -- make all the difference," said Susannah
Goodman, director of election reform for Common Cause and co-author
of the report. "This report shows where we need better rules—and
better referees."

Eligible voters, especially first-time voters, could be asked to
present ID beyond legal requirements, be videotaped, or receive
misinformation about where and when to vote -- all before even
entering a polling place, according to the two groups. Once inside
polls, individuals could have their credentials as eligible voters
challenged by partisans.

According to one report, the ability to widely disseminate
misinformation --by Internet-based phone calls, fraudulent e-mails,
etc. – is growing faster than you can say tweet. One example cited by
Common Cause and Demos was from Ohio's Butler County, where a cyber
attack on the county Web site delayed the reporting of results during
the spring primary. The attack caused the county server to crash.

On a somewhat less Draconian note, a GOP operative in Arizona this
year enlisted homeless people to run for state office on the Green
Party ticket -- possibly in hopes of siphoning votes away from

In Michigan, Democrats are facing ongoing allegations that the 23
candidates filed to run under the tea party line are Democratic
plants. Almost 60,000 of the tea party's signatures were collected by
a political firm with ties to liberal groups, and a Democratic Party
official notarized the paperwork for some of the tea party candidates.

Two years ago, we were witness to a plethora of election day dirty

In Virginia, bogus fliers with an authentic-looking commonwealth seal
said fears of high voter turnout had prompted election officials to
hold two elections — one on Tuesday for Republicans and another on
Wednesday for Democrats.

In Milwaukee, fliers went up advising people "if you've already voted
in any election this year, you can't vote in the presidential

Latino voters in Nevada said they had received calls from people
describing themselves as Obama volunteers, urging them to cast their
ballot over the phone.

Also that year, Republican candidates Rudy Guliani, Fred Thompson and
Mitt Romney were targeted in fake Internet sites that featured
"quotes" from the candidates espousing support for extreme positions
they never endorsed.

What’s to be done? Our elected representatives seem reluctant to do
much of anything. While we have laws prohibiting such deceptive
practices, Congress clearly needs to toughen them.

It’s called preventive maintenance. As the stakes get higher, the
temptation to tamper with voter rights gets stronger.

We can ill afford a loss of confidence in the cornerstone of our
democratic process.

We would also be wise to listen to Allen Raymond, who knows
first-hand the pitfalls of voter fraud.

Raymond is a Republican political consultant who spent three months
in federal prison for his role in the 2002 New Hampshire Senate
election phone jamming scandal.

In his book, “How to Rig and Election,” Raymond warns:
“The electioneering tactics I write about it the book will only get
nastier and more brutal, because the tricks of the trade are known,
embellished upon, and passed forward by people like me to more people
like me (or, like the person I had been paid to be). The competition
is growing stiffer and the stakes are rising with every election.

"The only real solution is a savvy, committed electorate.”

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