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Political Animal

The Permanent Fix

By Brian Morton | Posted 1/16/2008

This is what happens when you hand over the country to the reactionary right wing for half a generation or so: Once the train is headed off the tracks, they rip the controls out so that any repairs will take three times as much time as it did to break them in the first place.

Last week the Supreme Court heard a challenge to Indiana's new voter ID program--the one passed on a party-line vote by a GOP legislature, signed by a Republican governor, then upheld by a series of GOP-stacked courts, all the way up to . . . right, you know where I'm going here.

As has been exhaustively chronicled here in this column, "ballot security" is the program through which Republicans try to minimize the ability of their opposition to cast votes. This is the ideological descendant of the old Jim Crow poll taxes and the like, by which minorities were kept away from enacting their will politically. Since Jim Crow was finally pushed out of the law books (at all deliberate speed, he said sarcastically), the former Dixiecrat Democrats-turned-Republicans needed some way to continue disenfranchising those they considered undesirable, politically. Since minorities, the old, and the poor tend to vote Democratic, the best method was to make voting as cumbersome and expensive a process as possible.

Thus, voter ID laws. There's nothing quite like a poll tax with an air of innocence to it to address a nonexistent problem that can be argued with a straight face. The fact is, despite all the talk of cheating at the ballot box (remember 1994 and the Sauerbrey-Glendening dustup?), the GOP has yet to find or produce any large-scale malicious voter fraud to point to in order to justify "ballot security" laws. In the Indiana case before the court, one of the amicus briefs, filed by the Brennan Center for Justice, analyzed every single complaint submitted by the state of Indiana, plus nine more states and the U.S Justice Department, as well as elections officials and more, and came up with not a single case that Indiana's voter ID law would have prevented. Not one.

Right now it appears that the only worthwhile case of voter fraud in America that was truly worth prosecuting was perhaps against Ann Coulter when she voted in the wrong precinct in Florida in 2006. But even in that case, justice went denied.

As usual, the tactic conforms to one of the two standard rules in the playbook made popular by Karl Rove: Attack your enemy's strength and project your own weakness. Much has been said about the tactic of attacking the enemy's strengths; this is how John Kerry got tarred as some effeminate coward despite several Purple Hearts and a Silver Star. The other side of this is to project your own weaknesses: If you're cheating, that's the first thing you accuse your opponent of, before he can accuse you.

There is no shortage of tales of GOP election malfeasance down through the years: John Dean wrote of how William Rehnquist, long before becoming chief justice, cut his teeth denying ballot access to minorities in Arizona. Richard Nixon had Donald Segretti and his "ratfuckers" long before Watergate. Current Mike Huckabee campaign chairman Ed Rollins bragged to Time magazine in 1993 that he paid black ministers to discourage their congregations from voting in that year's New Jersey gubernatorial race between his client Christine Todd Whitman and Democrat Jim Florio. And GOP operative Allen Raymond has just published a book called How to Rig an Election, after he was nailed and did prison time for jamming the phones of the New Hampshire Democratic Party during the tightly contested 2002 U.S. senate race between Democrat Jeanne Shaheen and Republican John Sununu.

So, if the state of Indiana prevails with its voter ID plan at the highest court (and there's little reason to believe it won't), the next chance for a challenge won't come for at least a half a decade or so, as disenfranchised plaintiffs will have to work their way up through the federal court bureaucracy, costing time and money, until they get to beat their heads once again on this same rock. Let us recall that these compassionate conservatives are again taking aim at the poorest and those with the least access to the resources they need to plead their case.

In the meantime, the train has left the station, the saw has neatly taken off the throttle, and all the people the GOP wanted to screw are on board and headed off the cliff for another 15 years or so. Ballot security, they call it? Mission accomplished.

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Political Animal archives

More from Brian Morton

The Fix (8/4/2010)

Police State (7/7/2010)

Funny Business (6/9/2010)

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