Spooked elections

April 18, 2007

Last fall, the Maryland Republican Party issued a 13-page manual to its poll watchers telling them that their most important duty was to spot voter fraud and challenge the miscreants. It sternly reminded them to warn election judges that the penalty for not reporting the Republicans' challenges could include jail time.

It was pretty dramatic stuff, yet Maryland somehow emerged intact from Election Day. The Republicans brought in a few busloads of homeless people from Philadelphia to distribute literature that seemed to identify their two top statewide candidates as Democrats, but that's fraud of a different sort, and the results showed that it didn't work. But in the polling stations? No hue and cry went up from the dedicated GOP poll watchers, and the only conclusion from that is that there was nothing to hue or cry about.

An interesting analysis, published last week in The New York Times, shows that Maryland is part of a national pattern. Republicans love to make a fuss about voter fraud, but they've been distinctly unsuccessful in finding any.

That hasn't, however, stopped politically motivated prosecutions, at least not entirely. Over five years, the Justice Department secured 86 convictions for voter fraud, the report said; the problem is, most of them were against individuals who misunderstood registration requirements. None of the cases concerned actual conspiracies to fraudulently pump up the Democratic tally.

This provides an important context to tomorrow's testimony by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, who is appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee as it looks into the firings of eight U.S. attorneys. Several of these prosecutors had declined to pursue Republican allegations of voter fraud that clearly had no substance to them.

Others, who appear to have been more malleable, stayed in their jobs. A few lives, unfortunately, got ruined in the process - the Times told of a legal Pakistani immigrant who was handed a voter registration card by a motor vehicle clerk when he was renewing his driver's license; for not looking carefully at the form he was filling out, he was deported back to Pakistan, while his American wife and daughter remain behind.

Gaming America's rickety election system is a practice as old as the republic but despicable nonetheless; gaming America's judicial system is both despicable and indictable. The Republican Party, under the leadership of President Bush and his advisers, appears to have tried to do both, in tandem with each other. There's no other way of looking at it.

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