PEOPLE FOR BLOG

3 Reasons to Vote Tuesday

There are many reasons why it is important to vote tomorrow. Here are three of them:

  1. Because you care about a government that cares about people. Take a look at our Rogues’ Gallery of Right-Wing Senate candidates. A coalition of extreme far-right candidates, led by Senator Jim DeMint, want to push a radical agenda that will chip away at individual freedoms while making life even tougher for middle class and working class Americans. These candidates, backed by corporate interests, have plenty of allies running for the House and for statehouses throughout the country. If they’re in charge, they won’t bring progress to a standstill, they’ll start rolling it back.
  2. Because you’re a human being. The Supreme Court ruled this year that corporations have “free speech” rights to spend money to influence elections. Exxon and BP, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan can now spend millions of dollars from their treasuries to sway your vote. We real human beings may not have millions of dollars to spend for our favorite candidates, but we have one advantage over corporations. We can cast a vote.
  3. Because they don’t want you to. The Right has been up in arms this year about the supposed threat of “voter fraud.” The number of cases of actual voter fraud is minute, and widespread fraud wouldn’t even logically make sense, but the Right loves to talk about it as a way to prevent young, poor, and minority citizens from voting. Don’t let them.

Find your polling place here.

PFAW

Video Game Violence and the First Amendment

Tomorrow at the Supreme Court, the Justices will hear arguments over whether the state can limit minors’ access to extreme depictions of violence.

California law bans the sale or rental of violent video games to minors. In adopting the law, the California legislature considered scientific evidence showing a correlation between playing violent video games and an increase in aggressive thoughts and behavior, antisocial behavior, and desensitization to violence in both minors and adults. The law was designed to give parents greater control over whether their children have access to the most violent video games.

Although the law was enacted several years ago, courts have kept it from going into effect on the basis that it violates the First Amendment.

The law parallels a New York law restricting the sale of non-obscene sexual material to minors that the Court upheld in the 1960s. Specifically, it covers those violent video games where:

  • a reasonable person, considering the game as a whole, would find that it appeals to a deviant or morbid interest of minors;
  • it is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the community as to what is suitable for minors; and
  • it causes the game, as a whole, to lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.

California argues that, for the purposes of the First Amendment, the Supreme Court should apply the same relaxed standard to violent material as it does to sexual material:

[I]t should make no constitutional difference whether the material depicts sex or violence. ... [T]he Act must be upheld so long as it was not irrational for the California legislature to determine that exposure to the material regulated by the statute is harmful to minors.

This would mark a significant change in First Amendment law.

Just the fact that the Court agreed to hear this case is interesting. The Court often takes a case where there is disagreement among circuit courts on how to interpret a particular law. But here, there is no such disagreement: Lower courts have uniformly struck down laws such as this as violating the First Amendment. The fact that the Supreme Court decided to hear the case anyway may signal that the Justices are ready to make the change that California is asking for.

PFAW

Still more on the voter "fraud" / voter intimidation front

Some more on the voter "fraud" / voter intimidation front:

  • Alabama’s Republican Secretary of State has offered a $5000 bounty for "information reported to her office that leads to a felony conviction of voter fraud."
  • A federal district judge has ruled that conservatives in Minnesota rallying against voter fraud cannot wear their "Please I.D. Me" buttons or their Tea Party tee-shirts in or around the polling locations, since the areas where people vote are supposed to be free of political messages.
  • Media Matters has put together a video compiling right-wing media covering questionable GOP allegations of voter fraud. Despite the little evidence that exists to support these claims, Fox News has declared that the network will continue cover voter fraud allegations "in every show."
  • Media Matters also takes a look at the voter intimidation stories that Fox News either ignores or totally distorts while playing up phony voter fraud stories.
  • Noting that “voter intimidation is a form of voter fraud,” Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner is investigating the McDonald’s franchise owner who sent his employees a letter with their paychecks saying they should vote for Republican candidates if they wanted raises.
PFAW

Employment Discrimination Case at the Supreme Court

Elections will not be the only thing happening on Election Day. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in an important employment discrimination case where the official who fired the plaintiff was free of bias, but her decision was influenced by the bias of others.

Although Staub v. Proctor Hospital involves a rather narrow federal anti-discrimination statute - the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which generally prohibits discrimination in civilian employment on the basis of military service - the reasoning of the decision could apply to the larger universe of federal anti-discrimination statutes. Therefore, this case might affect millions of American workers both in and out of the military who have the right to be treated fairly.

Vincent Staub sued his employer after he was dismissed from his job as a hospital technician. The hospital official who fired him had no unlawful motives. However, according to Staub, she relied on false information provided to her by his supervisor, who did act out of bias against Staub’s military service. Moreover, according to Staub, the decision-maker failed to vet that information in any meaningful way. At trial, the jury returned a verdict in Staub’s favor, but the hospital won a reversal on appeal.

At issue before the Supreme Court is whether an employer can be held liable for employment discrimination based on the unlawful intent of officials who influenced - but who did not themselves make - an adverse employment decision. If the employer can be held liable, then under what circumstances? How much influence must the biased official’s actions have had before that bias can be attributed to the employer? What if the biased action is not the sole cause for the employment decision? How easy or difficult should it be for an employer to evade liability in these circumstances?

As the Supreme Court determines how to answer these questions, it should keep in mind Congress’s repeated efforts to ensure that discrimination has no place in the modern American workplace.

PFAW

The Most Outrageous Ads of the Election

This election cycle has experienced a massive flood of political spending following the dramatic weakening of campaign finance laws in cases such as Citizens United and SpeechNow. According to Political Correction, between August 1st and October 29th, the ten biggest right-wing groups, many of which are backed by contributions by corporations and don’t publicly disclose their donors, have spent about $100 million to air 109,826 ads. Many of the conservative candidates and organizations have been employing false claims and polarizing smears in their ads meant to foment cultural divisions and discredit progressive legislation. Here are just a handful of the most outrageous and irresponsible ads used this election year:

Anti-Muslim Rhetoric

The Right Wing has used the Park51 Community Center as a way to provoke fear, stoke divisions, and promote intolerance. The debate surrounding the community center has been riddled with attacks on religious freedom and baseless claims that the project’s organizers have ties to extremist groups, and the right has attempted to make the community center in Lower Manhattan an election issue in places like Iowa and North Carolina.

American Future Fund:

Renee Ellmers (Republican nominee, NC-02)

Anti-Health Care Reform

The recently passed health care reform law has been hammered by outside groups and conservative politicians with numerous dishonest and misleading attacks. Independent fact checkers have confirmed that the law does not use taxpayer funds to pay for abortion or drugs like Viagra for sex offenders. Other false and deceptive claims include allegations that the reform law establishes death panels, creates an army of IRS agents to arrest people without coverage, cuts Medicare benefits, and leads to the government takeover of the health care system.

American Action Network:

Susan B. Anthony List & CitizenLink (Focus on the Family Action):

Anti-Immigrant Extremism

Conservative politicians are taking cues from the Right Wing Playbook on Immigration Reform by attempting to portray Latinos in America as violent criminals who threaten White Americans. While smearing Comprehensive Immigration Reform and the DREAM Act, such anti-immigrant ads unfairly depict Latinos as invaders, gangsters, and welfare-beneficiaries. Even Sharron Angle tried to distance herself from her campaign’s ads by claiming that they are not Latinos but could actually be “terrorists” from Canada.

Sharron Angle (Republican nominee, NV-SEN):

Sen. David Vitter (Republican nominee, LA-SEN):

PFAW

In an Open Letter, People For Urges ABC to Distance Itself from Breitbart

Right-wing activist and noted smear concocter Andrew Breitbart announced Friday that he would be appearing on ABC News tomorrow as an election night "analyst." Faced with backlash from progressive groups, ABC News has said that Breitbart will appear only as a guest on an online town hall discussion. In an open letter to ABC News President David Westin today, People For's Michael Keegan responds that providing any sort of platform for Breitbart legitimizes his deceitful practices:

Dear Mr. Westin:

We at People For the American Way are deeply concerned to hear of your plans to host activist Andrew Breitbart as an ABC News election night “analyst” on Tuesday, and want to make sure you are aware of the implications of any association between ABC News and Breitbart’s history of deceptive mudslinging. Breitbart has proven time and again that he is willing to make up stories and smear the names of innocent people in order to draw attention to himself and advance his political causes. By associating with Breitbart, ABC News acknowledges the credibility of his dishonest tactics, and draws its own credibility as a news source into question.

We respect ABC News’ commitment to balanced analysis, and expect that any unbiased news source will seek to provide equal platforms to each side of any debate. However, part of the responsibility of providing balanced news is ensuring that those participating in the debate are approaching the issues honestly and dealing in facts.

Andrew Breitbart, far from dealing in facts, has a long history of fabricating smears in order to advance his own agenda:

  • He famously doctored a recording of Department of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod speaking about overcoming racism in order to accuse her of racism. His smear led to Sherrod’s firing, but even more troubling, served to stoke existing racial resentment against the Obama Administration.
  • His pushing of a tape that supposedly showed an ACORN employee helping a pimp and prostitute to establish a brothel helped to drive the smear campaign that eventually brought down the respected community organization. Independent investigations  later found the tapes to be heavily edited and the storyline that Breitbart pushed to be far from the truth. Breitbart’s smear of ACORN helped to propel the right-wing media’s current fixation on the discredited fear of “voter fraud” resulting from minority voting.
  • Breitbart is currently engaged in another fishy media campaign in Alaska, where he has accused a local CBS affiliate of concocting a plot against Senate candidate Joe Miller…but the only evidence he has been able to produce is a fuzzy audio clip that hardly substantiates his claim.

Andrew Breitbart has every right to continue spewing his lies and conspiracy theories on the Internet, but his deceptive “analysis” has no place in an honest debate on an unbiased news program. Even including him in an online feature, as you have now said you will, lends a legitimate platform to his lies. And providing that platform makes ABC News complicit in Breitbart’s deliberate, excuseless smears.

We urge you to reconsider your invitation to Andrew Breitbart before providing a platform to harmful smears and putting your own reputation as a news source at risk.

Sincerely,

Michael B. Keegan.
President, People For the American Way
 

PFAW

The Voter-Fraud Fraud: And On It Goes

As we get closer to Election Day, the cacophony over "voter fraud" grows louder. Here are just a few of the items we're seeing:

  • Fox News hypes the conspiracy theory that the Justice Department is sending out poll monitors to facilitate voter fraud.
  • Republicans are motivating their base by trotting out their baseless charge that Al Franken stole the Minnesota 2008 Senate election.
  • Georgia GOP groups and candidates are helping Tea Party groups access precincts as poll watchers to fight "voter fraud."
  • Rep. Keith Ellison calls out Minnesota "anti-fraud" group for voter intimidation. The "dead voter" cited by a Republican candidate to attack voter fraud last week is, in fact, quite alive.
  • Nevada’s Secretary of State thoroughly debunks Republican allegations of voter fraud and voting machine tampering.

It is important to remember why the Right puts so much energy into the Voter-Fraud Fraud, screaming and yelling and working overtime to tackle a mostly non-existent problem. While they don't root out the voter fraud that was never going to happen in the first place, they do intimidate people, often people of color and likely Democratic voters, into not voting. They also work to paint any election victory by Democrats as illegitimate.

PFAW

Great Polling Place Locator Tool

You can embed this great, free polling place locator tool from Google on  your blog or web site.... like this:

Use it here to find your polling place and other election information for where you live.

Big Macs, and Mexicans, and Zombies! Oh my!

Reports continue to pour in of the Right Wing’s voter-fraud fraud and voter suppression related to next Tuesday’s election. Today, instead of lions, and tigers, and bears, they want you to worry about Big Macs, and Mexicans, and zombies. Oh my!

Here’s the latest.

Big Macs. Alan Schulman of Schulman Zimmerman & Associates in Canton has contacted local prosecutors regarding a disturbing handbill sent to employees at a McDonald’s franchise in Ohio. The handbill, enclosed with recent paychecks, reportedly tells employees that they must vote for a slate of Republican candidates, or else. “[If] the right people are elected, we will be able to continue with raises and benefits at or above our present levels. If others are elected we will not.”

Mexicans. We’ve long heard about the vast numbers of undocumented immigrants who apparently think it’s worth risking deportation to appear at a polling place and try to vote. Now, apparently, the claim is that Mexicans are being bused across the southern border to sway the election in favor of Democrats, in exchange for short trip and a free meal. At least that’s what Jesse Kelly (R) wants you to believe (scroll down for audio). Kelly is challenging US Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford (D) for Arizona’s 8th District.

Zombies. This might just be the best yet. Did you know that zombies are voting? The Tea Party Paranormal Society – you heard me right, the Tea Party Paranormal Society – is dedicated to stopping zombies from voting.



They even have instructions on how to perform a Zombie Voter exorcism.

Basic Instructions to find, identify, and exorcise Zombie Voters:
    1. Go to your local municipal court house
    2. Find Clerk of Court Office
    3. Obtain a copy of the death rolls
    4. Copy names of the deceased potential voters going back at least 2 election cycles
    5. Upon completion of this project notify media that you are in possession of the names of all deceased potential voters in the area
    6. Provide a copy list to appropriate conservative representative and/or poll watchers, and instruct them of the legal process in your jurisdiction on how to challenge a fraudulent vote (information obtained from commissioner of elections, registrar, or other appropriate authority from your state)
    7. Document everything and get video if possible

Happy Halloween!

In other news:

      • AZ secretary of state debunks right wing voter-fraud conspiracy theory
      • Elderly Black Voters Allegedly Intimidated At Their Homes In Texas
      • True The Vote Documents Show Hidden Donations, Republican Ties
      • New Mexico voter registration forms are fraudulently altered - by Republicans

 

PFAW

Rise of the One-Man PACs

Now that FEC rules allow political organizations to raise unlimited amounts of funds from individual and corporate donors, just a single individual or a handful of donors can finance their very own 527 Political Action Committee. But this is no longer a hypothetical matter as we are currently witnessing so-called Super PAC’s emerge with just one or a couple of wealthy donors. For example, the Concerned Taxpayers for America has spent close to a half a million dollars attacking incumbent Democratic Congressmen this election year. And according to FEC reports, it raised it’s $500,000 budget from just two donors:

Daniel G. Schuster Inc., an Owings Mills, Md., concrete firm, gave two donations to the group totaling $300,000, new disclosure records show. New York hedge fund executive Robert Mercer gave the group $200,000.

And that's the extent of the financial support reported by Concerned Taxpayers, which says it was formed in September "to engage citizens from every walk of life and political affiliation" in the fight against "runaway spending."

While the Concerned Taxpayers for America just has two individual donors, the 527 organization RightChange.com has only one. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, “Fred Eshelman, the chief executive officer of North Carolina-based pharmaceutical research firm Pharmaceutical Product Development” donated $3.38 million to RightChange.com, which is “almost the entirety of the money the group has raised this year.” So far, RightChange.com has spent $3 million in ads supporting Republicans and attacking their opponents in competitive House and Senate races across the country.

And if you don’t want to funnel your money into a 527, you can just spend the money as an individual directly. In Tennessee’s eighth congressional district, Robert Kirkland spent close to $1.5 million on an independent expenditure campaign supporting his brother Ronald Kirkland in the Republican primary. Unfortunately for him, Ronald Kirkland won less than 25% of the vote and lost to Christian singer and farmer Stephen Fincher.

PFAW

Public Continues to Demand Campaign Disclosure and Spending Caps

A new New York Times/CBS News survey confirms the findings of other polls taken after the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United: Americans want greater transparency and stronger reforms in the political system. According to the poll, “nearly 8 in 10 Americans say it is important (including 6 in 10 who say “very important”) to limit the amount of money campaigns can spend.” This includes majorities of Democrats, independents, and even Republicans. In addition, “more than 7 in 10 of the public said spending by groups not affiliated with a candidate should be limited by law, and just 2 in 10 said it shouldn’t.”

Support for campaign transparency is so high that one must wonder if the only Americans who oppose disclosure rules are Republicans in Congress and pro-corporate lobbyists. The Times/CBS poll found that a staggering 92% of Americans believe “it is important for campaigns to be required by law to disclose how much money they have raised, where the money came from and how it was used.” Such findings corroborate the results of a Hart Research poll taken on behalf of People For the American Way, which found that 89% of voters favor “legislation that would require greater disclosure by corporations of their spending to influence elections,” and that a majority of Democrats, independents, and Republicans wants not only disclosure laws but also “limits on how much corporations can spend to influence the outcome of elections.”

The business community is increasingly calling for substantial campaign finance reform as well, as seen in a survey of business leaders conducted by the Committee for Economic Development. The poll found that 77% of business leaders “believe that corporations should disclose all of their direct and indirect political expenditures, including money provided to third party organizations to be spent on campaign ads.”

Despite the vast support of Americans and even business leaders for more openness and transparency in the political process, Republicans and corporate lobbyists continue to oppose commonsense proposals like the DISCLOSE Act. The obstructionist Republican minority in the Senate voted in lockstep to keep the DISCLOSE Act from passing, and recently the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele, deceptively denied the very-existence of active political groups that do not disclose their donors.

Steele later said that “if people are that bothered by” the lack of transparency in Congress, “then the Congress needs to change it.” As People For the American Way’s President Michael B. Keegan pointed out:

The glaring problem with Steele's supposed embrace of transparent elections is that just a couple of months ago, people were "bothered by" hidden corporate spending in elections, the majority in Congress did draft a law to make that spending transparent...but Steele's party united to stop the law in its tracks just before the midterm elections.

Steele's bumbling and disingenuous response was infuriating, but it served as a perfect illustration of why Republicans have done everything they can to allow unfettered, undisclosed corporate influence in our elections. With the system as it is, Steele can watch corporate interest groups spend millions of dollars to help elect Republican candidates, and nobody is held accountable to voters.

The post-Citizens United landscape -- where corporations are allowed to spend unlimited amounts from their treasuries to run ads for and against candidates, but aren't required to disclose that spending -- has been a boon to candidates who push a pro-corporate agenda. Michael Steele knows it. And so does every candidate who is benefiting from the influx of secretive spending. They know it, but they don't have to own up to it.

The Republicans in Congress continue to reject the beliefs of nine-in-ten Americans that support disclosure and campaign finance reform, and want to tie the hands of Congress from making even basic changes to increase transparency in the system.

PFAW

The Voter-Fraud Fraud Continues

As my colleague Paul recently pointed out, the trouble with voter fraud is not that voters are committing fraud – it’s that we’re constantly being told that voter fraud is a pervasive national problem when it simply isn’t. Paul notes that analysis after analysis has shown this to be true. The Right Wing uses this myth to downplay Democratic gains or keep Democrats away from the polls in the first place.

Here’s some more of what the Right Wing has been up to.

Minnesota.
Last year, a group called Minnesota Majority alleged that 1,250 individuals in Hennepin County had committed voter fraud in the 2008 election. This past Tuesday, prosecutor Mike Freeman announced that only a small fraction – 47 – would be charged. And he added that there was no evidence of a coordinated campaign to commit fraud. It’s important to note that Minnesota Majority has admitted membership – but disputes claims of intimidation – in a coalition that Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison condemned for hanging in plain view of students “posters showing a person in handcuffs, with the warning that ‘voter fraud is a felony.’”

Nevada.
If you were to believe a recent fundraising letter from Cleta Mitchell, Counsel to Friends of Sharron Angle, you’d not only think that Harry Reid was committing voter fraud, but you’d think that he had lawlessly hijacked his entire campaign in order to outright steal the election from Angle. In response, Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller cautions that such serious allegations must “contain specific information, not conjecture and rumor used in support of a plea for financial contributions, as the foundation of the violation.”

North Carolina.
When poll watching is done right, it serves a very important purpose: root out wrongdoing and help well-intentioned voters make their voices heard. When it’s done wrong, it simply adds another layer of intimidation to the process. Wake County has been plagued by complaints from voters that Republican observers are doing just that. Alarmingly, “the offending observers have reportedly stood behind the registration table (where they're not allowed) and taken pictures of the license plates of voters using curbside voting (also illegal).”

The Right Wing has also taken their campaign online.

Fox News. Megyn Kelly recently disputed good faith efforts by the Department of Justice “to ensure that all qualified voters have the opportunity to cast their ballots and have their votes counted, without incidence of discrimination, intimidation or fraud.” DOJ isn’t doing its job, so Fox will. They’ve set up their very own email account – voterfraud@foxnews.com – to field complaints.



American Majority Action. Not to be outdone, American Majority Action has released a voter fraud app that enables iPhone, BlackBerry, and Droid users to “defend our democracy and uphold credibility directly from your phone.”

PFAW

Local Chambers Want No Part in US Chamber of Commerce’s Political Games

As the US Chamber of Commerce becomes less of a trade association and more of a pro-GOP political outfit, local chambers have become increasingly disillusioned with the national branch’s partisan turn. According to the Washington Post, the US Chamber of Commerce leads among non-party groups in campaign spending in the election: of the over $31 million so far spent by the Chamber, 93% of that money has benefited Republicans.

Many local chambers seek to distance themselves from the national Chamber and its fervent partisanship and controversial lobbying practices. People For the American Way has documented how Chamber President Thomas Donohue uses hefty contributions from big corporations to fund their massive lobby campaign and political spending. While local chambers tend to work with small businesses, the US Chamber of Commerce concentrates on promoting the interests of large corporations, including foreign-owned businesses. Daniel Denvir of AlterNet reports that local chambers are upset about how the US Chamber of Commerce’s aggressive pro-corporate and pro-GOP political work is damaging their own interests:

According to the Times, though the Chamber claims to represent 3 million businesses and 300,000 members, “nearly half of its $140 million in contributions in 2008 came from just 45 donors.” (According to an article in Mother Jones, the real number of business members is more like 200,000.)

For many local affiliates, the U.S. Chamber trades on their good name, and then besmirches it. Aggressive U.S. Chamber attack ads in Connecticut, Washington and New Hampshire have upset local chambers that rely on working relationships with members of both parties.

“I now have a standard e-mail saying we’re not a chapter of the U.S. Chamber that I have to send out a couple of times a week,” Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce president Timothy Hulbert told Washington Monthly.

Earlier this month, the Greater Hudson Chamber of Commerce in New Hampshire disaffiliated from the U.S. Chamber. Executive vice-president Jerry Mayotte told the Nashua Telegraph, “We didn’t like the fact that the U.S. Chamber was supporting particular candidates. We don’t think it’s good business practice to do so.”



The U.S. Chamber does not seem to mind alienating local chambers of commerce. A major opponent of campaign finance reform, the U.S. Chamber operates much like the post-Citizen’s United political system: one dollar, one vote.

“The truth be told is that the American political system is a pay-to-play system,” says Jaffe. “The only thing we require is disclosure: who’s behind the issues advocated by the U.S. Chamber? Who’s influencing their voice? Is it good for planet earth, good for small business? Or is it only good for one company that’s paying a lot of money to influence it?”
PFAW

The Voter-Fraud Fraud

"I don't want everybody to vote ... our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down." - Paul Weyrich, founding father of the conservative movement, 1980.

When news hit last week that Democrats were doing better than expected in early voting turnout, Republican Dick Armey - whose FreedomWorks organization ensures that the Tea party is well funded by Big Business - immediately took to the airwaves with two goals: to delegitimize any potential Election Day victories for Democrats, and to justify this year's efforts by Republicans and their allies to keep people of color from voting. Armey told Fox News viewers that:

Democrats vote early because there's "less ballot security," creating a "great opportunity" for fraud. He also claimed that such fraudulent early voting is "pinpointed to the major urban areas. The inner city."

Of course, the former congressman had no more evidence to support his false and inflammatory claims than Joseph McCarthy had for his. But he does have an echo chamber of Republican and allied supporters all making the same unsupported claims of rampant voter fraud to justify aggressive efforts to keep likely Democratic voters - especially African Americans - out of the voting booth.

First, let there be mo mistake: Analysis after analysis has shown that there is no national problem with voter fraud. For instance, in its report The Truth About Voter Fraud, the Brennan Center for Justice has

analyzed purported fraud cited by state and federal courts; multipartisan and bipartisan federal commissions; political party entities; state and local election officials; and authors, journalists, and bloggers. Usually, only a tiny portion of the claimed illegality is substantiated - and most of the remainder is either nothing more than speculation or has been conclusively debunked.

Similarly, when the New York Times turned its investigatory resources to the "problem" of voter fraud in 2007, it found that

[f]ive years after the Bush administration began a crackdown on voter fraud, the Justice Department ha[d] turned up virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections, according to court records and interviews.

Nevertheless, the Republicans and their close allies are up to their usual election-time hysterics about voter fraud, especially by nefarious dark-skinned people. They are ginning up fears of stolen elections ... so they can suppress the vote and thereby steal the elections themselves.

Over the past few weeks, as reported in Talking Points Memo and elsewhere:

  • In Illinois, Republican Senate nominee Mark Kirk inadvertently disclosed his plan to send "voter integrity" squads to two predominately African-American neighborhoods of Chicago and two other urban areas of Illinois with significant minority populations "where the other side might be tempted to jigger the numbers somewhat."
  • In Houston, Texas, Tea Party poll watchers claiming to be preventing voter fraud have been accused of "hovering over" voters, "getting into election workers' faces" and blocking or disrupting lines of voters who were waiting to cast their ballots as early voting got underway. The most aggressive poll watching has been at African American and Latino precincts. The Department of Justice is investigating.
  • In Wisconsin, Tea Party groups, the pro-corporate Americans for Prosperity, and the state GOP have been involved in a vote caging operation that seeks to challenge the eligibility of minority and student voters. In addition, dozens of billboards are being put up showing people behind bars with an ominous warning that voter fraud is a felony.
  • The West Virginia Republican Party plans to send "ballot security teams" to all of the state's fifty-five counties in search of "illegal activity" at the polls.
  • In Minnesota, a coalition of Tea Party and other right wing groups is offering a $500 reward for information leading to voter fraud convictions, an inducement that may encourage voter harassment.
  • In Indiana and elsewhere, Republicans and allies are photographing voters at early voting locations.
  • Michelle Malkin went on Fox News to discuss what the far right media outlet described as "reports of voter fraud on a massive scale with the intention of keeping Democrats in office." Malkin poured oil on the fire by claiming that "We are all voter fraud police now," accusing progressives of trying to win elections "by any means necessary."

This isn't new territory for the Right. For instance, in 2006, the Bush Administration fired U.S. Attorneys who refused to press phony voter fraud prosecutions. In 2008, until their plans were exposed, Michigan Republicans planned to use home foreclosure lists to challenge likely Democratic voters at the polls, supposedly to prevent voter fraud. That same year, the Montana Republican Party challenged the eligibility of 6,000 registered voters in the state's Democratic strongholds after matching the statewide voter database with the National Change of Address database to identify voters who aren't living where they are registered to vote. In Ohio, voter caging was used as a prelude to challenge individuals at the voting precinct.

These actions were part of a larger pattern. During the fall of 2008, the Right was setting itself up to challenge the integrity of the election. Across the country, they repeatedly trumped up claims of voter fraud, attacking ACORN and other voter registration efforts and lambasting the Justice Department for its failure to stop this alleged "fraud." However, that effort sputtered when the false claims of voter fraud mushroomed into threats against ACORN workers and vandalism of their offices, which PFAW helped to expose. Last year's doctored "pimp and prostitute" ACORN videos and their aftermath showed the lengths Republicans and their allies are willing to go to demonize and ultimately destroy successful minority voter registration efforts.

Clearly, the Right puts a great deal of energy into tackling a non-existent problem. But while these actions may do nothing to prevent instances of voter fraud that were never going to happen in the first place, they do accomplish something very important, as noted above: They intimidate people, often people of color, into not voting. They also work to paint any election victory by Democrats as illegitimate, thereby seriously destabilizing one of the foundations needed for America's constitutional government to work.

Voting is our assurance that those in power govern only by the consent of the people. The theory of American electoral democracy is that We the People act through government officials who we elect to act on our behalf. However, that assumes that all parties are willing to abide by the results of free and fair elections, win or lose.

Unfortunately, when the most powerful groups in society are willing to ignore democratic principles when it’s convenient - when they are eager to disenfranchise those who are most likely to vote against them - the democratic system fails.

In the past, these forces used poll taxes, literacy tests, and even brute force to keep disfavored Americans from voting, staining the legitimacy of the elected government in the process. Today, far more wary of appearances, they use the false accusation of "voter fraud" to do the same thing, often against the same targets: African Americans and other people of color.

PFAW