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Sunday, July 23, 2017


Gold braid and mirrored sunglasses

by Tom Sullivan

Still from The In-Laws (1979).

The local board of elections made me the Democratic judge in my precinct in the very first election I voted in. My father thought it would be a lesson in democracy, I guess, one I could get paid for if I applied to be an election worker. But since we have the same first name, the board mistakenly thought the application came from him and put me in charge. At age 18.

County parties here this summer, in the slow, odd-numbered years, are assembling lists of election workers for the next 2-year cycle. It is essentially a volunteer job, community service with a stipend. People don't do this for the money. Mostly, older people volunteer in that window between retirement and no longer being able to stand the 15-hour day. Finding replacements when the stalwarts age out is tough.

In the last week, two women called worried that personal information such as social security and drivers license numbers would be given to Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state leading up President Trump's Commission on Election Integrity. One, a Latina, was especially worried her voter registration information would be used to target her. Her name, like mine, is not uncommon. And being a Latino, she worried about being caught up in Kobach's fraud-fishing net. I can relate. For years, I told her, I was not the only one with my name in my own neighborhood. I sometimes break the ice in meetings by explaining I am not the Fox Business guy who fills in for Rush Limbaugh. How easy it would be for us both to get netted by Kobach's bad data matching program.

Working inside the process, it is stunning how at odds with the fantastical, Republican rhetoric reality is. Safeguarding people's right to vote is a big deal for these volunteers. Ensuring people can vote and that the process is fair is a passion. Most (though not all) of our GOP counterparts here in this work respect the process. We who work elections know what a fraud "voter fraud" is, which makes us, I guess, both smarter than the president and/or smart enough to be president.

This morning, the New York Times again inveighs against this massive snipe hunt and national effort at voter intimidation:

It was born out of a marriage of convenience between conservative anti-voter-fraud crusaders, who refuse to accept actual data, and a president who refuses to accept that he lost the popular vote fair and square.

It is run by some of the nation’s most determined vote suppressors, the kind who try to throw out voter registrations for being printed on insufficiently thick paper or who release reports on noncitizen voting that are titled “Alien Invasion” and illustrated with images of U.F.O.s.

Its purpose is not to restore integrity to elections but to undermine the public’s confidence enough to push through policies and practices that make registration and voting harder, if not impossible, for certain groups of people who tend to vote Democratic.
The Times calls it "a far greater threat to electoral integrity than whatever wrongdoing it may claim to dig up." It is another example of the bad faith politics endemic at the highest level of the Republican Party.

The Week's Damon Linker believes the Kobach nonsense is symptomatic of a deeper anti-democratic bent in his party. Republican lawmakers' acquiescence in the face of Trump's insistence on personal loyalty and vapid expressions of "concern' demonstrate they are "perfectly fine with Trump acting more like a kleptocratic despot than the head of the executive branch of a democratic republic."

But that was just a warm-up:
There is, to begin with, the bill that would make it a federal crime (a felony punishable by up to a $1 million fine and 20 years in prison) to support the international boycott against Israel for its occupation of the West Bank. That 14 Democratic senators have joined with 29 Republicans in backing this flagrant assault on the First Amendment is certainly shameful, but it does nothing to diminish the outrageousness of those who like to portray themselves as courageous defenders of free speech endorsing a bill that would drastically curtail it. (And no, I don't support the movement to boycott Israel, just the right of others to do so, which is exactly the way liberal democracy is supposed to work.)

Even worse is the Justice Department's announcement on Wednesday that it is reviving the practice of allowing "state and local law enforcement officials to use federal law to seize the cash, cars, or other personal property of people suspected of crimes but not charged." This practice, known as civil asset forfeiture, has been widely abused by police departments across the country in what amounts to government-backed theft from citizens who are supposed to be constitutionally protected from having their property seized without due process of law. That's why state and local governments, along with the Obama Justice Department, have acted to curtail the practice. But now, in a full-frontal assault on civil liberties, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has given local police departments a way to circumvent these restrictions.
Of course, Linker saves his harshest criticism for Kobach and his phony commission, calling it "a full-frontal assault on the core liberal democratic institution of free and fair elections." The Times wonders whether it is just a callous attempt to boost Republican's electoral clout or if "they actually believe their own paranoid fantasies."

The least banana Republicans could do is wear more gold braid and mirrored sunglasses.