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Monday, May 21, 2007

Hans von Spakovsky: how GOP "voter fraud" charges become vote suppression

McClatchy's Greg Gordon has a powerful new development in the scandals surrounding the Bush Justice Department. Hans von Spakovsky, a Bush Justice Department official who was a 2005 recess appointment to the civil rights division, has been instrumental in a widespread Republican effort to use trumped up and unsubstantiated voter fraud allegations to suppress the vote of poor and minority voters.

[A]mid a scandal over politicization of the Justice Department, Congress is beginning to examine allegations that von Spakovsky was a key player in a Republican campaign to hang onto power in Washington by suppressing the votes of minority voters.

"Mr. von Spakovsky was central to the administration's pursuit of strategies that had the effect of suppressing the minority vote," charged Joseph Rich, a former Justice Department voting rights chief who worked under him.

He and other former career department lawyers say that von Spakovsky steered the agency toward voting rights policies not seen before, pushing to curb minor instances of election fraud by imposing sweeping restrictions that would make it harder, not easier, for Democratic-leaning poor and minority voters to cast ballots.

At issue are von Spakovsky's involvement in speeding approval of controversial voter ID laws in Georgia and in Arizona and his interference with the findings of the federal Election Assistance Commission:

A federal panel responsible for conducting election research played down the findings of experts who concluded last year that there was little voter fraud around the nation, according to a review of the original report obtained by The New York Times.

Instead, the panel, the Election Assistance Commission, issued a report that said the pervasiveness of fraud was open to debate.

Though the original report said that among experts “there is widespread but not unanimous agreement that there is little polling place fraud,” the final version of the report released to the public concluded in its executive summary that “there is a great deal of debate on the pervasiveness of fraud.” -NYT

Von Spakovsky also went so far as to publish anonymous journal articles to push his views without acknowledging his involvement in Justice Department decisions on related matters. Far from anonymous, however, Mr. von Spakovsky's views and track record were well established, even if neglected by the mainstream press; witness this passage from an excellent 2004 Jeffrey Toobin article on voting law and vote suppression in the New Yorker:

Von Spakovsky, a longtime activist in the voting-integrity cause, has emerged as the Administration’s chief operative on voting rights. Before going to Washington, he was a lawyer in private practice and a Republican appointee to the Fulton County Registration and Election Board, which runs elections in Atlanta. He belonged to the Federalist Society, a prominent organization of conservative lawyers, and had also joined the board of advisers of a lesser-known group called the Voting Integrity Project.

The V.I.P. was founded by Deborah Phillips, a former county official of the Virginia Republican Party, as an organization devoted principally to fighting voting fraud and promoting voter education. In 1997, von Spakovsky wrote an article for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, a conservative research group, that called for an aggressive campaign to “purge” the election rolls of felons. Within months of that article’s publication, the V.I.P. helped put von Spakovsky’s idea into action. Phillips met with the company that designed the process for the removal of alleged felons from the voting rolls in Florida, a process that led, notoriously, to the mistaken disenfranchisement of thousands of voters, most of them Democratic, before the 2000 election. (This year, Florida again tried to purge its voting rolls of felons, but the method was found to be so riddled with errors that it had to be abandoned.) During the thirty-six-day recount in Florida, von Spakovsky worked there as a volunteer for the Bush campaign.

The story of Hans von Spakovsky is intimately tied to the long history of Republican efforts to use bogus allegations of voter fraud to suppress the vote of poor and minority voters. Whether it is Florida in 2000, Georgia and Arizona in 2005 or Missouri in 2006 the intent of GOP strategy is clear: to use allegations of vote fraud to suppress votes, intimidate voters and, ultimately, remove thousands of legitimate voters from the voting rolls.

The more light that can shine on the work of Mr. von Spakovsky and the Bush White House in this regard, the better.

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