Democrats push to give attorney general new election powers

Reply Wed 27 Jun, 2012 09:42 am
Jun. 26, 2012
Democrats push to give attorney general new election powers
By Annika McGinnis | McClatchy Newspapers

At a time when the Republican House of Representatives is poised to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt, Democrats in the Senate want to give him broad new powers in elections.

A group of Senate Democrats pushed Tuesday for a new law to combat the use of campaign tactics meant to deceive people into not voting, tactics often aimed at minorities and other vulnerable groups. As part of the law, the group wants Holder, and any future attorney general, to have the power to prosecute offenders. At the same time, it would require the attorney general to step in as an arbiter of the truth in elections, telling the public about deceptive practices and labeling them as false.

The idea of giving Holder powers in elections makes the proposal dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled House, where Republicans are likely to vote Thursday to hold him in contempt for refusing to turn over emails in an investigation of a gun sting operation gone bad. Regardless of who holds the office, Republicans said, the proposed law is unnecessary and unconstitutional.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday, Democrats said the bill is needed to address a litany of instances of voter deception and intimidation occurring over the past few years.

In Maryland, for example, Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., testified about the 2010 election, when automated phone calls told voters on Election Day that Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, had already won, so they didn’t need to vote.

“Our goals have been met,” the robo-call told more than 110,000 Democratic voters. “Relax. Everything is fine. The only thing left is to watch on TV tonight.”

In Houston in 2010, fliers were distributed in African American neighborhoods telling voters that they need only cast their ballot for one Democratic candidate to vote for the party’s entire ticket.

Earlier this month, calls tried to dissuade people from voting against Wisconsin’s Republican governor in a recall election. The calls falsely told voters that if they’d signed a recall petition against Gov. Scott Walker, their “job was done” and they didn’t need to actually vote to oust him.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said such tactics were “despicable.”

“People like this really belong in jail, because they’re really violating the practice of our democracy,” Schumer said.

Such practices often target people of color, people with disabilities and the young, poor and elderly, testified Tanya Clay House, director of public policy at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Similar tactics date to Jim Crow laws and unlawful tactics targeting African American voters, said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., in written testimony.

“Pictures of Americans beaten by mobs, attacked by dogs, and blasted by water hoses for trying to register to vote are seared into our national consciousness,” said Leahy. He argued that the problem is worsening through new laws requiring voters to show identification.

Targeted communities tend to be primarily Democratic, House said.

“I am not going to assume what their (Republicans’) intent is,” House said. “But because these fliers are targeting certain vulnerable communities, I think certain inferences can be drawn whether people think they’re going to vote for certain political parties.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said a new law is unnecessary, noting that there are federal and state regulations already in place against deceptive tactics. Critics also said that one part of the legislation, which would allow private individuals to file lawsuits against people who make false political statements, is unconstitutional.

John J. Park Jr. of the Strickland Brockington Lewis law firm questioned how one would determine the definition of a “true” statement.

“What about statements that are ‘mostly true?’ What about those that are ‘half true?’” Park said in written testimony. He said that the legislation would result in the political parties trying to undermine each other through arbitrary lawsuits.

House insisted the legislation was “narrowly tailored” to avoid such issues. Proponents said that only some states have passed laws against deceptive practices, that there are no criminal penalties under the current federal law and that deceptive speech is unprotected by the First Amendment.
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Reply Sat 11 Aug, 2012 11:14 am
Aug. 10, 2012
Justice Dept. seeks Florida noncitizen voter-purge information
Marc Caputo and Steve Bousquet | The Miami Herald

The U.S. Department of Justice has sent subpoenas to nine of the largest counties in South Florida, Tampa Bay and Central Florida, demanding extensive information over how they identified and purged potential noncitizens from the voter rolls.

The subpoenas, sent July 30, were issued in a federal lawsuit in which the Justice Department has argued that any purges of voters done less than 90 days before a statewide election are in violation of federal law.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in Tallahassee indicated in a previous ruling in the case that the removals could be lawful within 90 days of a federal election, but he also faulted Gov. Rick Scott’s administration for implementing a purge program that cast such a wide net that it burdened hundreds, if not thousands, of lawful citizen voters.

Miami-Dade, the state’s most-populous county and the one with the most foreign-born residents, had such concerns over the accuracy of the purge list provided by the state that Supervisor of Elections Penelope Townsley decided May 31 not to implement the program.

“There were so many problems that we stopped,” said Christina White, a deputy elections supervisor.

The state initially identified more than 180,000 potential noncitizens on the rolls. The state refused to release that list, which the news media and federal government have demanded, until Thursday.

Of the initial 180,000 names, the state sent a list of nearly 2,700 names of potential noncitizens to elections supervisors around the state.

Of that list, 1,637 people were identified in Miami-Dade as potential noncitizens. Of those; 554 provided proof of citizenship, White said, and 14 admitted they were ineligible to vote. Those who said they were noncitizens remain off the rolls.

In addition to Miami-Dade, the eight counties ordered to produce records are Pinellas, Hillsborough, Broward, Palm Beach, Orange, Collier, Lee and Bay.

The purge and the high error rate of the state’s database became a flashpoint in the national debate over voter rights and voter fraud. Liberals accused Scott of voter suppression, noting that about 87 percent of the people on the purge list were minorities, while conservatives accused opponents of abetting voter fraud. Republicans in states like Ohio, a crucial presidential swing state like Florida, launched efforts to spot and crackdown on potential noncitizen voters.

The federal government soon sued the state.

The subpoenas it issue demand information “generated, provided or transmitted by Florida to [your] county that identify registered voters, including [your] county registered voters, as potential non-citizens based on Florida’s data matching procedures using the Florida Voter Registration System (‘FVRS’) and the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles’ (‘DHSMV’) Driver and Vehicle Information (‘DAVID’) database.”

The subpoenas also ask election supervisors to “include all documents reflecting the date the voter was removed, and, if applicable, the date the voter was reinstated.”

This year, about 100 potential noncitizens have been spotted on the rolls so far, officials say. Nearly half might have voted.

Before the state began its program, Lee and Collier counties conducted a separate noncitizens purge. Collier said it found 10 noncitizens and Lee more than 40. They were spotted after a local television station compared the voter files with the names of people who got out of jury service by saying they were noncitizens.

In Collier, two people are being prosecuted for voter fraud.

While most big counties such as Miami-Dade, Broward and Hillsborough stopped their purges, Collier and Lee continued with the state program and identified about 40 more people. Under the state program, those who don’t respond to certified letters questioning their right to vote are purged within about 60 days.

Activists say that puts too much of a burden on citizens to prove their lawful voting status.

In addition to the U.S. Department of Justice’s federal suit in Tallahassee, the American Civil Liberties Union is suing the state in a federal case in Tampa and a coalition of other liberal voting-rights groups led by the Advancement Project are suing in a federal case in Miami.

Scott’s administration says it’s just trying to follow the law and make sure that unlawful voters aren’t casting ballots. For months, the administration tried to get access to a citizenship database controlled by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which refused to furnish the information.

After Judge Hinkle refused to issue an injunction against the state purge — in part because it had already been halted — Homeland Security gave the state access to the database.
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