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GOP's 2008 Legal Strategy: Target Every Battleground State

So much for McCain's claim that "the fabric of democracy" is being torn. It's only being ruffled by Republicans in battleground states.
 
 
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During the last presidential debate, John McCain accused ACORN, a low-income group that registered hundreds of thousands of voters in 2008, of "maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy."

Yet an analysis of legal actions by Republicans this fall shows the party has not focused nationwide -- as might be the case if "the fabric of democracy" were at risk. Instead, the GOP's actions, which range from filing lawsuits to partisan orders by Republicans who oversee their state elections, are concentrated in 14 swing states.

Only Iowa and New Hampshire are immune from this trend, according to an analysis of the recent litigation concerning voter registration, early voting, voter challenges and directives from top state election officials. Instead, virtually all the GOP's actions have all occurred in 2008's battleground states: Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Only two states are exceptions -- Montana and Hawaii -- where litigation was also filed. In contrast, 32 other states have not seen similar litigation in the 2008 general election.

The analysis reveals a coordinated legal strategy by the GOP -- just as the party coordinates its daily messaging and advertising.

(Editor's note: What follows is a state-by-state breakdown of the GOP's actions this fall, prepared with the help of voting rights attorneys. In most of these cases, the party has lost in court or it is not likely a judge will hear the case and rule before Tuesday’s Election Day.)

MISMATCHES, DATABASE ERRORS, REGISTRATION
In Wisconsin, the state GOP pushed McCain co-chair and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to sue the state's nonpartisan elections board over voter registration database errors. The board had voted not to use the list to force voters with "mismatches" to vote provisional or have their registration canceled. The McCain campaign has also echoed claims in Virginia that people registering to vote were in danger of identity theft, but admitted they have no evidence.

In Florida, where the Governor appoints the Secretary of State, "no match, no vote" is being implemented wherever a registrant's ID does not match exactly with government databases. Appointed Secretary of State Kurt Browning has been sued by nonpartisan voting rights groups over his implementation of the "no match, no vote" law. He has threatened to sue a local board of elections over plans to allow voters with incorrect information to make corrections when they vote.

In Georgia, nonpartisan voting rights groups sued Republican Secretary of State Karen Handel to halt a state law verifying U.S. citizenship of voters. The new law requires verification of U.S. citizenship for all voters. The Secretary of State is elected.

In Colorado, a nonpartisan voting rights group sued Republican Secretary of State Mike Coffman over voter purges due to database errors. The Secretary of State is elected.

In Minnesota, former Republican Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer has questioned the integrity of the state's voter registration database. She has launched a media campaign on the issue, using her new position as Executive Director of Minnesota Majority. The Secretary of State is elected.

In Missouri, Republican Governor Matt Blunt and Republican House Minority Whip Roy Blunt called on the federal government to investigate alleged voter registration fraud by ACORN in Missouri, bypassing the Secretary of State and local elections boards. Governor Blunt has also called on the Secretary of State to "clean up" mismatches in the statewide voter registration database. While the Secretary of State is elected, local election boards are appointed by the Governor and administer elections in the state.

In Nevada, the state GOP has filed challenges and threatened a lawsuit if the Secretary of State does not force voters with database errors or mismatches to vote provisional ballots. Democratic Secretary of State Ross Miller used federal agents to raid ACORN offices in his state. The Nevada Secretary of State is elected.

In North Carolina, the State Board of Elections has been questioned by the DOJ and voting rights groups about its use of Social Security Administration checks for voter registrations. The state maintains it has done nothing wrong. The state board of elections is appointed by the Governor with input from the two major parties.

In New Mexico, the state GOP has allegedly hired private investigators to look into voter registration fraud claims. According to voting rights groups, private investigators have visited new voters at home and intimidated them. The state GOP has claimed illegal voting is rampant and the FBI is investigating ACORN -- all with the help of a GOP operative who lead the charge to fire US Attorney David Iglesias when he refused to file baseless voter fraud charges in 2004. The New Mexico Secretary of State is elected.

In Michigan, the ACLU and the Advancement Project filed a federal lawsuit to restore 200,000 voters they claim were illegally purged, in part using database errors and mismatches. The Michigan Secretary of State is elected.

In Virginia, the state GOP chair has launched a media campaign against "widespread" voter registration fraud. While the state GOP has not yet launched legal fights, it did warn Virginians not to register with "strangers", claimed identity theft was happening, and has raised concerns about the state's voter registration database. In Virginia, a state board oversees elections and is appointed by the governor on a bipartisan basis.

In Pennsylvania, where the Secretary of State is appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the state senate, the state GOP has sued over matching voter registrations against the statewide voter database. The state GOP has also sued to force ACORN to turn over their voter registration database and to notify any mismatch that they cannot vote. The state GOP claims the appointed Secretary of State is hiding voter registration fraud for partisan reasons.

EARLY VOTING
In Indiana, where Republican Secretary of State Todd Rokita shares elections duties with an elections commission appointed by the Governor in consultation with the two major parties, the state GOP has sued to close three early voting centers in a strongly Democratic area of the state. The lawsuit has been before four separate courts, including the Indiana Supreme Court. Republicans claim voter fraud and Democrats claim race-based voter suppression.

In Virginia, the state GOP has threatened to sue the state board of elections over the processing of absentee ballots. The state GOP has called for a halt to all absentee processing because of some mistaken duplicate ballot mailings in the state, even though VA absentee ballots use ID like Ohio ballots.

VOTER CHALLENGES
In Montana, the state GOP challenged the voter registration of 6,000 Montanans based solely on change of address information, claiming the state should not have allowed those Montanans to register or vote. The state's Republican Secretary of State, Brad Johnson, directed counties not to process the challenges until a court ruled. The state GOP withdrew the challenges before the courts voted. The Secretary of State is elected.

In Indiana, the state GOP was sued after opening the door to voter challenges based on foreclosures. The suit was settled before a hearing, leading to an agreement that voters would not be challenged. The Secretary of State is elected, but shares elections duties with an elections commission appointed by the Governor in consultation with the two major parties.

In Wisconsin, where a nonpartisan state board oversees elections, the state GOP has advertised for Milwaukee-area veterans, policemen, security personnel, and firefighters to observe voting and challenge voters in inner-city precincts. Both nonpartisan groups and Democrats have cried foul. Wisconsin law allows polling place challenges and the state board of elections has taken no action to stop the recruitment plan.

In Virginia, the state GOP has attacked the state board of elections for allowing Democrats to register inmates to vote. The action is legal in Virginia. The state GOP has also attacked the state board of elections and Governor for restoring voting rights to felons who have served their time, then helping them register to vote.

In Florida, the state GOP is threatening to challenge every voter involved in a foreclosure action. Voting rights groups and political campaigns are considering legal action to stop the challenges. Florida's Secretary of State is appointed.

In Michigan, the Obama campaign filed a lawsuit to stop the state GOP from challenging the eligibility of voters involved in foreclosure actions. The Michigan Secretary of State is elected.

In New Mexico, the state League of Women Voters has sued the Secretary of State over rules the governor what votes will be considered valid during hand counts. The Secretary of State's narrow rules make it easier to challenge voters, the group says. The New Mexico Secretary of State is elected.

In New Mexico, a citizen has sued the Secretary of State over rules issued over political paraphernalia in polling places. The citizen's suit claims she should not be barred from voting if she has on a political t-shirt or button, so-called "passive electioneering." The New Mexico Secretary of State is elected.

SECRETARY OF STATE DIRECTIVES, ACTIONS
In Pennsylvania, After the Pennsylvania Department of State issued a memo saying voters' Election Day attire, including partisan t-shirts, are okay as long as the voters don't try to electioneer, the state GOP sued to have the memo rescinded. The Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth is appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the state senate.

In Pennsylvania, Secretary of the Commonwealth Pedro Cortes directed polling stations to provide paper ballots only if all electronic voting machines break down. He has been sued over his directive by voting rights groups who argue paper ballots should be available if half the machines break down. The Pennsylvania Secretary of State is appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the state senate.

In New Hampshire, Libertarian candidate Bob Barr sued Secretary of State Bill Gardner to gain access on the ballot. Secretary Gardner would not list Barr as the Libertarian candidate. In New Hampshire, the Secretary of State is appointed by a vote of the state legislature.

In Minnesota, news organizations sued Secretary of State Mark Ritchie over a state law restricting exit polling to 100 feet beyond a polling place. A federal judge granted the news organization's request for an injunction.

In Michigan, labor unions have sued the Republican Secretary of State over a directive regarding the removal of campaign paraphernalia when entering a polling location. The Secretary of State is elected.

In Pennsylvania, the state GOP filed a lawsuit against the Secretary of State to remove Libertarian candidate Bob Barr from the November ballot. The Pennsylvania Secretary of State is appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the state senate.

In Hawaii, the state GOP has attacked the Office of Elections, calling its administration "a script right out of the Third World." The Office of Elections board members are selected by state legislative members on a bipartisan basis.

In Virginia, voting rights groups have threatened a lawsuit over a state board of elections ruling that voters may be barred from polling places if they wear any campaign paraphernalia.

In Virginia, civil rights groups have sued the Governor and State Board of Elections over "unconstitutional allocation of voting machines" in urban and minority precincts.

Steven Rosenfeld is a senior fellow at Alternet.org and author of Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting (AlterNet Books, 2008).