Your tax-dollars at work: Barr's Justice Department busted for helping Trump delegitimize absentee ballots

Your tax-dollars at work: Barr's Justice Department busted for helping Trump delegitimize absentee ballots
President Donald J. Trump, joined by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, listens as U.S. Attorney General William Barr delivers remarks Thursday, July 11, 2019, in the Rose Garden of the White House to expand on President Trump’s Executive Order requiring every department and agency in the federal government to provide the Department of Commerce with all requested records regarding the number of citizens and non-citizens in the United States. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

On Thursday, the US Attorney's office in central Pennsylvania released a highly unusual statement. "Since Monday," it read, "FBI personnel working together with the Pennsylvania State Police have conducted numerous interviews and recovered and reviewed certain physical evidence. Election officials in Luzerne County have been cooperative. At this point we can confirm that a small number of military ballots were discarded.  Investigators have recovered nine ballots at this time.  Some of those ballots can be attributed to specific voters and some cannot. All nine ballots were cast for presidential candidate Donald Trump."

The release, reported The Washington Post, "alarmed voting-law experts." David Laufman, a former senior prosecutor at the Department of Justice, wrote on Twitter that "this is both bizarre and disturbing — US Attorney’s Offices don’t issue reports on pending investigations— and certainly not reports so blatantly contrived to provide political ballast for a sitting President’s campaign narrative."

The vast majority of "spoiled" absentees are rejected are spoiled for technical reasons. The nature of the release--mentioning the FBI--strongly implies that something nefarious is afoot, a message that the conservative press quickly embraced and are busy amplifying.

There was a clear red flag here. The release specifies that all nine ballots were for Trump but adds that "some of those ballots can be attributed to specific voters and some cannot." Absentee ballots must be completely filled out with the name of the voter and a valid signature. If they are not, they will be rejected--and that is entirely normal.

Then the DOJ backtracked. First, they "revised their earlier statement to report that only 7 of the ballots discarded were votes for President Trump."

And then they issued an update, a letter to the Director of Elections of Luzerne County Bureau of Elections, that suggested that this was a procedural snafu. The ballots in question were not enclosed in privacy envelopes as state law requires, and elections workers, thinking they were requests for absentees, opened them. By law, any ballot not enclosed in the second privacy envelope must be discarded. It appears to have been an error.

But it gets worse. That error resulted from a controversial court ruling in favor of Pennsylvania Republicans issued just days before. As the AP reported, Pennsylvania election officials were "warning of electoral chaos in the presidential battleground state if lawmakers there do not remove a provision in Pennsylvania law that, under a days-old court decision, requires counties to throw out mail-in ballots returned without secrecy envelopes."

The lawsuit was widely seen as a means of suppressing the mail-in vote, which polls suggest will tilt heavily toward Democrats this year. Officials say 30-40,000 absentees could be discarded--with some estimates as high as 100,000--because of the ruling.

So to recap, Republicans sued to have tens of thousands of "naked ballots" that aren't enclosed in a special privacy sleeve thrown out because those ballots will skew Democratic. Elections officials said that this would cause chaos and lead to widespread disenfranchisement. That in fact happened with a handful of military ballots and the DOJ issued a highly unusual press release implying that a crime had been committed. And within a few hours, that entire narrative had fallen apart.

But the exercise had the desired effect. Trump told reporters that ballots had been found “in a wastepaper basket in some location. . . . We want to make sure that the election is honest, and I’m not sure that it can be.”

In another highly irregular move this week, Barr's DOJ also released a portion of an interview with an FBI agent who was skeptical of the investigation into Michael Flynn and also disclosed details of an ongoing, highly politicized probe into the roots of the investigation of Russian meddling overseen by US Attorney John Durham.

With William Barr heading the DOJ--and the FBI--we can expect many more interventions like this in the next six weeks. How effective they will be remains to be seen. Former FBI Director James Comey's announcement that he was reopening the probe into Hillary Clinton's emails probably swung the race to Trump.  But Comey had a reputation for partisan neutrality that Barr does not. And there are far fewer undecided voters this year than there were in 2016.

Whether it has a significant impact on the horse race or not, these interventions will add to voters' confusion and doubt about the legitimacy of the vote. Given how likely it is that November's election will be marred by violence if Trump loses, those efforts will add\ fuel to the fire by amplifying his consistent message that he can only be defeated by widespread fraud.

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