Thou Shalt Not Steal: Is Voter Suppression the Real Issue? | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Thou Shalt Not Steal: Is Voter Suppression the Real Issue?

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Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama has gone out of his way to excite the historically indifferent youth vote, but the biggest question with young voters may not be keeping their attention long enough to get them to the polls. It may be whether they can vote when they get there.

The Pew Research Center believes the millennial generation will offer up 58 million eligible voters this year, about one-quarter of the electorate—this is second only in size to the baby boomer generation that dominated politics throughout the last century. It has been a steady climb, with voters under 30 making up 14 percent of voters in 2000 and 16 percent in 2004.

Chris Cillizza and Shailagh Murray wrote in The Washington Post last week that "in the 13 battleground states that require voters to register by party, there are nearly 1.5 million more Democrats than at this time in 2004. The comparable Republican numbers, by contrast, have fallen by 61,000 during that time. Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by more than 3.3 million in these same 13 battleground states, roughly double the edge—1.8 million—they enjoyed over the GOP four years ago."

The flurry of new voters make the odds for the party of Reagan look bad this year, even in the Dixie state of Georgia, which is polling with only a two-point lead for McCain according to one poll.

Unable to keep up with party registration this time around, some poll watchers say Republicans are resorting to another tactic to cull the rise.

"There have been more efforts to purge voters and make it more difficult for people to vote than I have ever seen in any election, more than any I've ever seen, not even during the 2004 elections," said Laughlin McDonald, director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project, in Washington. "This stuff is going on all across the country.

Flush the Vote
During the 2004 race between incumbent George Bush and Democratic rival John Kerry election officials across the nation trashed more than 1 million "corrupted" ballots due to stray marks, unofficial blank spaces or various nicks and tears making them unreadable to the soulless brain of a voting machine—though the human eye probably would have caught the meaning of the ballot.

The losses had the most impact on poor and minority areas, who statistically have to rely on older machines that are extremely fussy about the condition of the paper getting pushed through them. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, during its investigation of the much-maligned 2000 race in Florida, found blacks were nearly 10 times more likely than whites to get their ballots rejected by outdated, picky machines.

Blacks overwhelmingly vote Democrat, and their preference is already obvious in early voting this month. North Carolina, for example, has been indulging in early voting for about a week now, and blacks made up 31 percent of early voters on Friday, despite being just 21 percent of the South Carolina population. They made up less than 20 percent of the entire state's vote in 2004. Also, roughly 36 percent of early voters in Georgia are black, despite being only 30 percent of the state's population. Their impact is, so far, very obvious: The Associated Press reported on Friday that Democrats were outvoting Republicans by a margin of 2.5-to-1 in North Carolina.

A study reported in the Election Law Journal found that young voters, minorities and senior citizens more often have no driver's license or state ID. This bloc tends to vote Democratic, which could explain the hunger of Mississippi Republicans for pushing the ID requirement.

Republican Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann ran on a platform of making voter ID a reality, and pounced on the issue when he hit office, arranging a legislative package legalizing voter ID in Mississippi. He also advocated wiping the state's voter roll clean and forcing voters to re-register, arguing the state was bloated with deceased or non-voting individuals.

His package caught on in the Republican-dominated Senate, though the Democrat-dominated House saw what was coming and killed it in committee. Hosemann, who is in charge of educating voters and county governments on voting issues and encouraging voter turn-out, countered NAACP efforts to register voters through mail-in registration by sending out press releases warning voters to be wary of door-to-door registrars, and discouraged voters from registering through any means other than visiting the county circuit clerk in person.

"It has come to the attention of the Secretary of State's office (that) organizations are going door-to-door soliciting people to vote, using mail-in forms, and saying to citizens they are endorsed by the Secretary of State's office. While we encourage citizens to vote, the Secretary of State does not endorse these organizations," Hosemann stated. "Your best bet is to visit your circuit clerk's office to register to vote. This will ensure your voter registration card is filled out correctly—without mistakes and with privacy."

Hosemann did not return calls at the time asking why.

The Republican desire for voter ID appears almost universal. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a ruling in May that would have forced Mississippians to register by political party and to show photo identification at the polls in order to be able to vote, thanks to a decision by U.S. District Judge Allen Pepper—a former college roommate of retired Republican Sen. Trent Lott. Pepper ruled last year that the state should reregister all voters to allow people to declare themselves as Democrats, Republicans or unaffiliated. The Mississippi Democratic Party had initially filed the complaint leading to Pepper's decision to prevent Republicans from crossing over and influencing democratic primaries, and found themselves appealing the ruling, along with the NAACP. Even the Republicans joined in the appeal, fearing that the re-registration order would lock out many senior citizens who were less capable of the mastering the process.

Chief Judge Edith Jones opted to put all parties "out of their litigation misery" and overturned Pepper's ruling in June.

The Myth of Fraud
It does not seem to matter that very little evidence of voter fraud exists. The Bush administration began a crackdown on voter fraud anyway, unleashing the U.S. Department of Justice to chase down evidence of voter fraud like a forest of snipes awaiting plunder. Despite DOJ's charge to ferret out voter fraud (even firing U.S. attorneys for not chasing bogus cases as evidenced in recent congressional reports), the Justice Department has turned up scant evidence of an organized endeavor to throw elections according to court records and interviews.

Less than 100 voter-fraud convictions have resulted nationwide between 2007 and 2008, and the perpetrators, according to court records, were most often felons who thought they were back on the rolls upon release, or recent immigrants unfamiliar with the process.

Lori Minnite, a professor of political science at Barnard College who investigated allegations of widespread voter fraud, told that only one person was found guilty of registration fraud between 2002 and 2005. Twenty people were found guilty of voting while ineligible, and five people guilty of voting more than once—a grand total of 26 criminal voters.

More common, apparently, are the illicit attempts to suppress votes. This month, several major civil-rights organizations released a report exposing "a worrying new generation of online deceptive practices designed to mislead and intimidate voters."

Common Cause, The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and The Century Foundation released the report "Download the PDF" to educate voters on tricks to disseminate false or misleading information over the Internet. The report arrived after media accounts of deceptive e-mails targeting Texas voters with misinformation about functionality of voting machines there.

According to the organizations, deceptive practices plagued the last several election cycles, targeting minorities with false flyers and misleading robocalls. One robocall, as example, could falsely alert voters that the election had been postponed until the following Saturday for the sake of convenience or another could falsely warn people with parking tickets that they will have to pay their ticket fine when they arrive to vote.

"Misinformation campaigns, such as false flyers or intimidating robocalls, often aimed at minority communities, are not new," stated Tova Wang, Common Cause vice president of research and Democracy Fellow at the Century Foundation. "What this report demonstrates is the real danger that in this election these tactics will be replicated online. Given what we've already seen during this presidential campaign and the Internet rumors circulating, the much more widespread dissemination of false information through the Internet is a real danger."

A Good Scrubbing
Voter purging is another popular method to disenfranchise voters. States reported slashing at least 10 million voters from their rolls between 2004 and 2006, all under the guise of cleaning up the voter rolls. Colorado, so far, still boasts the record on disenfranchisement, according to the Democratic National Committee, with two Republican secretaries of state making nearly one in every six voters effectively vanish. Colorado Secretary of State Donetta Davidson—a Republican—later moved on to the federal Election Assistance Commission, the agency laughably created under the "Help America Vote Act" to aid states in simplifying and cleaning the voting process.

Republicans pursue the voter scrubbing like a conservative Mr. Clean—even to the point of incurring a few Republican casualties. Madison County Election Commissioner Sue Sautermeister scrubbed more than 10,000 voters from the books before the March primary election, prompting Democrats to laugh when two of those cleaned names turned out to be 3rd Congressional Republican candidate David Landrum and his wife, Jill.

Landrum's Republican opponent John Rounsaville claimed Landrum had not voted in an election in seven years. Landrum's campaign then released a 2003 Hinds County affidavit ballot with his signature, though Landrum later admitted the signature was not his and that he didn't review it before releasing it to the public. That was the first problem.

Sautermeister said she had mailed out three letters to both Landrums, which never received a response.

"He was on the voter-registration rolls as Thomas, but he was on the ballot as David," Sautermeister recalls. She cleared up the issue with a peek in a phone book, but not before attracting the attention of Landrum's campaign.

Sautermeister said that returned notices and voter notification cards were the basis for removing the voters, though Election Commission Chairman Kakey Chaney said Sautermeister did not follow what has been the standard practice of the commission for the past three years to purge names. "The rest of the Election Commission was not aware" of Sautermeister's action, she told reporters. Chaney also said Sautermeister had removed the names "from the privacy of her own home."

The county board has yet to formalize an official procedure for discarding names, Sautermeister claims. The 10,000 purged voters likely would have never known had Madison's esteemed top Republican and his wife not found themselves victims of the tactic. In a meeting that did not feature Sautermeister, the Madison election commission voted to quietly put the names back on the poll books before the 2008 primary.

Madison County District Attorney Michael Guest, a Republican, concluded after his investigation of Sautermeister that she had no criminal intent. She had requested funds to notify people whose names were being removed, but she didn't get the money, so she skipped that crucial step in deleting the names from the books.

Sautermeister said the county board was uninterested in buying the voter confirmation cards. "The thing is, last year, several of the supervisors had opponents in the primaries and in the general election, so they didn't want the rolls touched," she said.

Sautermeister's GOP opponent Timothy Jenkins refuses to slam the behavior. "I applaud what she was trying to do, not the way it was done," Jenkins said. "I understand her reasoning behind doing it, but the process in which she did it could have been done better and OK'd by the other election commissioners. From what I understand, the voter registration list is 122 percent of the population of Madison County.

Sautermister said Hosemann had given Madison commissioners the 122 percent figure in February.

The Associated Press reported this week that more than a third of Mississippi counties have more registered voters than residents old enough to vote. Using county figures on registered voters compared to Census data, the AP deemed some counties, like Wilkinson, Noxubee and Benton County, had thousands more voters than voting-age residents.

"Obviously, this situation creates the potential for fraud, though most of the extra names there are probably not there specifically for the purpose of conducting fraud. You just have election commissioners not doing their job and purging the books," Mississippi Republican Party Chairman Brad White said. "The intent may not be there in all those cases, but it certainly create the potential for it."

Not surprisingly, White advocates a total purge of the Mississippi rolls followed by a re-registration of all eligible voters. "People register by mail all the time," White said. "If they can pay their light bill, why can't they register to vote?"Circuit Clerk Lee Westbrook removed Sautermeister's privilege of working within the state election management system in March, and she no longer has authority to inactivate voters in the county computer system until after Nov. 2." Sautermeister said it was her decision, and that it was "voluntary."

Second District U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson told the Jackson Free Press that Sautermeister had conducted similarly suspicious behavior while working as an election commissioner in Hinds County, though he would not elaborate. He added that a federal investigation of Sautermeister is still ongoing.

"There were a lot of complaints about her activities when I was a member of the Hinds County Board of Supervisors," Thompson said. "It was a shame because from what we gather a lot of people didn't know about the purge until they went to vote. The election commissioner's role should be encouraging voter participation, not conspiring to deny people the right to participate."

Coming to Mississippi
Thompson warned that another Republican voter-suppression method could be coming to Mississippi.

"The rumor is that some of the tactics that have been employed around the country are coming here, mostly because of the tight race between U.S. Senate candidate Roger Wicker and his Democratic opponent Ronnie Musgrove," Thompson said. "We think Republican operatives will be taking the foreclosure roll and challenging people at the polls who've lost their home. The public has suffered a lot of mortgage foreclosures this past year, and it would be like these people to kick them in the teeth now that they're down."

Michigan recently made news when Republican Party Chairman James Carabelli reportedly told a Michigan Messenger reporter that the party was planning to use a publicly available list of foreclosed homes to prevent people from voting in the November presidential election.

"We will have a list of foreclosed homes and will make sure people aren't voting from those addresses," Carabelli allegedly told the Michigan Messenger in a phone interview.

He later denied the comments, though House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers thought enough of the story to write a letter to U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey voicing concern over the allegation.

"We are deeply troubled by recent media reports that the chairman of the Michigan Republican Party in Macomb County is planning to use a list of foreclosed homes as a basis to challenge voters and block them from participating in the election," Conyers wrote, attaching a request for the Republican-run Department of Justice to launch a full-scale investigation into the matter.

CNN reported in October that the U.S. Supreme Court blocked an order from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati directing Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner to update the voter registration database after information provided by some newly registered voters did not match up with Social Security and driver registration numbers.

The Ohio Republican Party claims widespread voter fraud in Ohio, a battleground state, and that Brunner stopped verifying voter registrations while allowing Ohioans to cast ballots on the same day they registered.

GOP Chairman Bob Bennett accused Brunner of concealing fraudulent voter registrations in an effort to throw the state to Obama—a bizarre twist from the year 2004, when former Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell served as co-chairman of the Bush-Cheney campaign in Ohio and made decisions complicating new voter registrations.

Little ACORN That Could
Republicans are backing their flurry of calls for voter purging in Ohio and other states with reports of voter-registration fraud from the non-profit group ACORN, which claims to have registered at least 450,000 new voters across the nation. The Ohio Republican Party sued Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner.

Conservatives accuse ACORN, which primarily works in low-Income neighborhoods that routinely vote Democratic—of "voter fraud" (as opposed to the less serious but more accurate crime, "registration fraud"). The accusation came after the group allegedly submitted thousands of faulty voter-registration cards in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio and Michigan.

Authorities raided the group's Las Vegas office in October, boasting of registration cards bearing names like "Mickey Mouse" or Dallas Cowboys Quarterback "Tony Romo."

Bertha Lewis, ACORN chief organizer, said the group—which pays hourly, not per registration—flags suspicious registration cards before turning them in to authorities, as required by law, and complained that authorities were incriminating the organization using registration cards that ACORN had flagged.

McCain himself pushed the issue, accusing ACORN of being "on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history," and quickly worked in conjunction with party faithful over at FOX News to link the practice with Obama, who once represented ACORN as an attorney.

NAACP Chairman Julian Bond, speaking at a National Press Club press conference, complained that ACORN's accidental flubs are nothing compared to what Republicans have been up to for years: "Republicans have practiced an assortment of subtle and overt methods to suppress and smother voter registration and turnout" throughout the party's history, Bond said. "Ever since they first practiced voter suppression, they've yelled, 'Voter fraud!' "

Democrats have their own ammunition, of course, demanding McCain voice his outrage after Republican operative Mark Jacoby allegedly registered himself to vote at two homes in California where he did not live. Voters also accused Jacoby's organization, Young Political Majors, of talking residents into signing a petition to toughen laws against child molesters when they were actually getting signed up as Republicans. YPM, which got paid $5 to $7 per registered Republican, denied the charge.

The Jacoby incident follows that of Nathan Sproul, whom Congress investigated for allegedly destroying Democratic voter-registration forms while getting paid $175,000 by the McCain campaign this year.

Still, the multitude of accusations against ACORN, joined perhaps by Republicans' increasing frustration at potentially losing the White House and much of Congress this year, is fueling considerable anger at the organization. Sonya Murphy-Berry, ACORN in Jackson, complains of hate mail.

One e-mail, from hate@n*, called the Mississippi non-profit "Corrupt N*gger Muslims??" A second e-mailer, under the new address [e-mail unavailable], referred to the organization as "Standard dumb n*gger muslims." Yet another e-mail, [e-mail unavailable] pounded out (in excruciatingly bad English) that ACORN was to blame for the nation's ills: "You are the cause of a lot of what is going wrong in this country. How stupid can you be????????????/ Everyone can not be ritch. There are workers and there are Queens in all colonies. Such as aits (ants?). Everyone cannot be a Queen??????????" (sic)

Even Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour got into the act, telling The Financial Times that "not all" newly registered voters in Mississippi were legal because of rules that require voters who register by mail to include a photocopy of a federally accepted identification in their application, or bring identification to the polls.

"I suspect some of those people won't be able to do that," he warned, sending the not-so-subtle warning of challenges at the polls.

Be Prepared
Mississippi ACLU Executive Director Nsombi Lambright said her organization is working in conjunction with the NAACP and others in Mississippi to help voters overcome human obstacles barring the voting booth.

"We're encouraging people to call us. We have all these new registered voters, and most of them are uninformed and subject to harassment," Lambright said. "Some of them haven't received their cards, and we expect a number of problems with people going to the wrong polling place or being at the right voting place, but being discouraged from voting by a number of tricks, such as questions about their residence."

Other voter advocates are more aggressive and anxious. "This is a declaration of war, and we are prepared for battle," said Protect the Vote 2008 Coordinator Yumeka Rushing. "Right now we have more than 200 lawyers involved right here in Mississippi, ready to take on challenges at the polling places. There may be folks asked to provide ID who should not be asked to provide ID."

Rushing said some voters who have registered through the mail will be required to show ID, but only if the mail-in registrant did not supply a copy of acceptable ID with their registration form or if their driver's license number did not match with the Highway Patrol's database. No ID is required otherwise.

The Mississippi secretary of state reported 17,184 mail-in registrants who could not be verified by the Mississippi Department of Public Safety and 16,882 face-to-face registrants who the department could not verify, amounting to 34,066 voters whose records did not match the information they submitted to county clerks. The 34,000 figure cuts into the 172,787 new voters who registered in Mississippi since January by about 20 percent.

Voters who have been flagged and can't provide proper identification—or who have been successfully challenged—still have the option for an affidavit or provisional vote.

Critics call provisional ballots "maybe" ballots, meaning they may be counted or not, depending upon whether the voter's eligibility can be proven—which in turn may be dictated by the amount of attention the election commission chooses to give them.

A study recently published by the non-partisan public policy center Demos, "Provisional Ballots: Where to Watch in 2008," identifies the high risk of many of those ballots going uncounted in the November election.

More than one in three of the nearly 2 million provisional ballots cast in the 2004 election were ultimately rejected. The study revealed that states tossed 172,555 provisional ballots in 2006, 21.8 percent of ballots cast. Almost half those ballots were rejected despite the voter's belief that he or she was properly registered to vote. Americans cast 791,483 affidavit ballots in the 2006 election, the report said—about 1.2 percent of all ballots cast. Mississippi rejected 2,558 provisional ballots during the 2006 general election.

Still, both Johnson and Rushing advised voters to not leave a polling place without voting somehow. "Affidavit ballots are just likely to be counted," Rushing said. "Affidavit ballots are as legitimate as ballots. If your name is not on the books, then ask for one."

Johnson said he expected some poll workers to mislead voters out of ignorance, but warned that some others may be doing it on purpose. "Because of the lack of leadership from the secretary of state, they haven't provided adequate information on how to run an effective election, but you're also going to have situations where some circuit clerks will be much more aggressive in their point of views than others," Johnson warned.

Political operatives, he added, historically purposefully mislead poll workers and voters alike on the voting process. "The targets have always been low-income areas in the hopes of deterring people from voting. We don't know where the strategy will be employed therefore we have to prepare for the entire state knowing they won't be concentrating in a specific area. They will no more telegraph their approach than anybody else carrying out a strategic plan to undermine the voters."

Lambright warned of operatives prepared to challenge voters over residency issues, such as foreclosure questions, but explained that it was up to the poll worker to either reject or accept the challenge.

With chances high this year for ID issues and election tampering, Attorney General Jim Hood sent notices to election commissioners. "Challenges are sometimes made arbitrarily as part of an effort to disrupt and delay the voting process," Hood stated. "Be sure your poll workers know that when they believe a challenge is frivolous or not made in good faith, they may disregard the challenge and allow the voter to vote normally on the voting device."

Lambright said a little education goes a long way for poll workers. "We had a situation in Greenwood during a mayoral election when the incumbent had hired a bunch of poll workers. They sent out these notices from the mayor's office, and every one that came back unanswered, they challenged it at the poll, saying they didn't live there anymore. Poll managers at the time didn't know they had the power to deny the challenge. We went in there and told them they don't have to accept this challenge," Lambright said.


Previous Comments


A friend of mines said the other night the southern tragedy aka southern strategy is about to die this Tuesday. I hope so and I certainly hope that people like Elizabeth Dole, Kay Bailey Hutchinson and the likes finally lose and goes back to hell to be with Karl Rove, Reagan, Nixon, Eastland , et al. I would love to see some sitting Mississipi trash finally go away too, but it won't, it seems. Not yet at least. And how can you steal like republicans do and still be called good people by good people. I'll never understand this!


My prayers and hopes are that Wednesday is a great getting up morning with new people in charge and dedicated to turning the country around. I further pray and hope that those jokers who lead us this low and so far back in savaged times and moral decadence will suffer resounding defeats, humiliation and irreparable setbacks. If Wednesday is a great getting up morning, don't look to hear from me locally for I will be in Washington, D.C. bar-b-quing, signifying and dranking, across the street from the white house (although I don't drank alcohol. I will also be high-fiving all the good people of all races, sexes, cultures, persuasions, socializations, et al, who said enough is enough and came together to run off the evil that divides and screws us royally. You know who they are. It starts with an R. What a loving and indiscriminant party it will be. We will leave all our important properties at home and under high guard for we know the other party will be searching our homes, buses, cars, businesses, bar-b-que grills and all other modes of transportation and fun, looking for secrets and ways to keep afloat and for whom they can now devour for this is the way of the modern day predator. Amen.


"They come to steal, kill and destroy." Don't be fooled! Consider the unnecessary war in Iraq costing nearly a million of lives and destroying a civilization and economic structure, the number of times they've been caught stealing or with their hands in the cookies jar, their views on race, poverty, country unity, and their penchant for saying one thing and doing something totally different as a window or mere evidence into their souls. "You will know them by their names" - the RNC, the GOP, Satan's Disciples, Conservatives, Super Predators, Wolves in Sheep's Clothing, and as a Crying Wolf when called out, challeneged or caught redhanded. Today and at this hour, in order to continue their wolf-like or predatory ways, we find them telling people they will be arrested for parking tickets if they show up to vote, sending confusing eamils of various natures and kinds, making disturbing calls including robo calls, illegally asking people about thier legal status to vote, sending emails linking Obama to the Holocaust and Germany in a dishonest way, sending flyers and emails saying Obama is friendlier to the Palestinans than to Israel, making calls to tatgeted persons and telling them they can vote over the phone, making calls and sending flyers saying if you've voted once this year you can not vote again, et al. Tomorrow night the Lawd will send a swing low and sweet chariot once again to carry us home from the land of corruption, immorality, grand thievery, greed, race hatred, and a cold murdering world. "I looked over Jordan, and what did I see, coming for to carry me home, a band of angels coming after me, coming to carry me home."


"You will know them by their fruits. Beware of false (people), who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves." "Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? A good tree cannot bear bad fruits, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit." It is error and clear folly and shows lack of wisdom to expect that which is no good to ever do good. No man can serve 2 masters, nor can the devil do the Lord's work and vice versa.


"Either make the tree good and its fruits good, or else make the tree bad and its fruits bad; for a tree is known by its fruits. Brood of viper! How can you, being evil, speak good thing? For out of an abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of evil treasure brings forth evil things." Where are all our republican friend gone? I love them though for it is also commanded that I love my enemies. If everything goes well I'd like to participate in imparting some tough love to them. They wouldn't readily receive it though, no matter how desperately they needed it, for it would be deemed socialism or handouts. I'm out.


Ole Dole (Elizabeth that is) is gone, and I'm as happy as a drunk congressman David Vitter stumbling into harlothouse of spank-me ladies. Even the athiest card she played on her opponent backfired on her.


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