Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Sup’ Nazis: No Rights for You!

Reading through reports on yesterday’s Supreme Court decision upholding an Indiana voter ID law, and reading about the rules imposed by Indiana’s Republican legislature on potential voters—most notably presentation of a valid, unexpired, Indiana state or US federal government-issued photo ID at the polls before voting—my mind quickly leapt to the image of Seinfeld’s infamous Soup Nazi. That character (based on real-life New York soup-maker and martinet Al Yaganeh) was famous for offering the most coveted cup of soup in the city, but to deal with the long lines that formed at lunchtime, the soup man imposed a set of strictures—know what you want in advance, no questions, substitutions, or special requests, move to the left after ordering, cash only, have your money ready—that it struck fear in the hearts of many customers. If the sense of intimidation lead to hesitation or an inadvertent violation of a rule, the chef would deny service with the shouted admonition, “No soup for you!”

In Indiana (where the demand for $15-a-cup lobster bisque just isn’t as great as it is in Manhattan) the soup in this case is the ballot—and the rules make it very easy for poll workers to tell thousands of aspiring voters, “No vote for you.” Thousands more will be too intimidated or discouraged to even go to the polls and ask for their “soup.”

And Indiana is not alone in its quest to deny service to some of democracy’s most important customers. Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Michigan, and South Dakota also require photo identification before casting a ballot, and two-dozen other states have similar laws pending.

With all this activity, clearly there must be a problem—I mean, the Soup Nazi felt the need to be so strict in order to speed up long lines, so there must be some wrong that photo IDs are meant to right. . . right?


Though Republicans (and it is Republicans that are behind the majority of these vote constricting efforts) claim that there is some sort of voter impersonation scam going on—“voter fraud,” they call it—there is no evidence of rampant abuse. In Indiana, in fact, there is no evidence of any fraud at all. None. Not one case.

When arguing before the Supreme Court, lawyers defending the Indiana law dredged up one example from a different state, and made references to past irregularities committed during the era of Boss Tweed.

That would be William M. Tweed, the New York City politician who died on April 12. . . 1878!

No doubt the 19th Century reference was necessary because there is just not that much to cite that is more recent. In 2006, a bipartisan study showed that, nationwide, there is little evidence of this sort of fraud at the polls. If there is a problem with forgery, the study found, it comes with absentee ballots, and not where people vote in person.

But even the absentee problem is not the problem with voting. The biggest problem in 21st Century America is disenfranchisement—laws and practices that make it harder for citizens to participate in the electoral process. The Indiana law not only does nothing to fix this problem, it exacerbates it.

Which, if the truth were allowed to be stated plainly, is the real intent of the Indiana photo ID law—and the Supreme Court and everyone that is reporting on this decision should know that.

They all should know that because there is now a clear history of coordinated voter suppression and intimidation, perpetrated almost exclusively by Republicans, and dating back (at least) to the presidential election of 2000.

There was the “purging” of Florida’s voter rolls in that year by Republican Governor Jeb Bush and his Secretary of State, Katharine Harris; the illegal robo-calls and phone-jamming in the 2002 New Hampshire Senate race that were traced back to the state and national Republican parties, and the White House; the misallocation of voting machines by Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State in 2004; and the interference in 2006 that just earned Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) an ethics panel rebuke for trying to move US Attorney David Iglesias toward bringing a voter fraud prosecution—to name but a few examples.

There was also the 2003 advice offered by former DoJ Civil Rights Division lawyer Hans von Spakovsky that state governments use the Help America Vote Act to knock voters off the rolls if the information on their registration forms did not exactly match other statewide databases. Von Spakovsky is now at the center of a fight to fill vacant seats on the Federal Election Commission, with the Bush administration and Senate Republicans insisting that this architect of voter disenfranchisement be given one of the empty slots.

And there is the 2004 case of vote caging organized by former Karl Rove aid Tim Griffin. Working through the Republican National Committee, Griffin actually sent an e-mail titled “caging” to Florida Republican operatives with a list of Duval County voters the RNC thought should be challenged at the polls after the voters’ residency was thrown into question through a targeted “do not forward” mailing. The targets of that mailing were predominantly Democratic and predominantly African American. Such behavior is now known as “caging,” and when it is done with the intent to disenfranchise a specific population, it is illegal.

The White House was reportedly aware of Griffin’s involvement in the Duval caging when it tapped him to be a US Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas (after the sitting USA was purged by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales). Tim Griffin lasted only six months in that job before the caging and US Attorney scandals caught up with him and he resigned.

Griffin’s story shares a common theme with all the others listed: Republicans trying to restrict access to the polls and disenfranchise voters.

There is something extremely unsettling about a purportedly “small ‘d’” democratic party that expends so much energy on suppressing the vote. It is a contradiction in terms, the height of hypocrisy, and practically the definition of elitism. It is a different kind of prima facie argument that finds the Republican Party to be not only cynical, but flat-out un-American. And without even a soupcon of evidence of so-called voter fraud, it is the facial argument that Justices Stevens, Kennedy, and Roberts should have recognized even while denying the argument that the Indiana law was inherently discriminatory.

The behavior of this administration and the RNC with regard to voters has mimicked the attitude of the Soup Nazi, and Monday’s Supreme Court Decision only echoes his denial of sustenance. But if the pattern of disenfranchisement is allowed to continue, if the rights of the citizenry are selectively abrogated by a partisan elite, and if the judiciary and Justice Department are to serve as little more than rubberstamp enforcement for a unitary executive, then no soup is necessary for the analogy.

(cross-posted on The Seminal and Daily Kos. . . and a big welcome to Air America readers—thanks for stopping by!)

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