Monday, September 22, 2008

Would that be tenpins, or duckpins? An exercise in pinsplitting.

Two posts down, D mentions his encounter with the recently erected Voter Suppression Wiki and his inclination to doubt its self-described "nonpartisan" status. One of the site's administrators, Jon, dropped by and took issue, in a nice way. Whatever his personal politics may be, it's nice to note that civil discourse hasn't entirely gone the way of the horse and buggy. From our starving student days to the present, D and I have always enjoyed a spirited discussion of the issues with good friends across the political spectrum. We've even managed to stay good friends with them.

Jon pointed us to a commenter on Democratic Underground who alleged that the Wiki is actually a Republican site intended to confuse voters. I can't say I'm surprised; in life and especially on the Internet expressing an opinion often gets one hammered from both sides and suspected of treachery by the more-papist-than-the-pope segment of one's own party. It's happened to us, and it happens all over.

The DU commenter notwithstanding, however, I'm inclined to side with D. I'm saying that having taken Jon's advice and left the RSS feed D copied behind, and gone straight to the Wiki's Incident Reports page. Thus far, there are only nine reports posted, Election Day still being six weeks away.

While I can't predict what the future will bring, I think I can form some opinions based on what is there currently. An overview, with my best assessment of the content, follows.

Some may object to my labelling of organizations and news sources. I base these labels on what information I have available, and don't claim infallibility. Basically, I tag mainstream/commercial sources as nonpartisan. This doesn't mean I don't think they have a slant, and I am well aware that some are pretty darn partisan. However, these publications do have a fiscal bottom line and do have an incentive to maintain at least the appearance of nonpartisanship in order to be taken seriously by their readerships. I tag blogs based on the language of their authors (most bloggers aren't reticent with their opinions) and the slant of the majority of links and advertisements they contain. I tag organizations based on stated purpose and affiliations. It's not intended to be a measure of fairness or accuracy, mind --some sources will have the advantage of others in these areas and trying to assess that would take me more time than I have.

In any case, I have attempted to categorize each incident by charge slant (the person or organization actually making the charge) and reporting slant (the list of posted sources) as left, center, right, or some combination thereof. While this may be simplistic, I think I have made all reasonable efforts to avoid undue subjectivity.

Please realize that this assessment constitutes a "slice in time." New links could conceivably alter the slant of some of these incident reports later on, and new information could result in them being either verified or demonstrated false.

Now, for the incidents:

1. National: Veterans Administration blocks voter registration
*Affects: Probably bipartisan.
*Charge slant: Left [Veterans for Peace , who sought to register wounded warriors in VA hospitals in San Francisco, brought the complaint.]
*Reporting Slant: Left [Links: , 2 left of center--Bradblog, Alternet; 1 mainstream/commercial--The Nation]
*My take: Could be suppression, could be bureaucratic foot-dragging (this is the VA, after all.) According to one linked article, mil recruiters are required to offer registration help to enlistees, so it's possible that registration is high among veterans anyway.

Veterans for Peace's involvement is interesting to me, as I don't think that organization is remotely interested in signing up the "Stay the Course" crowd in the military. Their concentration on wounded warriors in VA facilities indicates a slightly ghoulish interest in building up a representation in a demographic they may view as vulnerable to their prosletyzing. That's not to say that they should be arbitrarily excluded if other partisan organizations are allowed in VA facilities. But I can see the VA's rationale in not wanting anybody and everybody traipsing through their facilities, especially if it's someone likely to raise the tension level for the patients.

In any case, soldiers are not being blocked from registering to vote. Many are already registered. They can write off (or email) for ballots from their home districts, or their family members can have materials sent. And the VA does have some (though it's claimed to be insufficient) staff to help those who need it. What is being interfered with here is the ability of one particular partisan group to stage its own voter drive on VA premises in a given location.

*Last known status: Some relaxation of restriction and federal legislative action, according to Wiki 9-22.

2. Ohio: Absentee ballot application causes invalid Republican applications
*Affects: Republicans
*Charge slant: Right [Repubs made the mistake of putting a check-boxed qualification statement on absentee ballot apps. Dem. Sec. of State says she legally cannot accept unchecked cards though there is no state req requiring statement or checkbox. Repubs cry foul.]
*Reporting Slant: Center/left [3 mainstream/commercial--Cincinnatti Enquirer, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Cleveland.com; 1 left--Ampersand, Alas! blog]
*My take: Strikes me as a tempest in a teapot. Can't the state just check off submitted absentee ballots against a roll of registered voters? Besides, there's still time to straighten things out.
*Last known status: suit in progress.

3. South Carolina: Elections officials lack knowledge of voting rules for felons.
*Affects: Nominally bipartisan, though I'd be willing to lay cold cash on ex-cons trending Democrat.
*Charge slant: Left [Survey by ACLU, supported by SC Progressive Network.]
*Reporting slant: Center [1 mainstream/commercial-- Associated Press.]
*My take: Suppression? Hardly. The article linked merely cites an ACLU phone survey that indicated that election officials in 40 of 46 SC counties had adequate understanding of felon voting rights in the state. The fuss is because just over half knew how to deal with a felon convicted in another state or for a federal offense. There is no report of anybody having been disenfranchised as a result, however. A spokesman from the state election commission said some questions appeared confusing and he wasn't sure about the methodology of the survey.

4. Alabama: Republican Party stops legal voter registration in prisons.
*Affects: Nominally bipartisan. See my comment on 3.
*Charge slant: Left [Organizer acknowledges being a Democrat.]
*Reporting slant: Center/Left [1 mainstream/commercial--al.com; 2 left--Huffington Post opinion piece, Left in Alabama blog.]
*My take: Suppression? Possibly, but by the time the drive was cancelled (on the last day) there was likely little left to do. Felons can request materials on their own.

5. Michigan: GOP Threatens To Use Foreclosure Lists To Challenge Votes
*Affects: Democrats, presumably working-class blacks who have recently lost their homes.
*Charge slant: Left [Accusation by writer on left-leaning news site. She accuses county Repub Chair of threatening to block persons from foreclosed addresses from voting. He denies it.]
*Reporting slant: Center/Left [2 mainstream/commercial-- Lansing Daily News (reports denial) The Atlantic (reports on continued back and forth between national parties); 3 left-- Michigan Messenger (leftist online news site,) Daily Kos (opinion-heavy letter by John Conyers) The Washington Independent (it may call itself independent, but it sure looks left to me.)]
*My take: It's a he said/she-said--if he said it, she's apparently the only person who heard him. Why he'd be giving away company secrets to the opposition, I can't say.

6. Wisconsin: incorrect absentee ballot applications
*Affected: Probably random--no indication a given group was overrepresented.
*Overview: McCain campaign sends out a mailer to voters in MI. Mailer includes absentee ballot application. Some applications had the wrong clerk's address on them. Two complaints, one identified in article as Democrat.
* electionsonline view: Bet on a mistake.

7. Wisconsin: AG sues to force database check of voter registration
*Affected: Probably bipartisan, though linked article calls the suit partisan. There is no indication that a specific demographic is targeted. Municipal clerks protest that attending to the new req will prevent them from processing absentee ballots from deployed meilitary.
*Charge slant: Left [WI AG is Republican; Suit filed by dir. of One Wisconsin Now, a left/progressive organization.]
*Reporting slant: Center/left? [1 mainstream/commercial--Wisconsin State Journal; 1 probably left--U Penn's School of Law pub.]
*Overview: AG attempted to require crosschecking of all new voters' DL and SSN records back to 06. Those removed might be required to file a provisional ballot.
*My take: AG also involved in McCain campaign, which strikes me as imprudent. I heard an NPR report on this story Sunday morning, however, which gave me the impression that WI's voter rolls are a mess and probably should have been cleaned out already. I'll have to see if I can find it at NPR's site.

8. Virginia: College students discouraged from registering
*Affected: Transient students at VA Tech. Possibly trending Democrat, if story is accurate.
*Charge slant: Left [Obama campaign named in article]
*Reporting slant: Left [1 left--Alternet blog]
*Overview: Transient students at VA tech who have attempted to register their on-campus addresses as residences in order to vote have been notified that their actions may affect scholarship eligibility or tax filings and will obligate them to change car registrations and DL to new address.
*My take: I don't think requiring students to register at their permanent addresses constitutes suppression. More on this later, if time allows.

9. Florida: Vote caging in 5 counties
*Affected: Older voters, urban voters, probably Democrat (as cited)
*Charge slant: Left [Complaints levelled by Democrats]
*Reporting slant: Center [2 links, one to article, one to author biog=1 mainstream/commercial--tampabay.com/St. Petersburg Times.]
*Overview: RNC fundraising mailer asks voters to check "unconfirmed" party affiliations, saying "We have you registered as a Republican." Article indicates the mailer targets Democrats. Card includes an incorrect 9-dig voter id number. Dumb move and a little creepy if that's accurate.

Some Democrats suspect ulterior motives: postcards have a "Do not forward" instruction. The theory seems to be that the party can collect undelivered addresses and challenge votes based on this.
*My take: If I were Republican party chair in these counties, I wouldn't be laying myself open to charges of this sort, I gua-rahn-tee! There could be nefarious motives here, or the powers that be behind the campaign could be trying to do a little unofficial polling in a not very smart way.

All of this amounts to a heck of a lot of material. Thus, I think I'll leave off here and wrap things up on the next post.

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