Sunday, October 24, 2004
Games Poll Workers Play
ARKANSAS: "YOU CAN'T BE A POLLWORKER: YOU'RE A REPUBLICAN!" [Dan Greenberg 10/22 02:30 PM]
In even-numbered years, October in Arkansas is a month full of hallowed traditions — Arkansans go hunting, celebrate Halloween, and undergo baseless Democratic accusations of voter intimidation. Earlier this week, the wife of our Republican governor, Mike Huckabee, was the latest victim of what has become the Democrats' standard election-eve strategy.
Early voting began on Monday, and Janet Huckabee showed up to volunteer as a pollworker. A few voters were upset by the fact that our state's first lady was volunteering; one yelled at her that "You shouldn't be in here." Janet's crime: Asking voters to produce ID. Her requests were enough to produce a torrent of simulated outrage from the state Democratic party, despite the fact that pollworkers must request ID from each voter by state law. According to the Associated Press, the chief precinct election judge, Helen Burr, erroneously told Janet that asking for ID at a polling place was illegal. Burr's animus toward Janet ultimately derived from more than a difference of opinion over election law — as revealed when Judge Burr told a reporter "She's here as a Republican. I don't think it's right."
Arkansas law mandates that ID be requested, but not required — anyone can decline to show ID and gain access to the polls just by identifying oneself as someone on the voter list. If you ask our election officials about this invitation to vote fraud, they'll respond that any suspected vote fraud will be reported to the Election Commission, and that it's a felony with significant penalties. But this doesn't speak to a significant problem: It's hard to see how the authorities would ever catch the culprit. (Will the cops dust the voting booth's touch-screen for fingerprints?)
Judge Burr also told reporters that "many" voters complained about Janet's behavior. Oddly, when I checked with the county election commission, the number of complaints was exactly one: According to election-commission records, one voter complained that Janet asked him for ID in an insufficiently respectful way. Janet Huckabee is a strong woman with a forceful personality, but this complaint doesn't quite seem to support the serious charge of voter intimidation. It was, however, enough to trigger the state Democratic party to issue a press release, muttering darkly about pursuing its "legal options."
This story has special resonance for me, since I am, regrettably, far too personally familiar with Judge Burr's m.o. Two years ago, I served as a pollwatcher in Ms. Burr's precinct, and asked Judge Burr why there was no separation between traditional ballots (cast by people who showed ID) and challenged ballots (cast by people who refused to show ID) as state law required. When the judge responded that she had decided not to follow state law, I raised a fuss and insisted that she call a county election commissioner. A Democratic election commissioner showed up in minutes and, to her credit, fixed the problem immediately by insisting that all challenged ballots be placed in a separate envelope. But out of the corner of my eye, I saw an assistant whispering into a phone. Sure enough, the state Democratic party promptly sent over protesters, cranked up the outrage machine, and issued a press release decrying yet another instance of a Republican trying to intimidate voters — this despite the fact that I never spoke to a voter, but only insisted that the authentic and possibly inauthentic ballots remain separate. Democrats in the state legislature fixed the problem in the next legislative session by eliminating the ballot-challenging procedure in such cases, which guaranteed that in future elections any possibly fraudulent votes would be commingled with the good ones.
I know it's commonplace for observers to conclude that Democrats get overheated about voter suppression and Republicans get overheated about vote fraud, and that the truth must be that neither really happen to any great extent. I'd be more inclined to take that perspective seriously if I weren't familiar with recent Arkansas history. Just after our last election, a Democratic member of the Phillips County Quorum Court in east Arkansas pled guilty in federal court to widespread absentee ballot fraud. His conviction was on the heels of Democrats following the Missouri strategy that led to Democrat Jean Carnahan's Senate victory in 2000: that is, pick some Democratic precincts and get a last-minute court order to keep them — and only them — held open for an extra hour or two on election night. In 2002, the Democrats were almost successful in doing this in Pulaski County, the state's most populous (and heavily Democratic) county. The Arkansas supreme court overturned this maneuver the next morning, as it became more obvious that — despite the fact that the proffered justification for the last-minute extension was that problems of long lines and poll overcrowding had suddenly cropped up — the Democrats' stratagem had been in the works long enough to coordinate it with computerized phone calls with a previously recorded message from the area's incumbent congressman going out to Democratic voters informing them about the extended hours. Earlier in 2002, workers paid and supervised by a staffer for the state Democratic party generated nearly 250 different fraudulent or highly questionable voter-registration forms, all of which were eventually tossed out by the Chicot County Election Commission. With baggage like this, it's no wonder that an oft-used page in the Democratic election playbook today is to trump up groundless accusations of voter intimidation.