- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 1, 2007

The United States has never committed itself to policies of full voter participation for all of its citizens.

This failure, along with election-year shenanigans like overbroad voter roll purges or sending out misleading information, has made it easier for discriminatory practices that selectively disenfranchise some citizens and provide a greater voice to those who wish to maintain the status quo.

Until participation by everyone is our goal, we will leave ourselves open to manipulations, scandals and suppression of selected voter groups because we are not judging those policies against a principle that favors full participation.

In reading some of the conflicting explanations why certain U.S. attorneys were fired — mainly John McKay of Washington and David Inglesias of New Mexico — I found it is disheartening that these two were singled out for failing to “pursue allegations of voter fraud.” Yes, voter fraud. The Election Assistance Commission, created in 2002 to help states reform their electoral practices, can’t even agree upon a definition of “voter fraud,” much less prove its existence.

As much as politicians talk about it — even President Bush seems concerned about it — one would assume it actually exists. Like an unchecked virus in our electoral system, we are led to believe it is an epidemic. But, where’s the evidence of it on a scale to warrant the administration’s dismissal of one or more U.S. attorneys?

After every election, newspapers are filled with stories of unnamed dogs, the dead, felons and noncitizens attempting to vote on Election Day. Then lawmakers, seeking to root out corruption, start passing all sorts of laws requiring people to present state or federally issued photo identification — tantamount to a modern-day poll tax — to protect against it. But according to experts, there’s just no proof this problem is prevalent enough to justify sacrificing the rights of others to vote.

Imposing voter-ID requirements prevents people with little or no ability to purchase state or federally issued driver licenses from voting. The Republicans hired literally thousands (3,400 in Ohio and more than 5,000 in Florida in 2004) of “poll watchers” on Election Day to intimidate and disenfranchise voters and justified their actions by claiming it was intended to catch potential illegal voters and to prevent voter fraud. (I believe the Republican National Lawyer’s Council refers to it as “ballot integrity”).

Now, apparently, we fire U.S. prosecutors who refuse to devote valuable and scarce resources to the Quixotic quest of finding, proving and prosecuting voter fraud. When will this nightmare end?

While everyone else focuses on determining who issued and who was aware of the orders to fire attorneys viewed as obstacles to the Bush administration’s political agenda, the bigger question is: What were these attorneys investigating or failing to investigate that made them political targets? The answer, in many cases: voter fraud.

Consider what Joseph P. Rich, a former career employee in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division for almost 37 years, had to say before a House subcommittee: “In the end, the priority, indeed obsession, of this administration was not to protect the rights of American voters but with the politically charged pursuit of chasing the ghosts of voter fraud.”

According to the Justice Department, since the attorney general’s “Ballot Access and Voting Integrity Initiative” began in 2002, more than 120 people have been charged with election fraud. In the last four years, under both intense media scrutiny and political pressure, Justice has managed to prove only 86 cases of voter fraud. That is less than the number of people who reportedly die every year from choking on ballpoint pens, yet the government hasn’t launched a crusade against Bic.

With tens of millions of citizens voting every election cycle, a handful of people cannot create or start an epidemic.

Voter fraud isn’t difficult to prove. The laws are codified, the burden of proof is simple to meet. A prosecutor need only prove the person was ineligible to vote and did so anyway. Certainly, if attorneys can win multimillion-dollar verdicts for coffee being too hot, they are up proving someone ineligible to vote. So if convictions are so rare, voter fraud simply cannot be as widespread as the White House and the Justice Department would like us to believe. So what is its motivation? It must, like everything else this administration has done, be political.

The firing of these U.S. attorneys is just the latest in string of Bush administration attempts, many far more successful than proponents of a fair and open democracy would hope, to limit and constrain the electorate to those who vote Republican.

It isn’t Republican versus Democrat, it’s Republican versus Democracy. And for the sake of the nation, we all better hope Democracy wins.

Donna Brazile is a political commentator on CNN, ABC and NPR and the former campaign manager for Al Gore.

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