Monday, October 22, 2012

Reading between the lines.....

Jane Mayer has an excellent piece on voter fraud which ends this way:

With legions of citizen watchdogs on the lookout for fraud, voters confused about the documents necessary to vote, and the country almost evenly divided politically, von Spakovsky is predicting that November 6th could be even more chaotic than the 2000 elections. He will play a direct role in Virginia, a swing state, where he is the vice-chairman of the electoral board of Fairfax County. Joining us at the conference table at the Heritage Foundation, John Fund, von Spakovsky’s co-author, told me, “If it’s close this time, I think we’re going to have three or four Floridas.” Von Spakovsky shook his head and said, “If we’re lucky only three or four.” If there are states where the number of provisional ballots cast exceeds the margin of victory, he predicts, “there will probably be horrendous fights, and litigation between the lawyers that will make the fights over hanging chads look minor by comparison.” Pursing his lips, he added, “I hope it doesn’t happen.” But, if it does, no one will be more ready for the fight.

Pretty grim stuff, especially since Hans Von Spakovsky is a lawyer.  Who could be more ready for a legal fight than a lawyer who's spent his career in the area of voting law.  But, it turns out, Mr. Von Spakovsky is not a very good lawyer:
Von Spakovsky said, “The idea that there’s some deep conspiracy is just laughable.” His own work, however, has suggested that liberals engage in conspiracies. “Who’s Counting?” opens with an insinuating account of how Al Franken, the Minnesota Democrat, was elected to the Senate in 2008. According to the book, there is “compelling” evidence, compiled by a citizens’ watchdog group, that “1,099 ineligible felons voted illegally” in the contest—“more than three times” Franken’s victory margin. The subhead of the chapter is “Would Obamacare have passed without voter fraud?”

Fox News and other conservative media outlets have promoted this argument. However, Mike Freeman, the Hennepin County Attorney, who oversees Minneapolis, told me, “Those numbers are fraudulent. We investigated, and at the end of the day, out of over four hundred allegations in the county, we charged thirty-eight people. Their research was bad, sloppy, incredible. They are just liars.” Some of the targeted voters weren’t actually felons; others were on probation and hadn’t realized that they remained ineligible to vote. To be convicted of voter fraud, a suspect needs to have criminal intent.

Von Spakovsky told me, “It doesn’t matter whether they”—the felons—“intended it or not. The point is they did vote.” The subject of electoral fraud is now front and center in Minnesota: in November, the state will have a referendum on a state voter-I.D. law.
Need I say that any lawyer who goes to court on bad research and sloppy investigations is going to get his head metaphorically handed to him?  And that any lawyer who doesn't understand the difference between an act and a criminal act shouldn't even have a license?

None of the allegations of voter fraud by Von Spakovsky in the article stand up to the least scrutiny.  50 Somalian citizens voted illegally in Missouri, he claims.   Except a judge examined the claims and found no fraud; and such a baseline requirement as citizenship would have to be answered before you got to the issue of translations and oaths ("Translation assistance is available at the polls—citizens sometimes have shaky English—and the court had found merely that election officials had not made the voters take an oath before receiving help, as state law required.").  Apparently Mr. Von Spakovsky thinks people who struggle in English weren't actually naturalized.  Funny, though, I always see signs and ballots at my local polling place in at least 6 different languages, and I'm pretty sure that's required by law.  It's never occurred to me the state was colluding in voter fraud by printing those up.

There isn't, in other words, a case in the article that stands up to scrutiny, and yet Von Spakovsky, we are assured, is ready for a vote fraud fight.  Really?  Sounds like he's just as ready to get in the ring and go three rounds with the reigning heavy-weight boxing champion.

I saw this recently, too, and while at first it seemed like an interesting theory, I began to think it was in fact too clever by half.  But then with a title like this:   "Blue State are from Scandinavia, Red states are from Guatemala," how could it not be?

There's a great deal to be said against the way government works in red states like Texas, but comparing it to Guatemala is laying it on a bit thick.  Why not just call us "Mars" and get it over with?  There is a reason people flocked to Texas in the '70's and '80's, and it wasn't because of the generous government programs (which have gotten stingier since then, and no, I don't like that a bit).  But there's a reason even people from Guatemala come to Texas, and no, it doesn't all have to do with government. It has to do with jobs. In the latter decades of the previous century, it seemed the Northeast was emptying out into Texas.  It got so bad newspaper columnists in Austin were publishing articles asking any more anxious Yankees to "Stay Away!"  They weren't coming for our generous government handouts, since we were almost as stingy then as we are now (the cutbacks have been in education and, yes, Medicaid; but we were stingy with that back then, too.)  If we really were Guatemala, wouldn't the place be emptying out, rather than filling up?  If the Northeast really were Scandinavia, wouldn't it have more of the problem Texas does, and that California did in the Dust Bowl?  Texas didn't become the third most populous state in my lifetime simply because of babies being born here and not leaving.

Yes, Rick Perry declared Obamacare dead in Texas.  But the major Texas cities (which are basically the counties they are in, so large have they grown in recent decades) are busy saying "Not so fast!"  There's even a question whether Perry can kill Obamacare in Texas or not.  Yes, there is a lot wrong with Texas:  but Guatemala v. Scandinavia?  It's not a terribly helpful schism.  Moreover, Texas was traditionally blue when the South was blue after the Civil War, and like most of the South Texas was a one-party state:  the Democrats, who weren't the party of Lincoln.  Yeah, it was that simple.

  But when Texas began shifting to a GOP state, and then overnight (much like the conversion of Rome to Christianity under Constantine) became deep red, the cities didn't necessarily follow.  Houston is the biggest city in Texas (fourth largest in the country).  Bill White was the mayor; he ran on the Democratic ticket against Perry last time we elected a governor.  How many major American cities have a lesbian as their Mayor?  Houston does. Dallas County elected a lesbian sheriff a few years ago.  Dallas County!   Once the home of TV evangelist shills, and proudly so! Even "liberal" Austin doesn't brag a gay/lesbian as their mayor, nor does NYC.  McCain carried Texas in 2008, but only because of the rural counties.  The counties along the Rio Grande and all the major metropolitan areas of Texas went for Obama.  And Texas is now a minority majority state (which is why even Rick Perry won't deny an education to the children of undocumented immigrants).  Texas is very shortly, and for the first time since the Civil War (which might as well be the first time in history), going to be a purple state.  And, as I say, the major counties (with the major public hospitals and public ER's, such as Houston's Ben Taub, one of the best trauma centers in the country, and a part of the vaunted Texas Medical Center) are lining up to get that money Perry says he won't take.  Not to mention the markets, by which the GOP purports to live and die, may not want that money cast aside so easily or ideologically, either.

So are we really Guatemala?  Well, to be fair, wages in Texas are generally the pits.  We may have lots of jobs, but most of 'em don't pay squat.  It may be true that:  “The story is pretty clear,” Meyers says. “If you are poor, you want to live in a blue state.” And yet people keep moving here!

Houston is building roads like there's no tomorrow, expecting continued growth in the city largely from people moving here, and that doesn't mean simply relocating within the state (and so far they haven't been disappointed, either).  What is the matter with Kansas, or Texas, that people keep acting against their self-interests?  Shouldn't they realize Scandinavia is better than Guatemala, and flock to Vermont or Massachusetts or New York?  No, seriously:  shouldn't they?  And the minute they find out this is a Guatemalan hell-hole, shouldn't they flee again?  I've seen this state do nothing but grow since my childhood, and while I"m not a blind cheerleader for Texas, there must be something here so many people like.  It sure ain't just the Tex-Mex or the water.

Cohn makes much of Texas in his article, but it's only one part of the picture.  I know the very libertarian arguments  of Texas politicians (such as they, and as "libertarian" as they are, which is to say, if you can call the Koch brothers libertarian rather than simply selfish and greedy) can be alluring to working class people looking for jobs in the again-booming oil fields of Texas (not that there aren't costs to that, or that there weren't back when).  And that's why Texas grows:  the promise of work.  Never mind the work is underpaid; so is the state government.  Some people seem to like it like that.  But is this really, as Cohn calls it, because we in Texas lack standards of human decency?  Well, I'll grant you Rick Perry does, though not as much as the rest of the GOP does (given how he was treated after he declared children of undocumented immigrants deserve an education.  He was finished right then.).  I'll grant you most of the state government leadership does. What I won't grant is that this is a permanent condition; or that we are uncivilized and savage by comparison to the "North," just because of statistics on government spending.

 Unless Mr. Cohn wants us to revive that term "damned Yankees," and mean it once again.


I should note that trial began yesterday before Judge John Dietz (whom I think I remember from my trial days in Austin) on the question of public school funding in Texas.  This isn't the first case on school funding, and it won't be the last.  But school districts in Texas are independent political entities with standing to sue the state when it violates the Texas Constitution in how school funding is appropriated.  There are many arguments from many sides, including advocates of more competition by allowing more charter schools.  Two basic positions, however, are that funding was cut by $5.4 billion, while standards were raised (hard to build bricks without straw, in other words) and that children in poor districts (much funding is from local property taxes) can't be given a poorer education simply because of that.

It may be this goes nowhere, ultimately.  The Edgewood case that was supposed to revamp school funding in Texas finally wandered off into the wilderness and died, after leaving us with the system described by one of the plaintiffs as "hopelessly broken" (and it is).  Despite that, there are serious efforts being made in Texas to address Mr. Cohn's concerns; they just aren't being addressed by the state government.  Still, it's a ray of hope, and one more reason the comparison to Guatemala seems unfair, at least to Texas and Guatemala.  Because, little as seems to get done here, this is primarily the way anything gets done in Texas:  by sheer stubbornness.


  1. Funny, though, I always see signs and ballots at my local polling place in at least 6 different languages, and I'm pretty sure that's required by law.

    The Republican candidate for Congress in our district is upset about printing ballots and voting instructions in multiple languages: and this is in Queens! Admittedly, Queens is the home of Archie Bunker, but it's also about as multicultural as you can get (and proud of that fact). And yet the Republican candidate (who feels this way) has managed to get elected already to City Council and has (even if he looses, although he might win considering his opponent's father has legal troubles and his opponent herself is very tied to the Democratic political machine of which people have tired) a bright political career ahead of him.

    As my wife put it, it's as if some people cannot even stand to read languages other than English. How hard is it for people to just ignore the writing they can't understand and just find the English instructions? And yet these same people who find even seeing other languages to be a hardship are those who expect that "those people" should be magically able to speak/read English perfectly, etc.?

  2. Yeah, I don't get the language fear, either. I live, according to the Census, in one of the most ethnically/culturally diverse areas in Houston. Lots of business signs in Spanish and Korean and Vietnamese, and more different ways to eat than you can shake a stick at. I read what I can read, and wonder which one is Vietnamese, which Korean, which is even Chinese or Japanese (if any).

    And still I'm disappointed that True the Vote, who started here, hasn't seen fit to put poll watchers anywhere near me. At least so far as I know. What are we, chopped liver?

  3. If we got rid of the Electoral College a lot of this regionalist stereotyping would decrease. Imagine if Texas liberals suddenly mattered in a presidential election, Massachusetts conservatives. Living in a swing state, having lived on the line with New Hampshire when it might as well have been part of the deepest South, regionalism has always seemed entirely artificial to me. There are places in central and northern Maine that are only a few vowels and consonants away from the stereotype of the most primitive Southerners, including open racism and fundamentalism.

  4. If we got rid of the Electoral College

    More and more, as the POTUS election becomes who is going to be President of Ohio or Florida, I'm open to this suggestion.