The first meeting of the Baker-Carter election commission was disappointing and, at times, outrageous and tainted with racially-charged innuendo. Let me make absolutely clear that I greatly admire former President Jimmy Carter and believe he was insightful and on-target throughout the hearing. However, given the incredible lack of balance and profound lack of good faith demonstrated by some of Carter's fellow commissioners and many of the witnesses at this hearing, at times he seemed to be a very lonely voice of sanity.
The remarks of Mr. James Baker, III, which were echoed by a number of right wing political operatives called as witnesses, seemed to have a singular purpose of spreading hoaxes and conspiracy theories about ineligible Democratic voters being allowed to cast votes. The remedy was cleverly repeated like a broken record, "photo ID, photo ID, photo ID." Right wing pundit John Fund was called as an "expert" witness by the hearing and offered racially charged proposals with racially charged rhetoric.
At the outset, Mr. Fund laid bare the nasty, racial underbelly of these proposals. The right-wing has been long engaged in tactics to suppress minority votes, but rarely lets slip about such tactics, as Fund did today. In a discussion about provisional ballots, Mr. Fund said that Congress should allow precinct workers to determine whether a provisional ballot should count because they would know who "looks as if they belong in the neighborhood." Wonder what he meant by that?
But we don't have to wonder what effect the discarding of provisional ballots would have on voters, particularly those that are racial minorities. As detailed in the House Judiciary Committee Democratic staff's report Preserving Democracy: What Went Wrong in Ohio?, the Republican Governor of Ohio rightly predicted that such a rule would result in discarding 100,000 valid votes. In one county alone, 1,100 eligible voters, who voted the correct ballot in the wrong precinct, had their ballots discarded. Fund wants to bring Blackwell's tactics to the rest of the country so what went wrong in Ohio, can go right for Republicans across the country.
It is common experience that the poor, elderly voters, minority voters and recent transplants to a state, like students, do not drive and, therefore, do not have a drivers' license or a license with an in-state address to show at the polls. It is a fact that experts have estimated that nearly ten percent of voters do not have a picture identification card. What facts does the conspiracy theorist Mr. Fund have to offer? A Republican Congressman's contention that someone voted in his sister's name. I know and like the Congressman he cites as an authority, but think his lonely experience is hardly a justification for a new rule that would result in the disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of voters.
And I don't suppose that Mr. Fund could be striving to suppress reliable Democratic votes with this proposal, do you? Particularly minority voters? I don't suppose he could be looking for turn away voters who don't look like "they belong in the neighborhood," do you?
For a moment, I was encouraged when someone appeared to have bumped the phonograph and the broken record of "voter id" suddenly stopped. Instead, a new broken record began repeating "no voter verified paper ballot, no voter verified paper ballot, no voter verified paper ballot."
On a panel supposedly designed to address "voting technology," only one of the four witnesses, Professor David Dill, spoke of the need for a voter verified paper ballot. Two of the witnesses on this panel spoke in total opposition to such a proposal.
The pattern of the hearing was clear: Republican political operatives, with little or no track record of involvement in voting rights issues, facing non-partisan advocates for civil rights. Predictably, this hardly was a fair fight. The deck was stacked from the beginning.
What can be said of a commission that holds such a hearing? What hope is there for the recommendations of such a Commission? I am scheduled to meet with Commission officials this week and I am trying very hard to have an open mind. But, frankly, at this point - seeing this first hearing - I think we should all be very wary of this Commission's objectives.