Thursday, October 14, 2004

Rocking the vote, the GOP way

by Johnny Donaldson

October 15, 2004

Should the person who registers you to vote allow his or her own political affiliations impact their job, or should these registrars simply take a non-partisan stance despite individual beliefs?
Some may think it's a stupid, "no duh" question, but it's really a valid one to ask. I believe that that is the kind of job which should not be tainted by subjectivity, that the ethical and responsible thing to do is to cast aside personal beliefs - whether they lean towards the left or the right - in the greater good of getting people to vote.
I shouldn't be surprised that in the era of George W. Bush, king of the smear campaign, that a Republican-affiliated group would throw out such quaint notions as "ethics" and "responsibility" in favor of a win-at-all-costs attitude.
The organization in question is called Voter Outreach for America. It's a private voter registration firm based out of Nevada, one of the year's hotly contested swing states. Its job is to collect registration for the state, an easy enough job, but the company that set them up, a Phoenix-centered consulting firm called Sproul and Associates, has received major donations from the Republican party: as in $500,000 in donations. Spokespeople for Sproul have said, and I quote: "it is safe to say we are trying to register Republicans."
The problem with all that is that a former employee, Eric Russell, has come forward to accuse supervisors of willingly tampering with registration forms. Democratic registration forms.
Russell charges that a supervisor ripped up Democratic forms before his eyes. Nathan Sproul, head of the company, says that the allegations are false. But this a company that is also under investigation in Oregon for "alteration and destruction of voter registration cards" (Anne Martens, spokeswoman for Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury). Apparently, a canvasser refused to register anyone other than Republicans, saying that's how he made his commission.
Right now, Secretary of State Dean Heller is investigating. Jon Summer, spokesman for the Nevada Democratic State Committee, said he will pursue a lawsuit.
The Republican Party naturally disavows any kind of connection to the matter. No matter that they fund the company and that the destroyed voter registration cards were for Democrats. No matter that in Oregon, the controversy swirled around Democrats being shunned by registrars.
It's called plausible deniability. It's a nicely Machiavellian tactic, one that allows the Republicans to engage in their brand of not-very-kosher behavior without ever being in danger of being liable in any individual case. Fund a private firm and get them to toss out the registration cards antithetical to their own goals. When the proverbial excrement hits the fan, deny all culpability, disavow any knowledge and find a scapegoat. You know, some misguided fool who did not act in the best interests of either party. That way no can credibly point a finger at you; if they do then they are just being reactionary and zealous.
Yep, some of you reading this column will write in and respond and say that I'm just looking to exploit this news story in order to dump on the Republicans yet again. Some will scoff and snicker and wonder what any of this has to do with Bush, that there is no proof to connect him to this alleged crime. (I do hold out hope that for the ever-dwindling decency of the GOP, that this crime turns out to be a lie.) I know what all the responses will be. And you all are, for the most part right. There is no proof connecting the GOP to this little scandal out West. It could just be the actions of a few idiots undermining our democracy. But the Republican sponsorship is troubling and curious. It sends my red flag up, especially with the ghostly specter of plausible deniability hovering over it. It's a tricky little gambit that the Republicans have long since perfected. Let's hope that this little incident well help to finally trip them up.

Johnny Donaldson is a Collegian columnist.


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