For far too long, the Republican party has suppressed the votes of Black folks and other minorities, while the Democratic party has stood by and done nothing. Now, President Bush and his allies in the Senate want to give Hans von Spakovsky -- the architect of some of the worst voter-suppression schemes in the last decade -- a six-year appointment to the Federal Election Commission (FEC). It's a slap in the face to Black voters and anyone who cares about democracy.
Can you tell your senators to reject von Spakovsky's nomination? It takes only a moment:
Republicans have been fighting for months to get von Spakovsky confirmed, and, last week, Democrats in the Senate caved. They made a deal with the Republicans that would allow von Spakovsky's confirmation to be voted on as a part of a "package" with three other nominees, essentially guaranting his appointment. Thankfully, Senators Barack Obama and Russ Feingold stepped up and blocked it.1,2 Now they need our support to convince their colleagues to do the right thing and take a stand against voter suppression.
Given von Spakovsky's history, it's sad they need any convincing at all.
A long history of undermining our vote
During his first term, Bush installed von Spakovsky in the Justice Department's (DOJ) voting rights section, which enforces the Voting Rights Act. There, von Spakovsky undermined the DOJ's historic mission of protecting minority voting rights and actually transformed the department into a tool to suppress the vote. Here are just a few examples:
When long-term, career attorneys at the Justice Department unanimously recommended rejecting Tom Delay's infamous Texas redistricting plan because it discriminated against minority voters, von Spakovsky led the charge to overrule these voting rights experts, and approved the plan.3 The Supreme Court later ruled that the plan violated the Voting Rights Act.
Similarly, when career attorneys recommended rejecting a discriminatory Georgia voter ID law -- a law that even the Republican Governor said would disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Georgians -- von Spakovsky overruled them to approve the law.4 Again, the law was later struck down by the courts, with the ruling judge likening it to a Jim Crow-era poll tax.5
This summer, seven of von Spakovsky's former colleagues at the DOJ said that he blocked career attorneys from filing at least three lawsuits against local governments that had violated the voting rights of Black people and other minorities, and that he derailed at least two DOJ investigations into discriminatory election laws.6
Von Spakovsky's career in suppression didn't start at the DOJ. In 1997, he set the stage for Florida's 2000 voter purge when he wrote an article that called for purging felons from voter rolls. Serving on the board of the "Voter Integrity Project" (VIP) he quickly put his ideas into action -- VIP met with the company that designed Florida's purge to disenfranchise thousands of eligible voters, most of whom were Black.7,8 During the recount, von Spakovsky was in Florida as a volunteer for the Bush/Cheney campaign.
A key part of what has allowed von Spakovsky to push his suppression agenda is the myth that "voter fraud" -- individuals voting illegally, or voting twice -- is a real problem. Republican politicians invoke these concerns to justify stronger restrictions on voting and voter registration (like voter ID laws), as well as voter roll purges. But the problem simply doesn't exist. When the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) researched voter fraud, they found that it wasn't a problem.9 But before the EAC went public with its report, von Spakovsky pressured them to change it.10 The final report said that there was "a great deal of debate on the pervasiveness of [voter] fraud."11
Does the Senate support voter suppression?
As shocking as these examples are, they only scratch the surface. Hans von Spakovsky has built a career solidifying Republican control by disenfranchising untold thousands and subverting our most fundamental democratic right.
Bush gave von Spakovsky a recess appointment to the FEC in 2005 (which doesn't require Senate confirmation). Now he has nominated him for a six-year term. It's been clear since von Spakovsky's arrival at the FEC that he is playing the same role he did at the DOJ -- scoffing at the spirit of campaign finance laws, thumbing his nose at the law as he seeks to help create routes of circumvention."12
Republicans want von Spakovsky on the FEC so much that they threatened to block all FEC nominees unless the Democrats let von Spakovsky through.13 But last week, instead of fighting back, the Democratic leadership agreed to give the Republicans what they wanted -- a vote on all four FEC nominees as a package, which would have guaranteed von Spakovsky's appointment. By blocking that vote, Senators Obama and Feingold went against the leadership and thwarted its compromise with Republicans.14 That gave us the fighting chance we need to defeat his nomination.
It's hard to know exactly why Senate Democrats have come so close to letting von Spakovsky through. Some say it's because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is afraid that if he blocks von Spakovsky, Republicans will retaliate by blocking another FEC nominee who's a friend of Reid's.15 Some senators may just not care enough about protecting voting rights to make a real effort. Whatever the reason, it's part of a pattern that has existed for far too long -- Republicans trashing our right to vote and Democrats looking the other way.
A vote for von Spakovsky is a vote for voter suppression. Anything less than the strongest condemnation of his nomination sends the message that the Senate will turn a blind eye to Republican attacks on our voting rights. Let's demand that our senators send the opposite message -- that they will fight tooth and nail to defend the right to vote, and that their rejection of von Spakovsky's nomination is only the beginning of a much needed reckoning for his assault on voting rights over the last six and a half years.