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December 9, 2007

"A Rigged Report on U.S. Voting?"

Things like this are no longer surprising, though they should be. This isn't the first rigged report from this administration, and it won't be the last:

A Rigged Report on U.S. Voting?, by By Tova Andrea Wang, Commentary, Washington Post: After the 2000 Florida election debacle, Congress established ... the Election Assistance Commission to improve voting and democracy in this country. Two years ago, the commission approached me about doing a project that would take a preliminary look at voter fraud and intimidation...

Because my approach to election issues tends to be more closely aligned with Democrats, I was paired with a Republican co-author. To further remove any taint of partisanship, my co-author and I convened a bipartisan working group to help us. We spent a year doing research and consulting with leaders in the field to produce a draft report. What happened next seems inexplicable. After submitting the draft in July 2006, we were barred by the commission's staff from having anything more to do with it. ...

In all the time we were doing our research and drafting the report, neither the staff nor the commissioners, who were continually advised of our ... work, raised any concerns...

Yet, after sitting on the draft for six months, the EAC publicly released a report -- citing it as based on work by me and my co-author -- that completely stood our own work on its head.

Consider the title. Whereas the commission is mandated by law to study voter fraud and intimidation, this new report was titled simply "Election Crimes" and excluded a wide range of serious offenses that harm the system and suppress voting but are not currently crimes under the U.S. criminal code.

We said that our preliminary research found widespread agreement among ... experts from all points on the political spectrum that allegations of fraud through voter impersonation at polling places were greatly exaggerated. ... The commission chose instead to state that the issue was a matter of considerable debate. And while we found that problems of voter intimidation were still prevalent in a variety of forms, the commission excluded much of the discussion of voter intimidation.

We also raised questions about the way the Justice Department was handling complaints of fraud and intimidation. The commission excised all references to the department that might be construed as critical -- or that Justice officials later took issue with. And all of the suggestions we received from political scientists and other scholars regarding methodologies for a more scientifically rigorous look at these problems were omitted. ...

What was behind the strange handling of our report? It's still unclear, but it is worth noting that during the time the commission was holding our draft, claims about voter fraud and efforts to advance the cause of strict voter identification laws were at a fever pitch in Congress and the states. And it has been reported that some U.S. attorneys were being fired because they failed to pursue weakly supported voter fraud cases with sufficient zeal.

We have learned that several Republican officials, including a state official, a former political appointee at the Justice Department and current Federal Election Commission member (Hans Von Spakovsky), and a Capitol Hill staffer complained about our project, particularly about my role in it. Officials at Justice were actively involved in the report throughout ... and even exerted some degree of editorial control... And it is evident from the commission's "document dump" that its Republican general counsel assumed primary control over the rewriting of the report. ...

This is not the way an institution created to promote democracy should function. A government entity that seeks democratic progress should be transparent. It should not be in the business of suppressing information or ideas. Such an institution must be thoroughly insulated from political interference from outside operatives or other parts of the executive branch.

We need an institution like the Election Assistance Commission to provide guidance and research information to the states, election officials, elected leaders and voters. But this agency's structure and procedures need to be seriously reexamined in light of this episode...

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