Sunday, July 18, 2004

We Won't Go Die Politely

(With apologies to Fugazi and the late Justice Brennan.)

Well, this is welcome news. I've been depressed tonight at the general drift of politics and free-floating anxiety over the nightmare of a second Bush term (and it probably didn't help that the Phils lost again, with Brett Myers reprising his dead-on Nuke Laloosh "million-dollar arm, five-cent head" thing), and here's news that at the least, Kerry is taking steps to prevent another stolen election:

Aides to Mr. Kerry say the campaign is taking the unusual step of setting up a nationwide legal network under its own umbrella, rather than relying, as in the past, on lawyers associated with state Democratic parties. The aides said they were recruiting people based on their skills as litigators and election lawyers, rather than rewarding political connections or big donors.

Lawyers for the campaign are gathering intelligence and preparing litigation over the ballot machines being used and the rules concerning how voters will be registered or their votes disqualified. In some cases, the lawyers are compiling dossiers on the people involved and their track records on enforcing voting rights. The disputed 2000 presidential election remains a fresh wound for Democrats, and Mr. Kerry has been referring to it on the stump while assuring his audiences that he will not let this year's election be a repeat of the 2000 vote.

"A million African-Americans disenfranchised in the last election," he said at the N.A.A.C.P. convention in Philadelphia on Thursday. "Well, we're not just going to sit there and wait for it to happen. On Election Day in your cities, my campaign will provide teams of election observers and lawyers to monitor elections, and we will enforce the law."

Its plans include setting up SWAT teams of specially trained lawyers, spokesmen and political experts to swoop into any state where a recount could be needed.

"The U.S. has had a policy of being able to fight two regional conflicts and still defend the homeland," said Marc E. Elias, the Kerry campaign's general counsel. "We want to be able to fight five statewide recounts and still have resources available to the campaign."
Kerry aides say the campaign has set up a national steering committee with task forces tackling different issues: one on ballot machines, another on voter education, and a third on absentee, early, and military voting, to name a few.
Democrats say they learned from the Florida vote, and from the Supreme Court rulings that arose from it, that the most important legal battles are those fought before Election Day, over how election laws are to be carried out, who is allowed to register and who will be allowed to vote.

Watching Kerry's speech to the NAACP last week, I found myself nodding along more than nodding off--always a good sign. He was connecting with his audience, and offering up that mix of anger and hope that always should be at the core of progressive political appeal. This move happens to be good politics in two senses: he's showing that he'll fight, and he's reminding Democrats that there is a historical wrong to be set right. It also might have some deterrent effect on whatever dirty tricks the right-wingers might be tempted to pull. If nothing else, the party picked a fighter this time.

Still, it would be nice if the election turned out to be such a romp for Kerry that this all turned out to be a historical footnote. Then again, making sure that new voters register and vote is probably key to any such outcome. So it could be important in any event.

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