Wednesday, September 22, 2004

See How They Run
What a difference a couple news cycles makes: between Kerry's newly aggressive approach on Iraq and various seedlings of bad news for the Republicans (did Roger Stone plant the CBS memos? Can Dan Bartlett answer a simple question?), the whole storyline of the race seems to have turned in the last 48 hours, and a new Economist poll has Kerry back in the lead--albeit by a single, statistically insignificant point--and the NBC/WSJ poll to be released this evening is expected to find something similar. Other recent polling from ARG and Zogby among others seem to give Kerry a slight Electoral College lead.

Was it really this easy? Did Kerry just have to grow a pair and force the debate back onto the issues and Bush's indefensible record, rather than he said/he said about the early 1970s? Who knows. But next Thursday's debate on foreign policy--as stilted and silly as the format might be--should be the next real milestone. If Kerry looks and sounds sufficiently presidential, and Bush lapses into either peevishness or incoherence, he could come close to sealing the deal. On the other hand, if Bush stays sharp and focused (and he's more than capable of that) and Kerry meanders and vacilates (ditto), then he'll undo whatever progress he's made.

Beyond the horse race, though, there are new depressing signs of how the parties and candidates continue to "game" the democratic process:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Millions of U.S. citizens, including a disproportionate number of black voters, will be blocked from voting in the Nov. 2 presidential election because of legal barriers, faulty procedures or dirty tricks, according to civil rights and legal experts.

The largest category of those legally disenfranchised consists of almost 5 million former felons who have served prison sentences and been deprived of the right to vote under laws that have roots in the post-Civil War 19th century and were aimed at preventing black Americans from voting.

But millions of other votes in the 2000 presidential election were lost due to clerical and administrative errors while civil rights organizations have cataloged numerous tactics aimed at suppressing black voter turnout. Polls consistently find that black Americans overwhelmingly vote for Democrats.

"There are individuals and officials who are actively trying to stop people from voting who they think will vote against their party and that nearly always means stopping black people from voting Democratic," said Mary Frances Berry, head of the U.S. Commission on Human Rights...
In a mayoral election in Philadelphia last year, people pretending to be plainclothes police officers stood outside some polling stations asking people to identify themselves. There have also been reports of mysterious people videotaping people waiting in line to vote in black neighborhoods.

Minority voters may be deterred from voting simply by election officials demanding to see drivers' licenses before handing them a ballot, according to Spencer Overton, who teaches law at George Washington University. The federal government does not require people to produce a photo identification unless they are first-time voters who registered by mail.

"African Americans are four to five times less likely than whites to have a photo ID," Overton said at a recent briefing on minority disenfranchisement.

Courtenay Strickland of the Americans Civil Liberties Union testified to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights last week that at a primary election in Florida last month, many people were wrongly turned away when they could not produce identification.

I was reading a article about this last night and was a little suspicious: the piece seemed a lot of smoke but not much fire. This second one makes me wonder, however. Is there a way to address legitimate concerns about vote fraud while making sure the power of government isn't used to suppress voting? The question could be much more than theoretical in six weeks' time.

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