Tonight, political junkies are focused intently on the critical elections in Ohio and Texas, as well as the smaller ones in Vermont and Rhode Island. Voters in Ohio, however, have extra reason to look closely at how the election is handled, because the rule-bending shenanigans that have plagued several of their last elections seem to be happening there again. (Overview on how Ohio's primaries work here.)
Last election, Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, a Republican, bent and sometimes broke all the rules to ensure Bush's victory in that critical state. Now Ohio's Secretary of State, Jennifer Brunner, is a Democrat -- but she's backing Hillary Clinton, and just like Blackwell, she's bending and breaking the rules to favor her candidate.
An early example: both campaigns have asked volunteers to go to each precinct and serve as poll watchers -- citizens who stand quietly and watch the proceedings to make sure no shenanigans are going on. It's a boring but essential task. The campaigns were asked to certify the individual poll watchers so that election officials knew who was who -- so the Obama campaign did so by issuing letters, signed by Obama's Ohio campaign director, identifying who their designees were and stating that "the bearer 'is hereby authorized to serve as a legal poll monitor on behalf of the Obama campaign."
Ah, but that's not enough in
An official in the office of the Ohio Secretary of State has written local election officials instructing them not to accept an Obama campaign letter as sufficient documentation for poll-watchers to polling places.
The state's rules require a formal certification process for poll monitors. The Obama campaign, however, has distributed a letter signed by its state director, Paul Tewes, which states that the letter's bearer is "hereby authorized to serve as a legal poll monitor."
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Farrell wrote that Obama supporters have been presenting the letter to officials at polling sites, and attached the letter to his email, which appears to have been sent to election officials around the state.
"Our office's legal interpretation is that this letter is not legally sufficient on its own to allow someone to gain access to polling places," Farrell writes. "To be allowed access to a polling location an observer must be duly appointed as an official observer and have an official observer certificate.... Someone who wants to observe may present the attached letter in addition to the official observer certificate, but they must have the official observer certificate to legally gain entry."
So the party that lost the last two elections due to election shenanigans, including flat-out cheating in vote counting that could have been caught by more careful citizen access to/oversight of the process, draws a distinction between a "letter of authorization" and an "official observer certificate." Translation: according to Ohio, Obama supporters aren't allowed to watch the vote-counting in Ohio. Period. Because the office of a major Clinton supporter says so.
Wanna hear something funny? The letters (a) appear to satisfy the law's requirement that the candidates "appoint" their poll watchers; the resulting "certificate" issued by the Secretary of State is what the law calls a "clerical" rather than discretionary act and, if missing, is de minimis and shouldn't matter; and (b) it looks like the Obama camp is only intending the letters to identify outside poll watchers, not the ones who actually are stationed inside and therefore need certification anyway. In other words, the Obama campaign's not breaking the law.
What does the Clinton campaign do, knowing that (a) the letter probably is legally sufficient, (b) it only applied to outside poll watchers, and (c) it's not a big deal, anyway -- c'mon, we're all Democrats?
Predictably, it pretends it doesn't know the truth, sends out a press release accusing Obama of violating election laws, and tops it off with a pair of fine whines: one about poll watchers wearing "campaign paraphernalia" (read: an Obama button they probably forgot to take off and probably did take off promptly once told they were against the rules), and the other about a single Obama volunteer who may have misbehaved.
(I say "single" because, despite earlier press reports of several problems, a Clinton campaign official later admitted that there was only one incident, not described, and even Brenner's office admits there are no widespread problems. And I say "may have" misbehaved because of personal experience: as a volunteer vote protection attorney for Kerry in '04, I had the local election supervisor threaten to call the sheriffs on me because I was -- can you believe how out of control I was? -- answering people's questions about their rights when they were wrongly given provisional, rather than normal, ballots. My crime? Disagreeing with the elected official about the law. She also tried to have a law professor with election law expertise arrested for the same reason. The sheriffs laughed it off, because even they knew we weren't doing anything wrong (OK, and my wearing a sheriff's department volunteer search and rescue hat didn't hurt, either). So being "removed" doesn't mean you actually did anything wrong. )
Besides, if we're not holding Clinton responsible for one of her supporters stabbing an Obama supporter, she should be able to let one, apparently mild, incident slide.
Here's Clinton's self-righteous press release, in full, issued about an hour ago:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 4, 2008
Contact: Press Office, ###-####
** MEDIA ADVISORY**
UPDATED STATEMENT FROM OHIO FOR HILLARY STATE DIRECTOR ROBBY MOOK ON TODAY’S VOTING
Voters Can Call (888) 472-9470 To Report Irregularities At The Polls
COLUMBUS, OH – Ohio for Hillary State Director Robby Mook issued the following statement regarding today's voting:
As Ohioans head to the polls today, we’re seeing high turnout across the state despite bad weather.
It is inspiring to see so many Democrats turning out to vote today, and we encourage everyone to make their voice heard in this election.
While we expect voting to run smoothly, we have heard troubling reports of irregularities and inappropriate behavior by Sen. Obama’s campaign across the state. We continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure that all voters’ rights are preserved.
According to the Atlantic Monthly web site, “Ohio's Secretary of State, an office held by a Democrat, has rebuked Sen. Barack Obama's campaign for trying to staff precincts with poll workers who presented insufficient credentials.”
In Akron, a certified Obama poll watcher was removed by the presiding judge from Akron’s 4M precinct for aggressively challenging voters.
In Cincinnati, we have numerous reports that Obama poll watchers have been reprimanded after wearing campaign paraphernalia into polling places, in clear violation of election law.
We encourage all of our supporters to head to the polls today, as we continue to work with local election officials and the Ohio Democratic Party to ensure that no voter is disenfranchised. There is too much at stake in this election for Democrats to stay home.
Voters who witness inappropriate behavior or other voting irregularities are asked to call (888) 472-9470 or log on to www.hillaryclinton.com and report their experiences.
Oh, did you notice something else funny? This press release says two things: (1) Obama's poll watchers are properly "certified" (the exact word used in the law), and (2) "In Akron, a certified Obama poll watcher was removed...". So which is it: are Obama's poll watchers certified, or not?
When Republicans do this, it's standard political blogspeak to call them "W.A.T.B."s -- Whiny Ass Titty Babies, as in, "waaah! I need my bottle!" When Democrats do this... well, Democrats aren't supposed to do this.
This is sad for Clinton, but standard operating procedure for her throughout this election. It's also sad for Jennifer Brunner, who seemed like a good one until now. Jennifer: people are watching; if you'd like to win re-election, this would be a very good time to do the right thing.
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