Monday, February 11, 2008

Schadenfreude City

-- by Dave

I'm with Goldy. The prospect of watching Washington state's Republican Party self-immolate over its bizarre mishandling of this weekend's caucuses, which when first announced went to John McCain but now are up in the air, is just too delicious not to just kinda sit back and enjoy.

Josh Marshall has been all over this story. In the meantime, the General has a nice Website design for state GOP boss Luke Esser.

The most recent report tonight comes from KING 5 TV:
KING 5 News has uncovered inconsistencies in how the votes from Saturday's Republican Caucus are being reported, raising questions about the accuracy of the statewide count.

As of Monday at 5 p.m., John McCain had 25.4 percent of the vote to Mike Huckabee's 23.8 percent.

New numbers were released Monday at 10 p.m. with 96 percent of the votes counted: John McCain has 25.6 percent, while Mike Huckabee has 23.3 percent.

Luke Esser, the State GOP Chairman, acknowledged Monday evening that mistakes were made in four counties: Snohomish, Benton, Jefferson and Grant.

"Apparently there was a miscommunication as to information that we needed, which was the presidential preference of the delegates who were elected and not the presidential preference of the attendees… So in those four counties, we were comparing apples to oranges," he said.

When voters participating in the caucuses walked through the door, they signed in. In Snohomish County, that sign-in sheet is what Republicans used to report results.

"And then the very last column asked them for their preference if they were to vote today, and those were the numbers we counted," said Geri Modrell, Snohomish County Republican chair.

In reality, Republicans acknowledge the sign-in sheet is not an accurate way to figure out who won. After signing in, caucus-goers had plenty of time to debate and change their minds. What really matters is what delegates they picked in the end to go to the county convention.

For example, the winner on the sign-in sheets in Pierce County was Huckabee, with 609 supporters showing up. But, by the time Pierce County elected delegates, it flipped, and John McCain walked away with 192 delegates, beating Huckabee.

In Snohomish County, caucus leaders say they also noticed the sign-up sheets did not match the final delegates at all.

Saturday night, Washington state Republican Party chair Luke Esser declared McCain the winner. But KING 5 has learned that there's no way the party could have known the delegate preferences from Snohomish County, because that county never reported delegate results, instead relying solely on those sign-up sheets.

"And we had already explained to them that we would not have that information for a couple of days," said Modrell. "I haven't talked to them. I have no idea what they did with our numbers. They obviously would not be able to use those numbers as a comparison with the rest of the counties."

"So we're challenging those results. We want a fair election up there and we're just not sure we had one," said Huckabee.

The Huckabee campaign was already suspicious when McCain was declared the winner so early. Democrats point out that, under Republican rules, delegates are free to change their minds anyway.

"There's really no way that the Washington state Republican Party could have declared that John McCain was the winner," said Tim Killian, Democratic delegate.

There a particularly delicious irony that underscores all these events: This is the same Republican Party that spent the better part of 2005 whining about some minor vote-tabulation issues and supposed "voter fraud" related to the 2004 election of Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire by a handful of votes. Indeed, they handled it with roughly the same integrity and fairness as we had seen in Florida just a few years before.

As I remarked at the time:
What emerges from the bigger picture of the Washington vote is, in fact, almost a replica in miniature of the Republican strategy for the national vote. It has four essential components:

-- Undermine the legitimacy of any Democrat elected to office, regardless of the margin.

-- Undermine public confidence in long-established election procedures, particularly hand recounts, as well as confidence in the integrity of the officials conducting the elections.

-- Undermine the voting rights of minorities and lower-income voters, particularly by purging supposed felons from the voting rolls, thereby discouraging participation in the election process and underscoring their historic disenfranchisement.

-- Undermine the integrity of the voting process itself by introducing readily manipulable electronic voting technology that leaves no auditable paper trail.

And sure enough, within a matter of a few months, Republicans were whipping up phony claims of "voter fraud" that obviously were about some other larger purpose:
What is the GOP doing here? Can you imagine being one of these voters -- a legitimate, long-time voter who expects to cast their ballot as they always have, and suddenly you get a letter from a Republican official who says she's going to challenge your right to vote? That's not just Orwellian: it's Kafkaesque.

But then, it's what we've come to expect from today's Republican Party. It well knows that its grip on power is either maintained, in many places, or obtained, in places like Seattle where it struggles, by the slimmest margins -- and that its interests are more often served by suppressing voter turnout.

After all, it was a similar vote-suppression effort in Florida in 2000 that likely delivered that state to George W. Bush and with it the presidency. Many will recall Greg Palast's reporting on the effort, which has always struck me as a little shaky, particularly his assertions -- which he admits are simply estimations -- that 90 percent of the ChoicePoint voter-roll eliminations were incorrect. But there's little doubt that there was an extremely high rate of error in the purges, certainly in excess of 50 percent.

That's simply unacceptable. If you accept the primacy of the right of citizens to vote, then these attempts at preventing ineligible votes have to be as close to perfect as possible; an error rate of even more than 1 percent is too great. Because anything more than that means you're violating the inviolable.

[There's also a notable hypocrisy in all this for those of us who were observers in the Gregoire-Rossi tussle, because Republicans have made it a constant subsequent talking point -- no, a screaming point, really -- that King County elections officials proved themselves hopelessly corrupt and incompetent in this election, notably by their inability to reify a relatively small number of ballots with the numbers of votes (it was around .3 percent).]

But then, these kinds of vote-suppression effort have become commonplace in the GOP, particularly in areas where there are strong Democratic voting blocs, which are always what Republicans target. Recall, for instance, that there have been broader voter-suppression efforts, including those in Ohio in 2004.

Of course, this effort later turned out to be a driving force in the scandal that erupted over the firings of nine U.S. attorneys by the Bush Justice Department, firings that it turned out were driven by Republican politicos intent on promoting voter-fraud accusations like those we saw here. Indeed, one of the USAs fired was John McKay of Washington state.

This Republican crew can still be heard to bellyache about elections officials in King County. Their own back yard, however, could obviously stand some tending.

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