Bush Campaign Planning To Use War On Terror To Keep Black and Hispanic Voters Away From The Polls

   A July 9, 2004 Associated Press story brings the news that Homeland Security Director, Tom Ridge, is warning of a plot by Al-Qaida to disrupt the upcoming elections.  The story goes on to say that "authorities have begun working through the process of how to secure the thousands of polling sites that will be used around the country this fall."

   The major reason for the move from paper ballots to voting machines was because it was easy to tamper with and disqualify paper ballots.  In the old days, before voting machines, partisan poll workers would break off pencil lead under their fingernails and, while opening the ballot envelope, deface the ballot with a stray mark making it invalid. This was done routinely in districts where the vote was expected to go against the candidate of choice.

   Now that it is impossible to disqualify ballots, the tactic has switched to discouraging voters from casting ballots in districts where one candidate is expected to do much better than another.  This is clearly the case in the black voter precincts, where in the 2000 election Al Gore received 9 votes for every 1 received by George W. Bush.  Bush has done little to improve his standing among Black voters in the past four years.  Naturally, one way for Bush to win a close election is to keep as many Black voters from casting ballots as possible.

   Luckily, a prototype program for discouraging Black voters from casting ballots has been developed in New Jersey.  When Governor Tom Kean, currently the chairman of the commission investigating the 9/11 attacks, ran against Jim Florio in 1981, the Republicans deployed "ballot security squads" dressed like police, to "warn" prospective voters entering polling places that "casting an illegal ballot is a crime."  These squads, which purportedly were to prevent illegal voting, were deployed only in minority neighborhoods.  Their clear intent, in the state that put racial profiling on the map, was to intimidate and discourage Black and Hispanic voters from casting ballots.

   The Bush plan is to create the fear that Al-Qaida will attack voting booths, providing the rationale for police to set up security checkpoints outside polling places.  With 12.9% of Black males between the ages of 24 and 29 already in prison, putting police outside polling places, especially if they are empowered to ask for identification, is a great way to keep minority voters away from the polls.  At the sight of police, most minorities, even if they have done nothing wrong, will prefer to go the other way, just to be safe.

   Currently, voters do not need identification to enter a polling place.  Only first time voters who registered by mail need to produce identification when appearing to vote.  The board workers have the name, address, and signatures of all other bona fide voters in the poll books at the polling place.  Voters must sign-in twice before being permitted to vote.

   Elections are strictly run by boards of elections.  Board workers control the polling place.  Other than voters, candidates and poll workers, no one is allowed in a polling place except the police, but except for ensuring that the process orderly, it is the board workers who have ultimate authority in a polling place. 

   Tom Ridge's rationale for Al-Qaida's targeting of American elections is as air tight as the rationale for the invasion of Iraq.  He cites the pre-election terror in Spain, the train bombings.  In Spain, however, there were two presidential candidates :  one supporting Spain's troop deployment to Iraq, the other opposed.  In the United States, both candidates supported the invasion of Iraq.  Also, Al-Qaida did not disrupt the Spanish elections.  The Spanish elections took place on schedule.  Ridge's claim is disingenuous.  He equates the defeat of Jose Maria Anzar, the incumbent Prime Minister who sent troops to Iraq in spite of heavy domestic opposition, with Al-Qaida disrupting the election.  But one reason the Spanish Prime Minister lost the election was because he tried to blame the train bombings on the Basque Separatists, the domestic terrorists, rather than on Al-Qaida, to which all the evidence pointed.  The Spanish administration was trying to use terrorist violence for domestic political purposes, and the voters resented it.

   Never one to let the absence of facts or logic interfere with political necessity, the Bush Administration has come up with the perfect window dressing to mask its anti-democratic agenda : Reverend DeForest "Buster" Soaries.  Reverend Soaries was the New Jersey Secretary of State under Governor Christine Whitman.  A former Democrat, Soaries has become a Republican convert, pastor of a church which believes in faith based community development and public-private partnerships.

   In many states, the Secretary of State is an elected official who runs the elections.  In New Jersey, the Secretary of State is an appointed position whose control of elections was taken away by Governor Whitman's Administration and given to the Department of Law and Public Safety (although election matters are still civil matters, the move to the Department of Law and Public Safety creates the impression that elections are now criminal matters.)  The New Jersey Secretary of State now deals primarily with cultural and heritage issues.

    Soaries was the unsuccessful Republican candidate for Congress in New Jersey's 12th district in 2002.  So the Bush Administration has appointed Reverend Soaries, who has no experience running elections, as Chairman of the new federal Election Assistance Commission whose task is to dispense money help states upgrade their voting equipment under the Help America Vote Act passed in the wake of the contested 2000 presidential election.

    So what does Soaries do?  He writes to Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, the former Governor of Pennsylvania who knows the importance of discouraging Black voter participation if Republicans are to win, seeking to discuss "election security issues, including how to handle rescheduling the election if it was disrupted by an attack."  Ridge, wisely and prudently, refused to meet with Soaries.

    It is important to recognize that not everyone believes in democracy, in one person one vote.  Bush clearly does not.  Neither does the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, William Rehnquist, who got his start in Arizona politics using pseudo-legal intimidation tactics to discourage Hispanics from voting.  The 2004 election is going to be between the people who think they are better than other people either because of race, religion, nationality, wealth, or higher moral purpose - who will vote for Bush - Cheney; and those who see people as basically equal and believe in democracy; who will vote for Kerry - Edwards.

   Finally, it is important to keep the so-called terrorist threat in perspective.  Even before the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, when it was free to operate almost without restrictions, Al-Qaida was capable of mounting an operation every 18 months or so.  The embassy bombings in Africa in 1998, the Cole bombing in 2000, and the September 11 attacks in 2001, with nothing since.

    There will be about 110 million ballots cast in the 2004 presidential election, at hundreds of thousands of polling places across the United States.  Al-Qaida has no capacity to disrupt the American election.  The only purpose of the security measures is to violate the ban on campaigning within 100 feet of a polling place by reminding everyone of the September 11 attacks, and to intimidate and discourage from voting those groups already fearful of the police.

   The so-called security threat to the elections from Al-Qaida is the Trojan Horse through which Bush plans to steal the 2004 presidential election.

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Contact: Joshua Leinsdorf