Elections can get nasty. No one denies that.
But at what point do we step back and say “this is too much”? All the half-truths and vicious rumors spread in an election campaign are certainly not what we think of when we think of America’s finest traits. But we accept them as an unfortunate, but inherent part of democracy.
Some actions, though, go way beyond campaigning and are downright undemocratic and un-American.
A recent complaint filed by the Republican Party of Pennsylvania is that kind of action.
Robert Gleason, Jr., the chairman of the state Republican Party, announced a lawsuit attacking voter registration organizations and the electoral process on Oct. 17.
The suit asks for a court order directing Secretary of the Commonwealth Pedro Cortés to make sure election officials have data on ineligible voters. It also demands that Cortés ensure election officials ask first-time voters for photo identification. If that wasn’t enough, the suit also wants Cortés to make sure there are enough provisional ballots at each voting precinct.
The problem is that the state already takes all these measures. First-time voters already have to provide photo identification, and election officials are well aware of it. The training manuals for poll workers include the ID requirement.
As for the provisional ballots, election workers are already being advised to have extra provisional ballots to accommodate the expected increase in voter turnout.
In other words, the state Republican Party wants a court order directing Cortés to do the job he is already doing. The only point in filing this suit is to cast doubts on the election system and take up the secretary’s staff’s time.
The Republican Party knows it is facing an uphill battle in Pennsylvania and has decided to take matters into its own hands, since democracy isn’t working the way it wants it to. There is no excuse for this kind of action.
The GOP claims to be defending the “one person, one vote” principle. In a press release after the suit was filed, it said voter-registration fraud supposedly being committed by voter-registration group ACORN would “dilute the votes of millions of Pennsylvania voters.”
This charge is simply not true.
No orchestrated conspiracy to commit voter fraud has ever been found true of ACORN. It’s true that false voter-registration rolls have been submitted by the group, and the problem needs to be addressed. However, no serious solution is going to be found in three weeks. All that really happens is headlines for the lawsuit. No effort to disenfranchise Pennsylvania voters really exists in ACORN.
“The fact is that it’s been going on for a while and certainly, people have speculated that there are political reasons behind this suit,” said Zack Stalberg, CEO of the Committee of Seventy, a political watchdog group.
The Republican effort is orchestrated and deliberate. No such charges were brought in previous years, despite similar voter-registration problems to those that are occurring this year. Even the more immediate timing of the charge is suspect. The suit was announced less than three weeks before the election. If the party cared about ensuring a fair election, they would have brought these charges months in advance, so the election system could be properly prepared.
“The timing is not helpful. There’s nothing particularly new about this problem,” Stalberg said.
And so, instead of taking on a problem with real solutions, the Republican Party tries to grab headlines and cast doubt on the entire election process.
Stephen Zook can be reached at email@example.com.