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The Voting Begins

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October 30, 2008

The long-awaited 2008 Elections are finally underway.  According to the Early Voting Information Center website, 32 States allow in-person early voting.  As the voting proceeds, we are seeing an enormous number of people opting to cast their votes before November 4.  On Tuesday, October 28, Gary Langer (polling director for ABC News) reported that as of that morning, 9 percent of “likely voters” had already voted.  As reported in the October 30 Washington Post, Michael McDonald, an associate professor at George Mason University who compiles early-voting statistics, observed that his running total of early voters now tops 16.5 million.  USA Today reports that approximately 25 percent of Georgia’s registered voters have already cast their ballots.  In Florida, Governor Charlie Crist extended the hours for early voting.  Prior to Crist’s executive order, Florida law allowed for early voting 8 hours per weekday and a total of 8 hours over the weekend.  The polls in Florida will now be open 12 hours per day, through Sunday, the last day for early voting.  The Miami Herald reported that prior to Christ’s signing of the order, the long, winding lines at the polling stations resulted in waits of as long as four hours to get to a voting machine.  The Herald reported that as of Tuesday morning, 10 percent of the state’s registered voters had already voted.  On Wednesday, October 29, Susan Saulny reported in The New York Times that there have been rumors circulating in Jacksonville, Florida’s African-American community that early voting could not be trusted because the votes cast early would be discarded.

By this point, there are already reports of voting machine problems and irregularities.  Martina Stewart reported for CNN that in Jefferson County, Texas, the County Clerk admitted to receiving “about half a dozen calls” that touch-screen voting machines were recording votes inaccurately.  Apparently, the candidates’ names are so close to each other on the screen that there is a possibility of pressing the wrong name when making the selection.  The machines have a “summary screen” where the voter can verify that the correct candidates were selected before finally hitting the button to actually cast the votes.  Similar problems were discussed by a reporter named Bill Murray at WSAZ in West Virginia.  Murray’s report pointed out that long fingernails and contact with the screen by bracelets could result in erroneous votes.

On Monday October 27, The New Mexico Independent reported that in Albuquerque, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against a Republican state lawmaker, alleging violations of the Voting Rights Act and disclosure of confidential information about voters, including Social Security numbers.  The article discussed the efforts of a Republican State Representative, Justine Fox-Young (a defendant in the suit) to support claims of voter fraud in the state’s June election.  The Independent had previously reported that Republican Party attorney Pat Rogers had hired a private investigator named Al Romero to make contact with voters whose registrations were under scrutiny by Republican activists.  The article discussed allegations by two legally-registered Hispanic voters, that they had been intimidated by Romero.  Pat Rogers had been cited in the U.S. Department of Justice report about the firing of U.S. attorneys and was described as one of the New Mexico GOP activists who complained to the Department of Justice about then-U.S. Attorney David Iglesias.  Iglesias was one of the U.S. Attorneys fired by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for political reasons.  The firing of Iglesias was a result of his failure to pursue a politically-motivated, bogus “voter fraud” investigation.

If Barack Obama defeats John McCain by a narrow margin, we can expect protracted recounts and microscopic inspections of voter registration documents.  My concern about this was reinforced when I read a quote from McCain speechwriter, Mark Salter, in a Washington Post article by Michael Leahy, on Thursday.  Speaking about John McCain, Salter said:

“And he’s not going to go down without a fight.  Some people mistake that for something else.  Some people believe in being gracious losers just so other people will look at them kindly.  He isn’t like that.   …  He’s going to fight hard, and if other people don’t think he’s being gracious, well, that’s the way it will be.  But he’s not alone in that.  And I’ll remind people of that, if I have to.”

So, don’t expect McCain to be a “gracious loser”.  Unless there is a landslide on Tuesday, there could be a long, ugly fight, reminiscent of the election fiasco of 2000.

Bob Barr Gets It Going

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July 24, 2008

Libertarian Party Presidential candidate, Bob Barr, turned some heads when the July 6 Zogby Poll had him capturing 6% of the nationwide popular vote.  Given the fact that Barr has received almost no national media attention, some commentators began to take notice of this interesting candidacy.   Of particular concern is Barr’s impact on the races in those “battleground” states that draw attention in polls.  Conservative blogger, Kevin Tracy, has complained that the poll results listed on RealClearPolitics.com, do not disclose Barr’s numbers.  As for the “battleground” states, Zogby has Barr with 8% of the vote in Colorado, 7% of the vote in Ohio, 7% of the vote in McCain’s home state of Arizona, and 6% of the vote in Florida.  A July 22 Rasmussen Poll had Barr getting 5% of the vote in Georgia, in contrast with the July 8 Zogby result of 8% for Georgia.  MSNBC’s polling expert, Chuck Todd, reported that the July 23 MSNBC/Wall Street Journal poll results showing Barr with only 2% have a much greater margin of error than the results for a two-way race because only a “half-sample” was used for the four-way race that included Barr and Ralph Nader.  He suspected that a full sample would likely indicate a larger number for Barr.

So far, Barr is on the ballot in 31 states.  He has a fight underway to get on the ballot in West Virginia.  In Ohio, Federal Judge Edmund Sargus, Jr. held that the Ohio state Legislature failed to revise ballot rules after they were struck down as unconstitutional in 2006 by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  Ohio Secretary of State, Jennifer Brunner (a Democrat) is seeking an expedited appeal.  Of course, the court hearing her appeal will again be the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, so a victory for Barr seems likely there, as well.

Barr has an interesting background that makes him well-suited for the Presidency at this time.  To start with, in 1966, he graduated from High School in Tehran, Iran.  In 1970 he received his Bachelor’s Degree, cum laude, from the University of Southern California.  He received a Master’s Degree in International Affairs from George Washington University in 1972.  He received his law degree from Georgetown in 1977.  During that time (1971 – 1978) Barr was employed by the Central Intelligence Agency.  Barr served in Congress as the Representative for Georgia’s 7th Congressional District from 1995 to 2003.  In Congress, he served as a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, as Vice-Chairman of the Government Reform Committee, as a member of the Committee on Financial Services and the Committee on Veteran’s Affairs.

Despite the lack of media attention, he is running a clever campaign.  On July 19, he made a surprise appearance at the Netroots Nation blogger conference, stealing a bit of attention from the “surprise” visit by Al Gore.  On July 22, while John McCain was visiting Manchester, New Hampshire, he drew a bit of attention away from McCain’s visit to that city by appearing there himself.  Mark Hayward of the New Hampshire Union Leader, reported on July 23 that Barr spent a good deal of time at a stop in Manchester, “explaining his disappointments with the way the war in Iraq and the Patriot Act turned out.”   Barr voted in favor of both the Patriot Act and the Joint Resolution for the Use of Military Force in Iraq.  Although Barr is not yet on the ballot in New Hampshire, the Zogby Poll has him at 10 percent in that state.

As the campaign progresses, it will be interesting to observe where Barr gets his support.  MSNBC’s Chuck Todd pointed out that there is a component of “anti-Obama” voters among Barr’s supporters.  Whether this comes from racism, belief in the “secret Muslim” rumors, or a perceived lack of experience, will make for an interesting study.  It would also be interesting to ascertain whether any Obama supporters shifted their allegiance to Barr as a result of Obama’s vote in favor of the FISA “wiretap” bill.  Polls taken in the wake of that vote (July 11 Newsweek and July 13 Rasmussen) showed Obama’s support among independent voters dropping significantly.  Did they see Obama’s compromise on this issue as a lack of authenticity?

For now, Barr’s candidacy is perceived primarily as a threat to John McCain.  As Faye Fiore reported in the July 23 Los Angeles Times:

Barr is regularly compared to Ralph Nader, the Green Party spoiler who drew crucial votes from Democrat Al Gore in 2000.  Worried McCain supporters have begged Barr to drop out. The renegade responds with his famous bespectacled glare, referring to himself in the third person, as is his habit:  “The GOP has no agenda, no platform and a candidate who generates no excitement.  That’s not Bob Barr’s fault.”

When confronted about being a McCain “spoiler” during the July 6 edition of CNN Newsroom, Barr responded:

This is precisely the problem with the two-party system that we have here. They are always looking for someone to blame, other than themselves.

.  .  .  This preemptive blaming doesn’t do either party very well.   It’s an awfully weak position for the McCain campaign and the Republicans to be in months out from the election, already blaming me for their loss.

It will be interesting to watch what the pollsters can learn from Barr’s candidacy.  As Barr gets more publicity, his popularity is likely to increase.  If he can make it to 10 percent in a nationwide poll, he will be invited to participate in some of the debates.  That would be very interesting.