Count on the New York Times for nuance on so many questions. In an election where a wildly unpopular incumbent has brought literally hundreds of lawsuits across the country to make voting during a raging pandemic harder — every vote not cast against him is a little victory, bringing him closer to successfully contesting the results of the election. Even a judicially rigged election can only be stolen if it is fairly close.
The president claims to have trained 50,000 staunch supporters to act as poll watchers, doing everything that needs to be done to prevent the massive Socialist, Democrat, Anarchist, Antifa voter fraud that he predicts. Today the NYT brought a little nuance to the question of what constitutes voter intimidation under our laws. I read this stuff and my blood boils a little — partly because of what the paper reports and partly because of the maniacally reasonable, scrupulously non-judgmental manner in which they report it.
Trump’s latest nominee, current Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett was rushed onto the court to counterbalance fellow former Bush v. Gore attorney John Roberts’s sometimes swing vote (usually to preserve an appearance of court integrity). If Trump can contest the election results in the nation’s highest court, he wants to be assured that the outcome will go the right way. He’s said as much, that why he uses the Federalist Society list to choose his carefully vetted extreme right-wing corporatist justices from. Coney Barrett refused to answer most questions posed to her, including a question about voter intimidation at the polls. She dodged it by saying it would depend on the specific facts. The New York Times had the newest Justice’s back today.
It turns out, according to the Times, and the Department of Justice, that saying exactly what is or is not voter intimidation is notoriously hard to do — it varies so much from state to state, county to county. You can read the entire article here, but I’ll give you one of my favorite bits. See if you can detect what made my head start to explode a little:
In 2008, two members of the New Black Panther Party, a racist Black separatist group , stood outside an overwhelmingly Black and Democratic polling place in Philadelphia wearing black outfits that were described as uniforms. One of them held a billy club and identified himself as “security.”
Though officials said no voters complained of intimidation, and no criminal charges were filed, the case became a celebrated cause among conservatives, who criticized the Justice Department for dropping most of a related civil lawsuit after President Barack Obama took office.
That case was handled by local authorities as most disturbances at the polls are across the country: on the spot. The man with the billy club was asked to leave, and he complied.
Other reports of voter intimidation have involved largely legal activity such as voter challenges. Virtually every state allows election observers, sometimes called poll watchers or challengers. Some permit voters to be challenged on Election Day on specific grounds, such as their residency, citizenship, lack of proper identification or because they are believed to have already voted.
In the past some groups have used methods including mass mailings to generate lists of potentially ineligible voters. To prevent the use of such lists, which are often riddled with errors, some states require that the challenger have personal knowledge of the voter’s ineligibility.
The Trump campaign has said it is training 50,000 volunteer poll watchers, which has raised concerns about voter intimidation. In Minneapolis, the police union put out a call on behalf of a Trump campaign official for retired officers to volunteer as challengers in “problem” areas, according to a report in The Star Tribune.
“Poll Challengers do not ‘stop’ people, per se, but act as our eyes and ears in the field and call our hotline to document fraud,” the official wrote in an email, according to the report. “‘We don’t necessarily want our Poll Challengers to look intimidating.’”
Read this article and you may agree with the author, the Times and Amy Coney Barrett — it’s very, very hard to tell which attempts to stop voters from casting a ballot are outright intimidation and which fall arguably within the law. Feelings of intimidation by the voters themselves, it appears, are not the most important consideration when deciding this highly technical legal issue — even if nobody at the polling place feels intimidated or makes a complaint — there can still, legally, be voter intimidation. Conversely, just because armed “poll watchers” might make a steely-eyed military style “I’m watching you, motherfucker” sign at you as you enter the polling place, and you are challenged as being an imposter about to commit felony fraud once inside, does not mean anyone is, necessarily, trying to intimidate you or that you have a legal leg to stand on making such a claim.
We live in America, a land of law. And law is complicated. The reason for that is we have one set of laws for everybody, or, rather, at least fifty sets of sometimes conflicting laws — since criminal, civil, civic and family law are largely matters of state law. This includes election laws. Luckily, in America we have many lawyers available for hire, to tell you what each law may mean for you personally.
Related, but unrelated, is the “American Rule” which states that each side pays its own legal fees in almost all non-criminal cases. In many other countries, if you bring a lawsuit to harass or intimidate somebody, or to try to get out of paying them what you legally owe them, and you lose — you pay their lawyers and all court fees as well as paying what you owe them. The American Rule ensures that the wealthy, and large corporations, have an immense advantage in all litigation since they can often simply bankrupt opponents by driving up legal fees (with multiple motions, depositions, discovery demands, etc.) and forcing them to drop the case, or settle for pennies on the dollar.
The American Rule on steroids is when an unprincipled, rich, litigious bastard is able to use the tax deductible donations of other unprincipled, rich, litigious bastards to pay for hundreds of simultaneous lawsuits nationwide to stop the counting of legally cast ballots, in preparation for a Supreme Court challenge in a court those same unprincipled, rich, litigious donor bastards have packed with loyal, ideologically committed supporters. Now, you tell me what is voter suppression, voter intimidation, in that scenario?
Wait, I know, I know.
Am I right?
My hackles were first raised by the seemingly gratuitous description of this party as “racist”. A two second google search showed that this party is not the successor to the Black Panther party but a new outfit founded in 1989, using the brand, but in a way many have called racist. Here’s the link to the google search. The Southern Poverty Law Center blurb, for example, reads: The New Black Panther Party is a virulently racist and antisemitic organization whose leaders have encouraged violence against whites, Jews and law …
Verdict– NY Times reporting on the nature of this outfit likely vindicated.