With the news that the Republicans are preparing extensive voter harassment under the guise of "poll watching" in Ohio (who will watch the poll watchers?), John Dean's little tour through the Republican tradition of voter harassment--and its contribution to election litigation--is timely:
"In 1986, former Assistant United States Attorney James Brosnahan (today a noted San Francisco trial attorney) testified - based on an investigation the Justice Department had dispatched him to conduct - that as a young Phoenix attorney, Justice William Rehnquist had been part of conservative Republicans' 1962 efforts to disqualify black and Hispanic voters who showed up to vote. Brosnahan's testimony was supported by no less than fourteen additional witnesses. Rehnquist nevertheless became Chief Justice - thanks to the continued support of conservative Republicans.
"During the 1964 Goldwater versus Johnson race, when I first heard of such tactics, I was appalled to hear friends bragging about excluding Johnson supporters from voting. Later, when I found myself working at the Department of Justice for Richard Kleindienst, we discussed such tactics.
"Kleindienst served as director of field operations for Goldwater in 1964, and for Nixon in 1968. Remarkably, Kleindienst confided that he had engaged in fewer dubious tactics in 1968 than in 1964. If such efforts were mounted by the Nixon campaign in 1972, when I had a good overview of what was going on, I am not aware of it.
"Even Nixon had his limits, and he was more interested in wooing white Southerners into the Republican ranks. He did so, successfully, when such Southern Democrats stalwarts and pillars of bigotry and racism as Senators Strom Thrumond and Jesse Helms joined the GOP. They renewed the party's effort to disqualify voters who, and votes, that did not see the world as Republicans did. The racism became less blatant. After all, it had become a crime -- which called for new tactics. Yet the revised stratagems were (and remain) anything but subtle.
"The 2000 presidential race in Florida is an excellent example. Reportedly, Bush's Florida victory came courtesy of 537 votes out of some six million. It's plain from this slim margin that the GOP's voter and vote disqualifying tactics cost Vice President Al Gore the presidency. (In the October 2004 issue of Vanity Fair, an excellent article entitled "The Path To Florida" explains how the Republicans nullified and disqualified literally hundreds of thousands of Florida votes.)
"This lesson has not been lost on the Democrats - who are likely to refrain from conceding if they are losing in 2004 until all of the dubious disqualifications in closely-won swing states are sorted out."