"Sometimes Vote Suppression is as Important as Vote-Getting": Cleaning up WA Voter Rolls

"One of the reasons that we were competitive in the governor's election is due to our grassroots hard work and the siphoning off of  traditional Democrat votes in King and Pierce Counties." -- Rose Strong, member of the Advisory Board of the King County Republican Party. (1)  See below the fold for a report of my phone conversation with Ms. Strong and further background on her specialty of "aggressively" confronting illegal voter activities in minority areas -- on the theory that this is where such activity usually occurs.

Who's watching the regular "cleanups" of the  Washington State Voter Registration Database (VRDB)?  Who is monitoring the way that new voter registrations are handled? Washington is fundamentally a good-government state. But we are in a time where, nationally and on a state level, tremendous pressure is being exerted at every level of our system to win elections by discouraging, challenging, and disenfranchising voters who are likely to vote Democratic. From the perjurious voter challenges by Republican Lori Sotelo in 2005 to Lying voter-suppression Robo-calls on the eve of elections, to this year's firing of Attorney General John McKay by the Bush administration for the failure to prosecute the phantom of individual voter fraud -- and more -- we have ample evidence that the Republican Party is using all means possible to shove Democratic votes and voters out of the voting game.  We won't know how much they're succeeding in this goal unless we institute comprehensive citizen oversight.  

I recently received an email from a Democrat concerned that maintenance of Washington's Voter Registration Database (VRDB) may be resulting in voter disenfranchisement. I called the Secretary of State's office (SOS) and spoke with Pam Floyd, Assistant Director of Elections, who gave me a general overview of that office's practices and referred me to Brenda Galarza, the public records official for the SOS, for more in-depth information. I followed through on that with a public records request (2). Since January of 2006, about 350,000 voter registrations have been removed from the VRDB.  It appears that about 175,000 of these were since January of this year. (3) There's an awful lot of room in all that database purging and in all those counties for unfair influence and practices to creep in. And the VRDB is not the only place where voting rights are endangered in our state. These are the rights of voters of all political persuasions. Disproportionately, they are the rights of Democrats and of poor and minority voters.

As far back as 1993, Republican Party leaders were demonstrating intent to disqualify, discourage, and otherwise prevent Democratic votes whenever possible. That year, after Christine Todd Whitman won election as Governor of New Jersey, her campaign spokesman was quoted as follows: "We cut the (Democratic) margin in Essex and Hudson (two urban counties with large black and Latino constituencies).  Sometimes vote suppression is as important in this business as vote-getting." (4)

The most recent national efforts to knock Democrats out of the voting game come right out of the office of the US President. David Iglesias, one of the fired U.S. Attorneys, recently told PBS's NOW that he was repeatedly urged by his superiors at the Justice Department to investigate allegations of false voter registrations. After his investigations came up short, Iglesias said, Republican officials got angry and complained to White House aide Karl Rove. Soon after, Iglesias lost his job.

This is not a partisan cause. I believe that, for voter registration; voter roll maintenance; campaign finance; campaign practices; and election integrity, there needs to be comprehensive, well-funded, and ongoing citizen oversight of the following:

  1. Are our laws fair? There are many aspects of Washington law that need scrutiny. For example, in a March 2006 report, the Brennan Center indicates that, of all states in the country, only four: Iowa, South Dakota, Texas, and Washington, "take the most extreme position" in processing new voter registrations by rejecting citizen's applications outright if they cannot find an exact match for their Social Security number or license. (5) Perhaps this is fair. But who has looked into it?
  2. Are our laws being translated into fair administrative procedures by administrative agencies, such as the county auditors who purge voters from the VRDB?
  3. Is law-breaking or mismanagement causing the law to not be properly followed?
  4. I assume that the Democratic Party is working behind the scenes on some or all of this. It is a key stakeholder in the issue. Truly, however, we need to go beyond what is possible and appropriate for a political party to do and find a way to institute comprehensive citizen oversight and civic education. We have seen that a few individuals in Washington have made tremendous contributions toward oversight of election processes. Legislators have acted as well; it is now illegal, for example, to send out fake sex offender notifications for partisan purposes. But more is needed. Where is the progressive movement on this?

    A Conversation with Rose Strong: A Washington Republican Activist Trained in Aggressive Challenges of Voters in Minority Areas   It is well established that voter fraud is rare -- and that voter disenfranchisement is common and frequently directed toward minority voters.  So it's sad to see a member of King County Republican Party's advisory board , an African American woman trained by the Local Elections Division of the Republican National Committee, who is proud of her experience in aggressively pursuing minority voter fraud.  Rose Strong has put out on the Internet the most clearcut expressions of a state Republican official that I've yet seen yet of support for Democratic vote suppression. I find her reference to "war" tactics and her own previous threats to bring in federal troops to be downright scary.

    According to Strong's page for her 2005 campaign for state Party Chair, she served under President George H. W. Bush "as the Deputy Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, U. S. Department of Transportation, and as Vice Chair of the Georgia State Republican Party."  She is was trained by the Local Elections Division of the Republican National Committee and proudly cites her experience in "aggressively" dealing with illegal voter activities in minority areas

    I called Ms. Strong today to ask what she meant by her statement on The Reagan Wing that the "siphoning off of traditional Democrat votes in King and Pierce Counties" was a successful Republican technique in the 2004 election.  Were you referring to the tactic of cleaning up the voter rolls in traditional Democratic-leaning areas, I asked?

    No, Strong responded, what she was referring to was the Party's appeal to swing voters and conservative Democrats on the issues. But this quote refers to traditional Democrats, I said. Are you equating conservative Democrats with traditional Democrats?  No, she said. We appealed to traditional Democrats too.

    I asked Strong if she thought what Lori Sotelo did with her challenges to King County voters was legal. "Yes, I think that what Lori Sotelo did was legal," she said. "The voter rolls needed cleaning up."  But Sotelo signed affidavits that she had personal knowledge about voters that she didn't have, I said.  'Well, I can't get into all the specifics,' Strong responded.  The Sotelo challenges were focused, I said, on high Democratic voting areas.  And there appears to be a Republican effort on a national level to "vote cage" in minority, poor, and otherwise Democratic areas. Personally, I said, I believe what you were describing here was related to cleaning up voter rolls in Democratic areas as a political tactic.  That's not true, she said.  Republicans don't want to take qualified voters off the rolls.  Voting is an American right.  The voter rolls do need to be cleaned up.  But you need to do it the legal way.'

    Is Ms. Strong's denial credible? Here's why I think not:

    1. Strong is a knowledgeable, connected, and active political insider within Washington's Republican Party, which has demonstrated a pattern of working to disenfranchise and discourage probable Democratic voters.
    2. In Georgia, as she says on her campaign site, she specialized in "aggressively" challenging minority voters on the theory that this illegality "usually occurred in poor minority communities." (Frequently Asked Questions).
    3. The plain English-language meaning of the phrase "siphoning off votes" means pulling votes away from one candidate or side to the benefit of another.  It has no sense within it of appealing to people to on the issues.  That's obvious, given the dictionary meaning of the word, siphon, a mechanical term meaning 'drawing off'. It's also obvious in practice, seen if one Googles the terms "siphon" and "vote".
    4. Ms. Strong further indicates that she sees persuasion on the issues as less important than war-like tactics. She boasts of "threatening to bring in federal troops" into minority areas. And she states outright that "war" tactics should not be neglected for the sake of "the attractiveness of candidates and messages." (6)

    Ms. Strong, having recently come from Georgia, was evidently working hard to tell Washington Republican leaders what she thought they wanted to hear. Was she mistaken? Well, this is a very intelligent person with keen political insight and obviously highly developed social skills. Otherwise she would not have attained the position of Vice Chair of the Georgia State Republican Party. Between early 2003 and late 2005, she reported, she had been busy emceeing at Republican events, Chairing Bush/Cheney for African Americans in Washington, forming coalitions with organizations, registering hundreds of voters who she knew were Republican through churches. Clearly, she was thoroughly socialized in the expectations of the Washington State Republican Party.

    Perhaps Ms. Strong's statements are more blatant than those of other state Republicans. But it is clearly an emerging aspect of the Republican culture to violate ethics, tradition, and decency in the most public and blatant way possible, as if the corruption of public decency itself is part of their campaign to reshape American politics. Witness Anne Coulter, Pat Robertson, and their death threats, for example. Or consider Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna's use of fake attorney general letterhead to shill for a Republican candidate. We can take nothing for granted in a world like this. Please, dear progressives -- those of you who have influence, organizing skill, and resources: let's figure out some comprehensive way to protect votes and voters in this state.

    Many thanks to Bob Nelson for sharing his research, which included or led to many of these sources

    1. Reality Check: How Long Will Washington State Republicans Remain Deaf and Blind to What Makes It a Minority Party, And When Will The Bleeding Stop?, The Reagan Wing.  Rose Strong, January 10, 2005.
    2. On Friday (7/27/07) I emailed a request to Brenda Galarza, the public records official for the SOS, for a numerical breakdown on all removed voter registrations from all counties for all reasons since January, 2006.
    3. I extrapolate this by comparing a February, 2007 press release from the SOS that reported that about 175,000 had been removed up to that point and the July 27, 2007 Voter Registration report, which shows a total of 352,927 voter registrations removed.
    4. Berry, "Democratic National Committee v. Edward J. Rollins," Footnote 28. Quoted in REPUBLICAN BALLOT SECURITY PROGRAMS:  VOTE PROTECTION OR MINORITY VOTE SUPPRESSION--OR BOTH? A REPORT TO THE CENTER FOR VOTING RIGHTS & PROTECTION  SEPTEMBER 2004 By Chandler Davidson, Tanya Dunlap, Gale Kenny, and Benjamin Wise, Republican Ballot Security Programs
    5. Making the List: Database Matching and Verification Processes for Voter Registration
    6. Frequently Asked Questions, Accessed 7/29/07. As noted on the site, these are Rose Strong's responses to a questionnaire offered by Tim Goddard, who operates "Flag of the World," a political weblog that focuses primarily on Washington state politics. These questions were asked of all State Chair candidates who ran in 2005. "(W)e decided to leave this on Rose's website because her views still remain the same."
      The quote below is excerpted from one of Rose Strong's answers on the FAQ
      I know that the Southern states had to figure out ways to clean up voter registration lists to ensure, as much as is possible, that dead people and others not eligible to vote did not participate. I was appointed to work in minority communities to aggressively help clean up illegal activities, especially as they related to poll managers and absentee ballots. The problems usually occurred in poor minority communities, and Democrats were very adept at “creative” balloting. I even threatened to bring in federal troops in some of the precincts for which I was responsible. Regardless of the attractiveness of candidates and messages, if the Chairman of the Party does not understand the "war" Republicans are in on election day in a state like this, we will continue to lose.


< Fund the Wounded, Not the War! | KC Democrats Embrace Election Integrity >
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I woke this morning with the thought that I hadn't quite framed this story in the way I saw it.  Like many stories, it is "elegant and whole" in the mind -- but becomes unwieldy in the act of unfolding it for others through words.

I am not pointing to Republicans as cheaters here.  My father was a Republican and he was the opposite of a cheater.  Many of my neighbors are Republicans and I like and respect them.  I am pointing to the current Republican Party leadership.  Organizations can become corrupt.  And there is ample evidence that this one has. I am trying to get at a description of objective reality in my article. If you look up the definition of "vote caging" on wiki, you will see that research shows that it is Republicans who are doing this, not Democrats.  If you look at the dirty election and campaigning tricks we have seen nationally and in Washington, they come from the Republican Party.

The actions of principled Republicans -- in Washington State I am thinking of Secretary of State Sam Reed and Attorney General John McKay -- who insisted on doing their jobs the way they thought was ethical and faced the fury of the Republican machine, demonstrates very clearly that our current situation cannot be blamed on Republicans or on the Republican philosophy.  Below is an article summary I did on request for another site this morning.  I think it more succinctly captures the gist of what I'm trying to communicate in this article:

Since January of 2006, about 350,000 voter registrations have been removed from the Washington State Voter Registration Database.  Washington is a fundamentally good-government state.  But we are in a time when Republicans are waging what Rose Strong, a member of the King County GOP Advisory Board, calls a "war" - in which she says that her party can't rely on the "attractiveness" of their causes and candidates -- but also must aggressively pursue challenges to illegal voters, particularly in minority areas.  Voter fraud is rare event.  But Republicans are hellbent on pretending it's an epidemic.

Rose serves on the KC GOP advisory board right along with Lori Sotelo, the Republican famous for her perjurious challenge in 2005 to hundreds of voter registrations concentrated in Democratic-leaning areas.   We have seen in our state -- from the fury and threat of a recall campaign directed at Secretary of State Sam Reed to the actual firing of  Attorney General John McKay for his refusal to pursue phantom voter fraud -- that Republican officials are under tremendous pressure to use the power of their offices to knock Democratic votes and voters out of the game.  We've seen from a host of dirty tricks -- from fake Attorney General letterhead sent out by Rob McKenna to fake sex offender notices sent out by the state GOP to Robo-calls that tricked voters into thinking they were from Democrats....  that the Republican Party in this state is hellbent on knocking Democrats out of the game by all means.  They can't win on the attractiveness of their candidates and causes, as Rose says.  So they're going after the voters.

There's an awful lot of room in all the database "cleaning" going on in WA for Republicans to try their dirty tricks.  Is our system robust enough to withstand this?  Are all our county auditor and Secretary of State staff members (those who have the ability to affect this process) able to be steadfast against the pressure that may be applied to them?  Maybe.  But we shouldn't trust that this is the case.  First, we need better civic education in this state.  Second, from campaign practices to election integrity to voter registration -- we need comprehensive citizen oversight so that the will of the voters --- not the war tactics of the Republicans or any other interest group -- determine the outcome of our democratic elections.

by noemie maxwell on Mon Jul 30, 2007 at 10:43:30 AM PST

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the whole voter disenfranchisement story has been effectively killed by the corporate media - even in 2004 there was plenty of evidence of registration destruction, caging, etc. Nationwide. You would think that this perspective held by Ms Strong would get at least one lazy reporter at the PI or Times to call her. No wonder her son was at so many fundraisers - mommy made him do it.

Anyone remember this:

The company Sproul & Associates, which is closely connected to the RNC and has recieved half a million dollars from them since July 14, 2004, was committing voter fraud in many swing states, including Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. It is run by Nathan Sproul, a big Republican donor.

by Brian on Tue Jul 31, 2007 at 12:43:21 PM PST

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Great original reporting, Noemie.

We've initiated a segment highlighting some stories from the 50 State Blog Roundup on Blog Talk Radio's Meet the Bloggers.  

We hope to get all the way around the nation eventually, and this week we're featuring this story.

If you can't listen to the show live Sunday Aug 4 at noon Easter, 11:00 a.m. Central, download the file afterwords. Hope you'll enjoy the show.

by boadicea on Sat Aug 04, 2007 at 07:27:11 AM PST

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