For over twenty years, as a diplomat in Africa and the Middle East, I worked to bring free and fair elections to emerging democracies, always in the face of entrenched powerful interests. We often called upon the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute to assist us in developing programs to fight voter intimidation and suppression. When and where we found it, I could count on both my Republican and my Democratic colleague for full throated denunciations. Regrettably, that noble goal appears not to hold in our own elections.
Last week, ProgressNow New Mexico released a video showing a Republican Party leader leading a "poll challenger training" replete with false information about New Mexico's voting laws. The misinformation disseminated by the Republican official - during the training and also in a manual created by the party - could be used to restrict eligible citizens' voting rights and thus harm the integrity of the upcoming election. For example, the Republican official told trainees they could demand voters show ID at the polls if two precinct board members request it and instructed participants that voters needing interpreters could not use them - claims the Bernalillo County Clerk said was simply "not correct" and could lead these poll challengers to act in a vigilante capacity on Election Day.
When Congressman Steve Pearce (R-NM) was asked about this ploy to have poll challengers demand to see ID even though the law doesn't require it, he supported the tactic while also acknowledging it's against state law to do so. Pearce told The Nation that, "We're simply saying that we're going to start, we're going to take it back into our own hands." The law says one thing but Republicans say another and seem simply to hope no one notices they are replacing the facts with their opinions.
Congressman Pearce's comments may seem radical, but they are actually in lock step with Republican efforts across the nation to confuse and intimidate voters under the false pretense of protecting our elections. His comments are eerily similar to those spoken by Pennsylvania's House Majority Leader Mike Turzai in June who infamously told Republicans at a party event that "Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done."
New Mexico's recent story came just a week after Florida election officials launched an investigation into a Republican-leaning firm when allegations surfaced that they tampered with or destroyed Democratic voter registration forms and registered dead people as Republican voters. Similar claims have also surfaced in Colorado and Arizona. Earlier this year, the family of a Republican staffer for former Congresswoman and current US Senate candidate Heather Wilson attempted to register their dog to vote, as a Democrat, in a bizarre scheme to create voter registration fraud in order to prove it existed.
These tactics of deception and misinformation are upsetting enough; what's worse is the deafening silence we have heard from Republican leaders across the country on these stories.
Here in New Mexico, the state's GOP leader, Governor Susana Martinez has failed to even acknowledge these incidents much less call for investigations. Nor has Speaker Boehner admonished Congressman Pearce for his endorsement of illegal voter suppression tactics. On the contrary, Colorado's Secretary of State Scott Gessler, arguably the GOP's chief voter fraud champion, continued to espouse the myth, telling CPAC attendees last week that there is evidence of "organized" voter fraud by the left, yet offering no evidence to support his claim. About the same time, a local District Attorney in Colorado announced an investigation into, yes Nathan Sproul's Republican-party registration tactics.
The Republicans want to work people into a lather over fictional voter fraud while the real problem is Republican led voter suppression, intimidation and outright cheating. While I don't expect Republicans to be as fair minded domestically as they were when we worked together internationally, I am increasingly appalled by how much their methods recall those of African dictators determined to cling to power and the expense of the rights of others. We must not let them win.