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Republicans Ramp Up Voter Suppression Machine: Justice Department Involved

Republicans and their outside allies seem to be spending money on two things this election. One is zillions and zillions of TV ads. The other is the usual voter suppression machine, designed to intimidate minorities and the poor.

In Illinois, Mark Kirk was caught on tape talking about a “voter integrity” program that he will deploy in black neighborhoods on Election Day. This is how it’s always pitched, as an anti-fraud measure, despite the fact that there’s no evidence whatsoever of voter fraud occurring on any major scale anywhere in the country for the last 30 years. Alexi Giannoulias, Kirk’s opponent for US Senate in Illinois, told it like it is in a debate yesterday:

A moderator asked Kirk if the “voter integrity” program Kirk was recently recorded discussing was aimed at African-Americans. Kirk said it was not, adding that his efforts were concerned with the corruption in the state of Illinois. He said he welcomed having one Republican and one Democratic poll watcher at each voting location. He also cited as evidence a recent voter fraud conviction in Metro East, presumably the case of an East St. Louis Democratic precinct committeeman and former member of the city council.

“We have a corruption problem in our state,” Kirk said. “We’ve become a punchline on late night television.”

But Democrat Alexi Giannoulias countered that the program was targeting African Americans, because “there has never been an accusation of fraud on the West or South side of Chicago.”

“You’re trying to suppress the African American vote,” Giannoulias said.

But the far worse situation is occurring in Texas, where the Justice Department has entered the fray.

Poll watchers in Harris County, Texas — where a Tea Party group launched an aggressive anti-voter fraud effort — were accused of “hovering over” voters, “getting into election workers’ faces” and blocking or disrupting lines of voters who were waiting to cast their ballots as early voting got underway yesterday.

Now, TPMMuckraker has learned, the Justice Department has interviewed witnesses about the alleged intimidation and is gathering information about the so-called anti-voter fraud effort.

“We are currently gathering information regarding this matter,” Justice Department spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said in a statement confirming the Civil Rights Division’s involvement.

Harris County is the same county where a suspicious arson over the summer knocked out most of the electronic voting machines. It contains Houston, the state’s largest city, a majority African-American area, and home to Bill White, former mayor and current candidate against Rick Perry for Governor.

The group “True the Vote,” made up of tea partiers, operates as a voter suppression brigade, recruiting poll watchers in Harris County over fears of “voter fraud,” the same tactic used every year by the right to minimize votes from core Democratic constituencies. All of the reports being investigated by the DoJ took place in early voting sites in predominantly African-American and Hispanic areas. Some of the eyewitness reports can be found here.

In the Tea Party, Republican operatives have found a willing group of poll watchers who actually believe all the stories about ACORN stealing elections and the like. So this is a combustible mix. As you can see from this report from a local Houston TV station, the poll watcher admits that he doesn’t know who hired him to watch the polls:

Essentially, this is the right’s Get Out the Vote program – intimidate and stop others from voting.

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David Dayen

David Dayen