Hans von Spakovsky is among the GOP hacks who perverted the U.S. Department of Justice - trashing constitutional principles, rewarding partisanship over competence and converting the entire machinery into an arm of the Republican Party. His specialty was suppressing voting by Americans of color, who are more likely to support Democrats; he played a starring role in a nationwide effort to disenfranchise poor blacks, Latinos and Native Americans. Now, Mr. von Spakovsky is seeking Senate approval for a six-year term on the Federal Election Commission, which enforces federal campaign finance laws. (President Bush gave Mr. von Spakovsky a recess appointment in January 2006, but he must have Senate confirmation for a full term.) The vote ought to be easy: No, no and no way.
A group of former Justice Department professionals - including a former chief of the Civil Rights Division's Voting Section - have stepped forward to oppose his nomination. According to The Washington Post, more than half the career lawyers in the Voting Section left in protest during his tenure. Mr. von Spakovsky's blatant disregard for the constitutionally guaranteed right to the franchise should disqualify him from even serving as a volunteer poll worker, much less a commissioner on the FEC. He is a leading light among the Republican activists who have whipped up the bogeyman of fraudulent voting, claiming that illegal ballots can only be stopped by stringent requirements, such as state-sponsored photo IDs, at the ballot box.
Actually, illegal voters are about as common as honest Bush appointees in the Justice Department.
A small federal agency called the Election Assistance Commission hired researchers who found "little polling place fraud." (The report's conclusions were downplayed and their release delayed by the GOP-dominated Election Assistance Commission; earlier, Mr. von Spakovsky tried to get one of the researchers fired.) The real agenda was to throw up enough obstacles at the ballot box to shave off a few thousand votes that would probably go to Democrats, enough for Republicans to win in close elections.
Appointed to the Justice Department after serving Mr. Bush valiantly in the Florida vote-count debacle in 2000, Mr. von Spakovsky more or less took over the Voting Section, which until then had worked to ensure that all citizens had access to the ballot box - especially citizens from ethnic groups whose history included the harshest forms of disenfranchisement. Mr. von Spakovsky turned that mission on its head. Under his de facto leadership, the Voting Section became a mechanism for disenfranchising certain voting blocs.
After Republican Tom Heffelfinger, then Minnesota's U.S. attorney, tried to scrutinize a new state photo ID requirement that he believed would disenfranchise Native Americans - a reliable Democratic voting bloc in the state - Mr. von Spakovsky essentially blocked the investigation. (Though Mr. Heffelfinger resigned on his own, his name later surfaced on a list of U.S. attorneys targeted for replacement.)
Mr. von Spakovsky supported the mid-decade gerrymandering of legislative districts by the GOP-dominated Texas Legislature. And he informed Arizona officials that they did not have to provide provisional ballots to voters who showed up at the polls without proper ID, an interpretation clearly at odds with the plain words of the Help America Vote Act of 2002.
Further, it was Mr. von Spakovsky who was largely responsible for clearing the way for an overly restrictive photo ID law passed by the Georgia General Assembly in 2005 (and since blocked by the courts). He overruled career attorneys in the Voting Section who believed the requirement would disproportionately disenfranchise black voters in the state. He should have recused himself from that case, since shortly before this he had anonymously published an article in a legal journal arguing for stringent photo ID requirements at the polls, claiming that there was no evidence such laws would hurt minority voters.
Trying to drum up a little sympathy with dubious Democratic senators at his recent confirmation hearing, Mr. von Spakovsky reminded them that he was born to humble immigrants who had fled Nazi Germany and communist Russia. But the young Hans seems to have drawn the wrong lessons from his parents' experiences. He needs to be sent back to ninth-grade civics class, not rewarded with a position on the FEC.
Cynthia Tucker is editorial page editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Her column appears Mondays in The Sun. Her e-mail is email@example.com.
© 2007 The Baltimore Sun