With the news that most of the defendants in the tire-slashing/vote suppression incident in Milwaukee on the 2004 election day pleading down to misdemeanors, I have been reminded of New Hampshire’s own vote-suppression scandal — which is currently wending its way through our courts.
A quick background: in 2002, then-Congressman John E. Sununu (R) was running against then-outgoing governor Jeanne Shaheen (D) for the Senate seat being vacated by Senator Bob Smith (R-sometimes). On election day, a pollster hired by a Republican official had his phone machines continually call into the phone bank set up by the Democrats to call voters and encourage them to vote, along with accepting calls for rides to polling places. Two former officials have been already sentenced, and a third was just convicted last year.
This morning, there’s news that lawyers for that third man, James Tobin, is trying to get his conviction overturned.
I see several possible responses to this development in Milwaukee come to mind:
1) Now that we see that Democrats can commit felonies to deny people the right to vote and get away with it, perhaps the New Hampshire case ought to be treated a smidgen more leniently, where the actual actions taken were only misdemeanors.
2) Now that the Democrats have shown how lightly they take the issue of denying people the right to vote, this is a golden opportunity for the Republicans to take the moral high ground and push for the severest possible sanctions.
3) Where the Milwaukee case dealt with a far more important election — a presidential race vs. a senate seat in an off-year election — it should be treated more seriously.
4) Where the Milwaukee case affected a far smaller percentage of the total electorate than the New Hampshire case, the New Hampshire case should be treated far more seriously.
I think the proper response, however, should be none of the above: to disregard the Milwaukee case entirely in regards to the New Hampshire case.
After 2000 and 2004, the American people have, largely, become tired of endless cries of “voter fraud” and “disenfranchising the people.” The notion of requiring a voter to show some form of identification before casting their ballot is absolutely trivial when compared to these two cases, just to cite one example. Yet by hyping these matters as much as various political leaders (most notably Democrats, but not always), they have cheapened the whole notion of true disenfranchisement.
These two cases represent high-ranking officials of the major political parties actively conspiring and acting to prevent people from voting. Both cases are obscenities, perversions of our cherished — but fragile — political system and freedoms. And both are so important that they can not — must not — be allowed to influence each other. Both need to be prosecuted rigorously, with examples made of the guilty to deter future attempts.
And if the verdicts or sentences differ, so be it. That’s the vagaries of our justice system. That must not be allowed to shade our own pursuit of justice.