Tomorrow, the Senate Rules and Administration Committee will hold a hearing on four nominations to the Federal Election Commission. While the committee will hear from all four, including Robert Lenhard, David Mason and Steven Walther, most of the attention should be placed on one witness: Hans von Spakovsky.
Like most Americans, you may be wondering, “Who is Hans von Spakovsky?” It’s a fair question, especially if you’re not familiar with the new barriers that have been imposed on our electoral system, making it harder for certain Americans to register and vote. Von Spakovsky has been referred to by leaders in the civil rights community as one of the “chief architects” behind efforts to suppress and dilute the voting rights of minorities in this country. If Senators care about the right of all citizens to participate in our electoral process, they ought to attend the hearing and ask this nominee to answer some of the allegations.
Some of us have come to expect that a nominee to the FEC, or any government agency that is responsible for upholding and enforcing our nation’s laws, would have a real interest in “fair election” issues. One also might think that nominees, regardless of their political affiliation, would be committed to policies that encourage the full participation of every eligible citizen in our electoral process. Unfortunately, von Spakovsky seeks a return to an era when laws were used not to protect the rights of all citizens, but to prohibit certain citizens from fully exercising their right to participate in the electoral process.
Forty-plus years and gallons of spilled blood, sweat and tears since the historic passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, we sadly find ourselves fighting the same old battles to protect and defend the right of all citizens to vote.
During his tenure as counsel and assistant attorney general for civil rights, von Spakovsky became the living embodiment of the Department of Justice’s best efforts to use the Voting Rights Act, Help America Vote Act and National Voter Registration Act as tools to suppress the votes of minorities and low-income voters, among others, rather than as mechanisms to increase voter access. Talk about a fox guarding the hen house!
According to the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Brennan Center for Justice, which released a report last week titled “Using Justice to Suppress the Vote,” the U.S. attorney scandal is “only part of the story.” The report states that von Spakovsky prevented the Civil Rights Division from investigating serious allegations of voter discrimination against American Indians in Minnesota with weeks to go in a very competitive November election.
In 2005, he sped approval of stringent voter identification laws in Georgia and Arizona, joining decisions to override career lawyers who believed that the Georgia law would restrict voting by poor blacks and the elderly, and that the Arizona law discriminated against Indians and Latinos. The Georgia law was later invalidated by a federal court, which likened the law to a Jim Crow-era poll tax. From 2001 to the end of 2005, during von Spakovsky’s tenure at the Civil Rights Division, no voting discrimination cases were brought on behalf of African-American or American Indian voters. During that same period, the Bush administration’s only case alleging racial discrimination in voting sought to protect white voters in Mississippi, the only time the Voting Rights Act has ever been used in such a way.
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