Sunday, October 21, 2012

Dirty tricks in the Old Dominion

UP TO NOW, the idea of voter suppression in November has been mostly just that — an idea, something we’ve seen and read about in terms that were disturbing but conditional: “This is how bad it could get.” What a difference 48 hours makes. In that time, by way of the state of Virginia, the fear of voter suppression became as real as it gets, as real as the contents of a trash can in a north Virginia town.

Our first alert was a global Tuesday tweet from Taylor Dobbs, which linked to the Not Larry Sabato Web site of political observations and analysis … which linked to the Facebook page of Rob Johnson, who posted this on Oct. 15, from near Harrisonburg, Va.:

I just saw a guy throw a bag of trash in my cardboard dumpster and speed off. I went to get the bag and throw it in the trash dumpster. In the bag was a folder containing FILLED OUT VIRGINIA VOTER REGISTRATION FORMS!! I called the Harrisonburg Registrars office and they sent the police who said they really didn't know what to do in a case like this because it’s never happened before. The police took the forms and left. I'm really concerned because today is the last day in Virginia to register to vote and if these forms are tied up while trying to figure out what to do, will these people be allowed to vote???

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We don’t have the source or sources of his information, but Not Larry Sabato wrote this with some conviction last week: “The car that drove up was a black Toyota Camry with Pennsylvania license plates. Who would be in the Valley from Pennsylvania and have a bunch of completed voter registration forms that they wanted to destroy?

“Once this story hit Facebook, a number of people pointed out to the person who witnessed this crime that the state GOP 'Victory Office' was just a couple blocks away. Yesterday afternoon, guess what car was parked in front of the office?

“Yep, a black Toyota Camry from Pennsylvania.

“Police are investigating and the local media has begun reporting on this story. The Sheriff (a Republican) has said the person who destroyed the forms was a different person than who collected them.”

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NOW WE KNOW the rest. Talking Points memo reported this on Thursday: “A Pennsylvania man employed by a company working for the Republican Party of Virginia was arrested by investigators from the Rockingham County Sheriff’s office on Thursday and charged with destroying voter registration forms.

“Colin Small, a 23-year-old resident of Phoenixville, Pa., worked for Pinpoint, a company hired to register voters on behalf of the Republican Party of Virginia. Prosecutors charged him with four counts of destruction of voter registration applications, eight counts of failing to disclose voter registration applications and one count of obstruction of justice.”

“Rockingham County Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson’s office said there was no indication that the activity was widespread in their jurisdiction and said the conduct ‘appears to be limited in nature.’ His office said there is a possibility that additional charges may be filed.”

That last sentence is important. If in fact Small’s not the same person who collected the forms, we may be looking at conspiracy, whether such charges are filed or not.

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Happily, the forms were apparently returned to the Rockingham County registrar’s office. And as you might expect, Small was thrown under the bus by the employer of his employer — the Republican Party of Virginia. But as you also might expect, that’s not end of story. There’s other chicanery in the Old Dominion.

Dan Froomkin of The Huffington Post reported: “The Virginia State Board of Elections is warning residents that ‘some Virginia voters, particularly older Virginians, are receiving phone calls from unidentified individuals informing voters that they can vote over the phone. This information is false.’

“In Florida, the 866-OUR-VOTE election protection hotline run by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law has received a report of a similar calls in Florida.”

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AND FROOMKIN reported that this isn’t just a Virginia thing: “The lawyers' committee is also investigating reports from callers into African-American and Spanish-language radio stations in Florida that they had received warnings over the phone that election officials would be checking car insurance and registration status at the polls.”

How much farther this virus spreads is up for debate. Wherever it tries to surface in the next 16 days, we can, ironically, thank Colin Small for the service he’s accidentally rendered to the American people.

His attempt at a document dump in a small town in Virginia should wake us up to the possibility of similar actions going on across the country … and alert us to just how dangerously shameless some people are willing to be, how far they’re prepared to go, to disconnect you from the right to vote.

Image credits: Small: Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office booking photo. Facebook logo: © 2012 Facebook.

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