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Obama Plays the Race Card

Leading the charge against Hans von Spakovsky.

11:00 PM, Nov 14, 2007 • By EDWARD BLUM
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The Georgia case demonstrates that von Spakovsky made the correct decision to approve the law, and to do otherwise would have set the Justice Department up for another embarrassing rebuke from the courts. This all-important legal distinction is apparently lost on Sen. Obama, who is clearly not fluent in the legal intricacies of the Voting Rights Act.

Next, Obama's op-ed criticizes von Spakovsky for endorsing the need to purge election rolls of felons in 2000 when he was a member of the Fulton County Registration and Election Board in Georgia. This charge seems to be based on a paper that von Spakovsky authored in 1997 for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation on ways to improve the integrity of state and local elections. He recommended that the Secretary of State "run a monthly computer comparison of the voter registration lists with the records of the Georgia Department of Corrections" in order to discover the names of felons who were ineligible to vote.

How can this be a violation of minority voting rights? Well, it's not. In the 1993 National Voter Registration Act (also known as "Motor Voter"), Congress required all United States Attorneys to notify state election officials when registered voters are convicted of felonies in federal courts. A decade later, Congress enacted a housekeeping measure virtually identical to von Spakovsky's recommended procedure when it passed the Help America Vote Act, which required states to set up computerized voter registration lists and to "coordinate the computerized list with State agency records on felony status."

So, according to Sen. Obama, von Spakovsky is disqualified from serving on the FEC because he endorsed a procedure that would not only helps states (including Illinois) enforce their existing laws, but one that Congress eventually implemented as a federal requirement.

Finally, Obama's last major objection to von Spakovsky is his involvement in the now infamous, Tom DeLay-inspired, Texas congressional redistricting plan in 2003. Like the controversy over the Georgia voter I.D. statute, in 2003, the Texas legislature redrew the state's congressional districts resulting in a pick up five new GOP representatives in the next election. Obama claims that von Spakovsky overruled the career staffers' recommendations that the plan be rejected as harmful--or, in the language of the Voting Rights Act, "retrogressive"--to the current position of minority voters. The case eventually made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court where one district out of 32 was struck down as a violation of a completely different part of the Voting Rights Act--a part that von Spakovsky and the voting section have no jurisdiction to enforce. Once again, just like the Georgia I.D. case, the courts proved von Spakovsky made the right legal call.

So what is really at issue here? Politics. The career staffers at Justice wanted to deny approval of the Texas redistricting plan and they were overruled--correctly as it turned out--by their bosses who ran the Civil Rights Division. The career staffers were so infuriated with the decision that someone leaked their internal legal memoranda to the Washington Post, violating every professional rule of ethics and professional conduct imaginable.

In holding this issue out as evidence that von Spakovsky is unfit for the FEC, Sen. Obama displays either a complete ignorance of Voting Rights Act and the Supreme Court's holding in the Texas case, or a willingness to mislead the public in order to promote his civil rights bona fides.

There is no valid reason that von Spakovsky should not be confirmed to the FEC. And there is no reason why the savage, personal attacks made on von Spakovsky's legal judgment should continue. That those unfair and untrue attacks have been embraced by someone who seeks to be America's next president is an unflattering reflection on the wisdom of Barack Obama, not Hans von Spakovsky.

Edward Blum is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of The Unintended Consequences of Section Five of the Voting Rights Act, forthcoming from AEI Press.