Monday, July 18, 2005

If It's Monday, Republicans Must Be Stealing Votes

Some things are undeniably true. A leopard can't change his spots and a Republican can't fight the instinctive compulsion to keep votes from being counted.

With local, state and Congressional elections before us in the next 16 months, it's important for all Americans who truly believe in democracy to understand that, whenever the opportunity arises, Republicans are as dependable as clockwork in denying our country's most basic rights.

We've seen it many times over the last five years – most notably in the 2000 presidential election and recently in the protracted fight by Republican Dino Rossi to keep Democrat Christine Gregoire from assuming the Governor's office in Washington state. It's the same game with different players -- a close election and the GOP using their weapon of choice by fighting to ensure that votes are not counted.

But lest you think this is strictly the province of races garnering national attention, let me introduce you to the most recent – but eerily similar – version of Republican election theft in the mayoral race in tiny Irvington, New York.

The election in this town of about 6,700 people took place on March 15, 2005 and, after one recount, ended in a razor-thin, 848-847 victory for Democratic challenger Erin Malloy over the longtime incumbent, Republican Dennis Flood. Two absentee ballots remained unopened. Both candidates received notice from the town clerk that he wanted to open just one of those ballots immediately.

Despite having a one-vote lead -- and thus everything to lose – Malloy, the former president of the Westchester County League of Women Voters, immediately agreed that the ballot should indeed be opened. It was a vote for her Republican opponent and the election became a tie.

Here's where we get into familiar Republican, election-fraud territory.

Republicans responded to all of this by having their primary election attack dog out of Albany, John Ciampoli, represent Flood, while Malloy has been forced to pay for the defense of her legitimate win out of her own pocket and via local fundraisers.

True to his GOP pedigree, Flood filed a legal action to keep the last ballot from being counted. When the New York State Supreme Court ruled that the ballot should be opened, it was found that an Irvington resident, named Susan Brenner-Morton, had cast the final and deciding vote for Erin Malloy.

So what was Flood's next move? You guessed it: Make damn sure that Susan Brenner-Morton's vote did not count. That's what finally landed in the Appellate Court in Brooklyn, which just issued an astonishing ruling that Brenner-Morton's vote should be tossed out based on a technicality manufactured by the Flood camp themselves.

Brenner-Morton's ballot had been unopened in the first place due to a minor discrepancy between her hyphenated, married name and her maiden name, which she also sometimes uses.

She discovered this on March 19 (a Saturday), after the official recount -- showing Erin Malloy to be the winner --had concluded on March 18. Bright and early on March 21, Brenner-Morton went into the Village Hall with all of her proper credentials showing that she was a valid voter. Simultaneously on that morning, the Westchester County Board of Elections faxed all of the necessary documentation to Irvington Village Hall proving Brenner-Morton's legitimacy as a qualified, registered voter -- and whose ballot would have wholly substantiated Erin Malloy's victory.

Irvington's Republican-led administration did nothing with this information.

Had they opened Brenner-Morton's ballot that day, as they should have, her vote would have been counted in time and the election would have been indisputably over. Sitting on the vote as the town's administration did, gave Flood just enough time to file a lawsuit that evening, staying all votes from being opened, counted, or canvassed.

The lawsuit was filed that night to prevent Brenner-Morton's vote from being opened and counted in time.

If you're starting to feel like you're in a Kafka book, it gets worse. Since this all began, Brenner-Morton has had to hire her own lawyer to get her vote counted and has endured being hounded by a private investigator, hired by Team Flood, in an effort to intimidate her out of the process.

So where does it stand now?

As unbelievable as this sounds, Irvington election rules call for any ties to be broken via drawing of lots or a coin toss.

Of course, Dennis Flood immediately embraced this option. Hey, if you were the St. Louis Cardinals, wouldn't you leap at the chance to have a coin flip reverse Boston's 2004 World Series win and get a 50-50 chance at negating the legitimate loss? The Red Sox, probably wouldn't be so crazy about that choice – given that, well, they won and everything.

Erin Malloy is feeling much the same way.

Meanwhile, Flood's attorney reveals a lot about what this all means to them with recent comments he has made about the status of the Irvington election.

"We could play Texas Hold 'Em," joked John Ciampoli. "Or we could get out the Bingo numbers. Whoever gets the biggest number wins..."

Flood's willingness to decide an election based on a game of chance – and his lawyer's treating such a situation as a joke – underscores the contempt that they and their party have for the electoral process.

For now, a stipulation has been agreed to by both sides, that stays all actions in the case until early August. This has the effect of stopping the coin-toss or lot-drawing calamity and preserves all remedies available to all parties. In other words, the will of the voters and a Democratic winner assuming a duly-elected office has been delayed with the usual Republican dirty tricks. Oh, and by the way, Flood continues to serve as the town's Mayor, despite having been voted out of office.

And their disenfranchisement and harassment of Susan Brenner-Morton for simply being unlucky enough to be the election's deciding voter, sends all Americans one message loud and clear: Whether it is a small town mayoral election, a gubernatorial race or the presidency of the United States, Republicans will always reach for their trump card of tossing legitimate votes if it serves their agenda.

It is profoundly sad that, even in a small town like Irvington, where so many residents know each other personally, voters cannot feel comfortable knowing that they can legitimately cast a ballot in good faith, with clear intent and that it will be counted.

For a party that preaches patriotism and love of country as much as the Republicans, they consistently show that, like the proverbial leopard, they cannot change their spots. In their America, no matter the size of the election, every vote counts – as long as it is a vote for them.