Long accepted but controversial conventional wisdom has been that a high voter turnout benefits Democratic candidates. The losers say it’s because Democrats cheat. “Democrats will let anyone vote,” they say, “Even if they’re not legally eligible.” “Prove it,” says think tanks, educational institutions, and Congressional committees. “We got nothin’” is the common answer. Voter fraud simply does not exist in any measurable form anywhere in the United States.

The real reason Democrats win when there’s a high turnout, as we can see from the ongoing post-November 2008 collapse of the Republican Party, is because when it comes to having real ideas and any observable ability to govern, Republicans also “got nothin’.” And since the “nothin’” they got is because they hate government, the real shock is why anyone would think they could actually, you know, govern.

Yet, despite the way they feel about it, Republicans – and more specifically Republicans in the Tennessee General Assembly – still want absolute control of the affairs of the State. Which is why they’ve embraced the extremely distasteful Paul Weyrich model of democracy which, through control of the election process and suppression of the vote, hopes to decrease the people’s participation in their democracy until it’s small enough to drown in a bathtub – and then can be leveraged into a win.

More simply, the Weyrich model is based on that ol’ “the ends (absolute power) justify the means (cheating)” adage. We’ve seen it in action by the U.S. Attorney General and the Justice Department during the Bush administration. It’s what brought down Alberto Gonzales. And it’s apparently what they teach at televangelist Pat Robertson’s Regent University Law School, the Alma mater of disgraced U.S. Justice Department employee, Monica Goodling, as well as ex-State Election Commission member and current State Election Coordinator, Mark Goins.

Not supposed to inject partisanship into the employment practices for civil service jobs at the U.S. Justice Department? No matter – breaking the law is a small price to pay when you’re doing God’s work. Can’t find the instances of voter fraud you need to prove that voter suppression laws (photo ID, proof of citizenship) are necessary? Try harder – even if it means your agenda tramples on the very foundation of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Thankfully, the two bills introduced by Tennessee Republicans which were meant to further the Weyrich model by suppressing the vote of the least among us – the elderly, the indigent, and the disabled – gasped their dying breaths yesterday.

Yet the fight continues as they trot out additional weapons in the Tennessee GOP “ends justify the means” arsenal:

1) The delay of implementation of the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act (HB0614 / SB0872). This bill was passed unanimously in the Senate and almost unanimously in the House in 2008 and would give voters the confidence that comes with voting on paper ballots. State Election Coordinator Goins is leading the fight to keep the paperless touch-screen voting machines we use now in 93 out of 95 counties because they a) can be easily manipulated to change vote totals and flip votes from one candidate to another, b) provide no mechanism for a meaningful recount in the case of close elections, and c) increase the length of time it takes for each voter to cast a ballot thereby suppressing the vote by allocating too few machines in certain areas and creating long lines and long waits.

2) The replacement of all county Election Administrators with partisan Republicans. As reported this morning by Tom Humphrey of the Knoxville News Sentinel, “Twenty-eight county election administrators have been already replaced since Republicans gained control of Tennessee’s 95 county election commissions and more Democrats are likely to be dismissed in the months ahead.” And although there has been some push back in some counties by Republicans who can see past partisanship, and there’s also been a recent attorney general’s opinion that says “that an administrator fired solely because of his or her political party affiliation might successfully challenge the dismissal in court,” State Coordinator Goins insists that “administrators serve at the will of the county commissions and may be re-replaced at any time.”

3) An attempt to forcefully take control of the State Election Commission (which monitors the activities and performance of the county election commissioners). And then declare war if you don’t get your way. As Colby Sledge reported in the Tennessean this morning, “Republicans are giving House Democrats one week before they plan to kill the state election commission if a bill to expand the commission by adding two members — in effect, giving the GOP the majority — doesn’t pass.” But let’s allow Senator Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and Senator Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) tell you in their own words why they’re making this supposed “non-partisan” issue a partisan issue.

Senator Thelma Harper: Let me ask you a question, has your bill, 547, has it passed the Senate floor?

Senator Mark Norris: Oh yes, m’am, it passed 24-8 on March 12th.

Senator Harper: So, who’s handling it in the House?

Senator Norris: In the House it’s Rep. Mumpower and, um, but I understand that Rep. Maddox and, uh, perhaps Turner were outspoken in their opposition to it.

Senator Harper: So it has not moved in the House?

Senator Norris: Correct. It’s moved out of committee. I think it’s on the desk of the floor of the House. And that’s where it met it’s potential demise and I just think everybody should realize if it meets its demise there then the State Election Commission will meet its demise here [Senate Government Operations Committee].

Senator Harper: Let me ask Senator Johnson. Have you entertained the idea of someone else signing on and carrying the bill if there’s that kind of conversation or if there’s no conversation going on…?

Senator Jack Johnson (Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman): Madame Chair, it is my understanding in watching the video as well and discussing it with some members of the House who were present for the debate that it did literally turn into a very partisan kind of issue which really it shouldn’t be what we’re trying to do is to make the Election Commission comply with the statute and I’ll add one thing to what Senator Norris said, it’s an interesting predicament that we’re in, in that the majority control of the General Assembly happened to change mid-term for these State Election Commissioners. Interestingly they serve four years terms. County Election Commissioners serve two year terms. And as you know the composition of all 95 county Election Commissions changed – uh, 3 Republicans, 2 Democrats – that was easily accomplished because they were at the end of their their term. Well, uh, I think it should be known – it’s my understanding – that one of the Democrat [sic] members of the State Election Commission offered to resign but the statute states that the interim vacancy on the State Election Commission must be filled by someone of the same party. So there is no statutorily authorized way to change the composition of the State Election Commission other than what Senator Norris came up with which is a perfectly reasonable solution which is to add two members and make it 4-3, 7 member body for the remaining two years. Now, as to who the House sponsor is, if there are personal issues regarding the House sponsor, it shouldn’t get in the way of passing a reasonable bill. Uh, to answer your question, Madame Chairman, I have not had any conversations and don’t know if it would be my place or Senator Norris’ place to suggest a different sponsor of the bill.

Senator Harper
: I didn’t say suggest it. What I was looking at would be to move it to another level that’s amenable to the leadership of the House.

Senator Johnson: Well, it made it all the way through the committee system, which as we know is somewhat arduous. And made it to the floor and I believe the voter was 48-48. 48 ayes and 48 no’s. And therefore it sits on the desk, it can be brought back to the floor for further consideration, and I think our hope, and I think Senator Norris’ hope, is that in light of perhaps there wasn’t an adequate understanding of the need to make it lawful, or otherwise it cannot continue to exist. And so what I wanted Senator Norris to address in this committee is, uh, we will roll this for one more week – we hope that next week will be our last committee meeting for Senate Government Operations, so they essentially have 7 days to either deal with this issue or we will be more or less forced to allow the State Election Commission to sunset. And none of us want that to happen it will create some issues – I’m sure we can handle those issues in the Secretary of State’s office but the simpler thing to do would be to pass this bill, add two members to the State Election Commission for the next two years and then we can reconstitute the five-member body in two years assuming that control of the General Assembly changes back to Democratic control then it will be 3-2 Democrat.

Interestingly, neither sponsor – Senator Norris nor Rep. Mumpower – bothered to get an Attorney General opinion on this issue, Which, as Senator Tim Barnes (D-Adams) seems to understand, would have been the responsible and reasonable thing to do if this were what they say it is – a non-partisan issue.

Senator Tim Barnes: I guess my question is, why do we assume that although the commission was constituted properly when it was, at the time there was a Democratic majority, that because of the change of the makeup of the General Assembly that renders the commission improperly constituted. It seems to me that if it’s Constituted properly under the statute that existed and we kind of had a timing issue between two statutes…uh, is there an attorney general’s opinion or a legal opinion as to the statement that you made about that commission being improperly Constituted?

Senator Norris: Not that I’m aware of, Senator, the statement I made is just based on Tennessee Code annotated 2-11-103 which says that three members of the commission shall be members of the majority party and two members shall be members of the minority party. Now, I know that there is, as you do, that there is authority for the proposition that actions that are taken when they are in a holdover capacity may not be suspect because they are holdovers, but that’s slightly different than the composition issue – particularly the clash of what’s happening here. If this were not in sunset – if they had not already gone into wind down perhaps, and they were not in sunset – you might be able to say, “well, we’ll just rely on the holdover status. But you’re presented with a very unique challenge here because they are in wind down and the are on the clock to sunset. And given that, you’re question whether the actions they have taken are appropriate as holdover appointees. Your situation is given that the House seems unwilling to comply with 2-11-103, can you lawfully renew something that is no longer in compliance with the law. A slightly different question but I’ve given it some thought.

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