As the 2008 presidential election heads into its final week, the current president threw a political wild card on table late Friday, when he asked Attorney General Michael Mukasey to investigate the status of 200,000 Ohio voters. Bush’s request is clearly electoral fraud - illegal interference with the process of an election. Acts of fraud tend to involve affecting vote counts to bring about a desired election outcome, whether by increasing the vote share of the favored candidate, depressing the vote share of the rival candidates, or both.
George W. Bush’s request, if honored, could be politically explosive. It would remind voters of the Department of Justice’s partisan abuses of power in the scandal surrounding the firing of seven U.S. attorneys in 2006 who did not deliver ‘voter fraud’ convictions.
It could be a big distraction, drawing attention away from issues that call for legitimate DOJ intervention, such as shortages of voting machines in minority precincts in Virginia and Pennsylvania, compared to nearby white precincts. That disparity would violate existing civil rights law.
Or it could interject a complicating dynamic into the already heavily litigated Ohio general election, by adding the Department’s weight to GOP legal claims that pre-emptively question the legitimacy of a close vote count in a key battleground state.
Either way, the Department must choose if it will remain silent or get involved in an action that would go well beyond its historic role of quietly monitoring elections and avoiding messages to voters.
“This is taking the politicization of this to a new level, and the last thing we need is for the elections officials and voters of Ohio to be put in a chaotic situation in the last days before the election,” Jon Greenbaum of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told the Washington Post, reacting to the White House request.
The White House, according to the same Post report, described its actions as a routine referral to a federal agency as requested by a member of Congress, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH). Boehner had written to Mukasey early last week but received no response.
The Obama campaign reaction was to send the fourth letter this month to Mukasey urging he ensure the Department does not interfere “to satisfy desperate partisan political demands.”
“For the Department now, in response to the intense politics of the moment, to abruptly intercede in the current work of state and local officials would inflict incalculable damage — further and irreparable damage — to your office and to the reputation of senior federal law enforcement,” said Robert Bauer, Obama campaign counsel.