Voter Suppression Showdown, Round 2: Von Spakovsky

Following Bradley Schlozman’s memorable performance before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, former senior Civil Rights Division higher-up Hans von Spakovsky will be appearing before the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration tomorrow. The occasion is a confirmation hearing for a spot as commissioner at the Federal Elections Commission, but the senators (the committee is chaired by U.S. attorney firing bloodhound Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is a member) are sure to spend plenty of time grilling von Spakovsky about his past at the Justice Department.

A group of former voting rights attorneys in the Division put it most succinctly in a letter to Sen. Feinstein yesterday urging rejection of his nomination: von Spakovsky was “the point person for undermining the Civil Rights Division’s mandate to protect voting rights.” Von Spakovsky reported to Schlozman, and the two worked together to purge voters from the rolls, ensure that voter ID laws were approved with no fuss, and punish lawyers who did not toe the line.

But while Schlozman was the enforcer, von Spakovsky seems to have been the brains of the operation. Von Spakovsky, unlike Schlozman, had a background in election law and had been pushing the voter fraud canard for years — to great effect.Here’s Jeffrey Toobin writing in The New Yorker way back in September, 2004 about von Spakovsky’s voter fraud pedigree:

Von Spakovsky, a longtime activist in the voting-integrity cause, has emerged as the Administration’s chief operative on voting rights. Before going to Washington, he was a lawyer in private practice and a Republican appointee to the Fulton County Registration and Election Board, which runs elections in Atlanta. He belonged to the Federalist Society, a prominent organization of conservative lawyers, and had also joined the board of advisers of a lesser-known group called the Voting Integrity Project.

The V.I.P. was founded by Deborah Phillips, a former county official of the Virginia Republican Party, as an organization devoted principally to fighting voting fraud and promoting voter education. In 1997, von Spakovsky wrote an article for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, a conservative research group, that called for an aggressive campaign to “purge” the election rolls of felons. Within months of that article’s publication, the V.I.P. helped put von Spakovsky’s idea into action. Phillips met with the company that designed the process for the removal of alleged felons from the voting rolls in Florida, a process that led, notoriously, to the mistaken disenfranchisement of thousands of voters, most of them Democratic, before the 2000 election.

Not surprisingly, von Spakovsky delivered once at the Justice Department. As the former voting section attorneys argue in their letter, von Spakovsky attempted to force widespread purging of voter rolls based on a very restrictive reading of election law (which von Spakovsky knew inside and out, since he helped draft the Help America Vote Act). “For example,” the lawyers write, “in one letter, he advocated for a policy keeping eligible citizens off the voter rolls for typos and other mistakes by election officials.” And as McClatchy detailed last month, he extended his activities to making sure the Election Assistance Commission, a tiny agency that serves as the government’s election information clearinghouse, published research that conformed to the voter-fraud orthodoxy. He was a busy man.

We’ll be providing updates during the hearing tomorrow.

Note: Here’s the Campaign Legal Center on von Spakovsky’s career at the FEC so far — he was installed by a recess appointment in December of 2005.