Just when you thought the Bush administration power grab had reached its zenith in violating the Constitution and breaking the law with impunity, they go and insult us one more time. The Pentagon has made a written request of the Arizona Secretary of State, Jan Brewer, to allow her sole determination in postponing elections. In the event of a natural disaster, a state of emergency, a civil disorder, or any other catastrophic event, the SoS can unilaterally postpone an election. These overly broad circumstances have no definitions in Arizona statutory law. Given these frightfully ambiguous categories, Ms. Brewer or any SoS, after consultation with the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors, would have wide latitude to put off an election for up to 14 days. How would a natural disaster or state of emergency be defined? Would an earthquake or a hurricane suffice—how ‘bout a water main break? What would constitute a civil disorder— rioting in the streets, people carrying signs, a Cinco de Mayo parade? Maybe a Quaker meeting (they spy on Quakers don’t they?)?
Or, so that is what Arizona Secretary of State Jan Brewer would have us believe.
The letter from the Pentagon was addressed only to Ms. Brewer. It appears that Secretary Brewer has used Representative Doug Quelland–R to introduce HB 2148 with provisions that are not even asked for by the Pentagon letter. The letter from the Pentagon, dated January 3, 2006, basically asks that in the event of early deployment of military and National Guard troops that early ballots, including the ability to vote electronically, be provided. Bad enough that the Department of Defense appears to be trying to sneak in internet voting, but Secretary of State Brewer is apparently seizing the opportunity push her own previously stated opposition to vote by mail (VBM) in Arizona. Representative Quelland, when presented an explanation of the ramifications of HB 2148, has now offered to withdraw the bill. But the nose of the camel may already be under the tent.
In previous statements, Ms. Brewer has parroted that tired aging canard of the Bush administration, “911 changed everything”. Now it appears Secretary Brewer is using HB 2148 to usurp the constitutional power of the people and take away our ability to hold elections if the natural or political climate isn't just right! Were states asked to empower some state official to postpone elections when British troops burned Washington in 1814? During the Civil War? When Pearl Harbor was attacked? Were such powers ever enacted throughout the years of civil unrest during the Viet Nam war of the Nixon years? Did we ever see this kind of attack on our singular citizen check on government after the Watts riots in LA or the 1968 Chicago demonstrations or the National Guard firing on unarmed students at Kent State? How about after the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the Weathermen, and the Black Panthers were infiltrated or after any number of high profile assassinations? Were we asked to give over our right to vote? In the face of all these threats, the answer is NO! And we have but to look to the British during WWII when they demonstrated the strength of democracy by voting as buzz bombs and V2 rockets rained down on them to see the apparent bogus nature of this deliberate attempt to undermine election integrity.
HB 2148 exploits the Pentagon's request by placing provisions in it that exceed what was asked for by the Department of Defense. In it's current form, HB 2148 seeks provisions that will deliberately complicate early voting–which includes vote-by-mail (VBM)–by requiring the official in charge of elections to provide a marking device or a supply of stickers suitable for use with tabulating devices. Since when have we ever used peel off stickers that could be removed and reattached in an election? It also provides for the rejection of ballots that don’t meet the standard “of not being marked according to instructions” by giving over determination of intent of the voter to “The Board.” In last years Mayoral race in San Diego, fiercely independent Democrat and City Councilwoman Donna Frye received the most votes as a write-in candidate. But, because the voter only wrote in the candidates name and did not fill in the little bubble beside it to indicate their intent to vote for the name they had hand written, a Republican judge threw them out. This barefaced partisanship resulted in a costly and contentious run-off that the Republican candidate “won.” Do we want Secretary Brewer, who was co-chair of the ‘04 Bush/Cheney campaign in Arizona, invested with this kind of power and opportunity to engage in partisan politics? Hell, no!
HB 2148 also seeks to make several various alterations in Arizona voting procedures that might negatively impact the interpretation and counting of provisional ballots, the decision to count ballots that are “stuck together”, and what constitutes acceptable forms of identification. The bill adds language that narrowly defines an expatriate voter, directs elections officials reconcile the number of provisional ballots with the number of ballots cast on only the poll list, and appears to repeal sections of the Arizona Statutes that are designed to catch attempts at ballot stuffing. None of which is asked for by the letter from the Pentagon!
And, who directed the Pentagon to ask for this power in the first place?
Our founding fathers realized that those in power would hold to it with white knuckled ferocity. That’s why they put in the checks and balances that have served this experiment in democracy for over 200 years so well—checks and balances that are now under seeming constant attack. If some Banana Republic postponed an election using such vague rationalizations as I have previously listed, our State Department would condemn the action as an assault on democracy. The people of Arizona, of all the states, should do no less now. Our Constitution does not provide such extreme powers to any government official; not the Secretary of State, the Governor, the legislature, or any other person. Let’s not start now.
HB 2148 has already passed out of the House Judiciary Committee by a vote of 6 to 2. It now goes to the House Rules Committee then to the House floor for a vote. Let’s hope Rep. Quelland does withdraw HB 2148 and halt this assault on our democracy.