One of the reasons so many Americans are cynical about the voting process is the partisan gamesmanship that comes with it. An egregious example is playing out in Fairfax County, Va., just southwest of Washington, D.C.
Hans von Spakovsky, one of the nation’s leading experts on election law and a former member of the Federal Election Commission, has been denied reappointment to the Fairfax Electoral Board. Von Spakovsky, a contributor to NRO with whom I co-authored the recent book Who’s Counting?,came under attack from the Fairfax County Democratic Party, which objected to the longstanding tradition of appointments, in which the two parties put forth nominees for the board, which are almost always then approved by the local circuit court. This year, Fairfax County Democrats took the extraordinary step of writing a letter to the court claiming von Spakovsky was guilty of promoting voter suppression and calling for him to be replaced when his term ended this month. The court, without giving von Spakovsky any chance to respond to the letter, has refused to reappoint him, and selected another Republican.
Bettina Lawson, a local Democratic official, hailed the removal of von Spakovsky: “He has a national reputation for efforts to suppress the vote with his various positions on voter identification and creating a lot of fear about voter fraud.”
The problem is there is zero evidence that von Spakovsky was guilty of doing anything wrong in his work on the board. It has three members, two Republicans and a Democrat, named Seth Stark. Since Stark joined the board in early 2011, it has taken 224 votes. All were unanimous, save for three. Von Spakovsky voted against Stark’s position that that cases of non-citizens found to have registered to vote shouldn’t be reported to Virginia’s Attorney General. Von Spakovsky also disagreed with Stark when he voted to stop the distribution by the county government of literature from any private advocacy groups on the right or left. Finally, Spakovsky agreed with privacy advocates when he voted against making public the identity of those voters whose provisional ballots have been deemed valid, again disagreeing with Stark. (Federal law only allows election officials to disclose that information to the voter — Stark wanted to disclose it to the Democratic party.)
The scandal led Don Palmer, the secretary of Virginia’s State Board of Elections, to write a letter of complaint to Robert Smith, the chief judge of Fairfax’s circuit court.
After calling von Spakovsky one of the “most qualified and knowledgeable” election officials in the state, Palmer expressed his disappointment that sloppy allegations by Fairfax County Demorcrats were apparently given such credence by the court: “Negative comments made by one political party should not be considered without an equal opportunity by citizens and election officials to provide the other side to the story.” He went on to conclude that “there has been an unfortunate fight ongoing in Fairfax County for quite some time trying to make every election administration decision a partisan and legal issue. Please do not allow the Virginia electoral system or the Judiciary to be unnecessarily dragged into it.”
Palmer is a Republican and most of the judges on the Fairfax court are Democrats, but the issues he raises go beyond partisanship, to the core of whether or not the selection of election officials should be even more politicized than it already is. Those who help administer our elections work long hours for low or no pay. If baseless charges are allowed to remove them from their offices, even if it’s only part of a fruitless attempt to lower the political temperature, we will all be the poorer for it. And we will have no reason to wonder why many qualified people stay out of election administration.