The Corner

Who Runs the Democratic Party?

And who runs elections in Democratic jurisdictions? A very fine and very depressing report from Philly.Com, via the excellent Chris Harper, about Philadelphia city commissioner Marge Tartaglione, whose job it is to organize elections.

Marge won’t go down without a fight. With continued support from the city’s Democratic organization, she’s unlikely to go down, period.

But she’s on the unpopular side of issues and controversies that could derail her plans.

Tartaglione’s one-day “retirement” in 2008, permitting her to collect $288,000 under the city’s deferred-retirement program, has drawn criticism — and prompted a lawsuit to try and force her off the ballot.

Tartaglione’s own daughter, Renee, was forced to resign from her staff in November after the city’s Board of Ethics documented blatant violations of the City Charter’s ban on politicking by employees.

Renee was running the Democratic organization in Kensington’s 19th ward while her husband, ward leader Carlos Matos, was in federal prison for bribery. Among other offenses, Renee printed sample ballots intended to mislead voters about a Matos rival.

So far, Marge Tartaglione has refused to discuss what she knew about Renee’s activities.

Two government watchdog organizations — the Committee of Seventy and the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, a state-appointed panel overseeing city finances — have both called for abolishing the city commissioners, saying it’s expensive and unnecessary to have elected officials running city elections.

Philadelphia’s election shenanigans are legendary: boxes of ballots taken out of prisons, polling places in bars and Democratic bigwigs’ offices, the occasional Black Panther hooliganism, etc. But it is not just Philadelphia; check out a South Texas Democratic primary some time. The American electoral system is defective, and in many jurisdictions it is plainly corrupt, a fact that inevitably undermines public trust in our institutions. That lack of trust in turns makes our institutions even less effective, producing a vicious circle that leads to things like . . . Philadelphia, or your local public-school system.

Every time there is an effort to clean up a corrupt election practice, Democrats howl that Republicans are trying to disenfranchise voters. But Republicans don’t howl when somebody proposes that voters show a valid ID at the polls or when somebody asks that steps be taken to ensure that absentee ballots are filled out by actual voters, rather than by local party machines. There’s a lesson in that: It’s not as though corrupt Republicans could not benefit from these kinds of practices. (Question: Which party supports voting rights for felons?)  But the truth is that absentee-ballot harvesting campaigns and the like tend to benefit Democratic machines. And cleaning up these practices will be a job that falls to Republicans.

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