Late last month, the Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial page wrote that the Justice Department had “recently decided to reverse a policy in place since 2002 to send criminal attorneys and other federal employees to monitor polling places.” The next day, Fox News host Megyn Kelly, picked up the story, questioning whether it was “legal” because some lawyers in the DoJ’s Civil Rights Division have donated money to Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL).
In an interview on Dennis Miller’s radio show today, Kelly, who is a lawyer, called it “the most amazing lawyer story coming out of election ’08.” Echoing House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), Kelly also asserted that President Bush’s Justice Department “leans left”:
KELLY: But, I’ll tell you what I think, so far is the most amazing lawyer story coming out of election ’08 and that is the Department of Justice, which normally sends not just poll observers, but also criminal prosecutors to certain battleground key polling areas. Just in case there’s nonsense, right?
MILLER: Mmm hmm.
KELLY: Met with this liberal group of activists and two weeks later — and the Department of Justice, you may or may not know, leans left — made a decision after meeting with these liberals not to send those criminal prosecutors now. So, if there’s some sort of criminal behavior at the polls, good luck trying to find a prosecutor to complain to.
MILLER: That is unbelievable.
Kelly is referring to a September decision by the Department of Justice to no longer station criminal prosecutors at polling places on election day. The policy, put in place when John Ashcroft was attorney general, raised alarm bells both inside and outside the Voting Rights Section “because few assistant United States attorneys have much familiarity with the laws protecting voter access.” As Jeffrey Toobin reported for the New Yorker:
A lot of assistant U.S. attorneys are going to be more interested in voting integrity than in voter protection,” Jon Greenbaum, a lawyer who recently left the Voting Section, after nearly seven years, to join the progressive Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told me. “How many people are scared off from voting because you ask them a question at a polling place? There is no way to know.” As another civil-rights lawyer puts it, “Voting is kind of an irrational act anyway. It’s easy to discourage people from doing it.”
If there is the “criminal behavior” at the polls that Kelly is so worried about, there will be plenty of resources for voters. Republicans and Democrats are deploying thousands of lawyers across the country to monitor the polls. Both the Justice Department and the Election Protection Coalition have also set up hotlines to help voters.
Despite right-wing hyperbole, there has been very little “nonsense” by fraudulently registered voters trying to cast ballots. In 2007, the New York Times reported that after a five-year effort by the Bush administration to crack down on supposedly widespread voter fraud, just 86 people were convicted. The Justice Department isn’t leaning left; it just finally has some common sense.