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Architect of Voter Suppression Effort Faces Senate Vote for FEC Seat

September 25, 2007

For Immediate Release:
September 25, 2007

Contact Information:
Justin Levitt, Brennan Center for Justice, (323) 365–9773
Wendy Weiser, Brennan Center for Justice, (212) 998–6130
Tim Bradley, BerlinRosen Public Affairs, (646) 452–5637

Architect of Voter Suppression Effort Faces Senate Vote for FEC Seat

FEC Nominee Used Positions in DOJ Civil Rights Division and Election Assistance Commission to Advance Partisan Election Goals, Disenfranchise Voters

Washington, D.C. – Today the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, a national law center and voting rights advocacy organization, reiterated its opposition to the nomination of Hans von Spakovsky for a seat on the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

“During his time at the Department of Justice and as an advisor to the Election Assistance Commission, Hans von Spakovsky helped turn federal agencies designed to help people vote into just the opposite,” said Justin Levitt, Counsel at the Brennan Center. “He has been a key architect of a broader effort at Justice to uses the public institutions we trust to place barriers in voters’ way, ignoring facts on the ground in favor of preconceived biases.  He should not be rewarded with a position administering the country’s election laws,” Levitt said.

On Wednesday the Senate Rules Committee will vote on President Bush’s nomination of Hans von Spakovsky to a seat on the Federal Election Commission (FEC). A former attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, von Spakovsky faced intense scrutiny during a June Senate confirmation hearing for his efforts to further new policies, based on the unjustified fear of widespread voter fraud, that would disenfranchise low-income and minority citizens as well as students and seniors.

In the wake of the U.S. Attorney firing scandal, in which U.S. Attorneys lost their jobs in part because they refused to prosecute voter fraud where it did not exist, many political appointees in leadership positions at the Department of Justice have been forced to step down.  Von Spakovsky appears to be one of the few remaining in prominent public office.

The Brennan Center urged lawmakers to use von Spakovsky’s nomination as an opportunity to reflect on how a division of the Justice Department created to protect the right to vote was diverted from its mission and improperly used as a tool for influencing elections and disenfranchising voters.  

In January 2006, President Bush quietly gave von Spakovsky a recess appointment to sit on the Federal Election Commission, and now von Spakovsky has been renominated to a full term on the commission.

In his time at the Justice Department, von Spakovsky’s actions led to mass resignations of career prosecutors serving under him at the agency – including Joseph Rich, the head of the Department’s voting rights section.  

E-mails published by McClatchey News Service reveal that von Spakovsky tried to pressure Paul DeGregorio, Republican Vice Chairman of the federal Election Assistance Commission, to drop objections to Arizona’s law blocking eligible voters from the polls without proof of identification and citizenship (one of the harshest in the country).  He also tried to pressure DeGregorio to cancel a research contract that sought to document whether or not voter ID laws disenfranchise eligible voters, but the contract went through.  At von Spakovsky’s urging, DeGregorio was not reappointed to the Commission by President Bush.  He was succeeded on the EAC by Caroline Hunter, former Deputy Counsel to the Republican National Committee.

In April 2006, von Spakovsky became enmeshed in controversy when it was revealed he had anonymously published an article in the Texas Review of Law & Politics that endorsed voter ID laws like Georgia’s – while Georgia’s ID law was subject to review by the Justice Department for compliance with the Voting Rights Act.  In the article, von Spakovsky – himself a former Georgia election official – presented flawed statistics in an effort to refute the notion that voter ID laws disproportionately disenfranchise African-American voters.  Career prosecutors under von Spakovsky at Justice came to the opposite conclusion and recommended that DOJ reject Georgia’s law precisely because it would disenfranchise thousands of African-Americans.  Von Spakovsky urged the section heads to overrule the career prosecutors and approve Georgia’s law.  A federal judge later struck it down as an unlawful burden akin to the discriminatory and unconstitutional poll tax.

Political operatives have spoken candidly about the impact of voter ID laws, like those advanced by von Spakovsky, on election results.  On May 17, 2007, Royal Masset, the former political director of the Republican Party of Texas, told the Houston Chronicle that ‘requiring photo IDs could cause enough of a dropoff in legitimate Democratic voting to add 3 percent to the Republican vote.’    

Today’s FEC vote is also an opportunity for Congress to advance a truly nonpartisan fair elections agenda that protects the right of every eligible citizen to vote while protecting the integrity of the process.  Congress can and should:

  • Ban inaccurate and partisan pre-election purges of the voter rolls.
  • Block discriminatory voter ID laws that could disenfranchise millions of eligible citizens
  • Create robust protections for voter registration that ensure that eligible citizens get on the rolls.
  • Enact other real protections for voters and the integrity of our elections, like those in the pending Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Act, Count Every Vote Act, and Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act.
Voting rights experts at the Brennan Center for Justice are available for comment. For more information, please contact Wendy Weiser at 212–998–6130 or Justin Levitt at (323) 365–9773.

Read the Brennan Center’s letter to the Senate Rules and Administration Committee here.