Implausible deniability.

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
June 13 2007 5:31 PM

Implausible Deniability

The Internet foils fudging by three "voter fraud" warriors.

Bradley Schlozman. Click image to expand.
Bradley Schlozman appears before the Senate judiciary committee

What do those who believe voter fraud is a major national problem worthy of onerous voter identification laws have to hide?

In a recent Slate column, I noted the strange demise of the American Center for Voting Rights, an organization that sprouted up in the last few years to push the "voter fraud is a big problem" line at government hearings, conferences, and, most importantly, in the courts to defend strict new voter-ID laws. The brains behind ACVR is a St. Louis lawyer, Mark "Thor" Hearne, who has worked for the Bush-Cheney campaign and other Republican candidates for years. Oddly, the organization suddenly disbanded recently and yanked its Web site. Even more strangely, Hearne's résumé at his law firm, Lathrop and Gage, was scrubbed of references to ACVR. Thanks to the Internet Wayback Machine and blogs like the Brad Blog, much of ACVR's material still remains available, however. You just can't erase stuff put out in cyberspace very easily.

But Hearne apparently wasn't satisfied with just cleansing his résumé. Despite the Slatearticle and follow-up by  NPR, National Journal, and St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Hearne, ACVR, and his possible connection to the U.S. attorneys' scandal, someone is working hard to scrub Hearne's paper trail. And now somebody is going into Hearne's Wikipedia entry and trying to cleanse it of references to ACVR. (Just about anyone can edit a Wikipedia entry, though the organizers have some methods of quality control.) Moreover, someone's been trying to clean up Wikipedia's entry on ACVR itself.

Who would do such a thing? Wikipedia keeps records of the user IDs or IP addresses of whoever changes its pages, and it turns out, astonishingly, that this cleansing was done by someone at one of the IP addresses of Hearne's law firm.

It does raise a question: Just what is it about Hearne's work for ACVR that he or someone else at his firm is trying to hide?

Hearne is not the only "voter fraud" warrior involved in covering up old information. In 2005, as noted on the Election Law Blog, I received a copy of a law-review article in the mail, postmarked Washington, with no return address. I had never seen an anonymous law-review article before. Published under the name "Publius," the article argued in favor of voter-identification laws.

Fast forward to March 2006. Hans von Spakovsky, one of the administration's great pushers of the voter-fraud line, was moved from DoJ—where he had been involved in overruling career attorneys on whether the department should approve Georgia's controversial voter-identification law and the Texas redistricting plan—to the Federal Election Commission for a recess appointment. And on von Spakovksy's new FEC Web site, he suddenly took credit as author of the Publius article. I pointed this out on my blog, and von Spakovsky got calls from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Washington Post, at which point he removed his reference to the article, without any explanation (though he did acknowledge authorship of the Publius article through a spokesperson to the Post).

Today, Sen. Dick Durbin raised the issue with von Spakovsky at a Senate hearing for his confirmation for a full term at the FEC. Von Spakovsky said he removed the reference to the article because it was a "distraction" from his work at the FEC. What is not clear is why von Spakovsky tried to hide his identity in the article in the first place. Didn't he believe what he wrote? Perhaps he hoped that the article could later be cited in the Georgia litigation to support the voter-ID law. (Hearne cited it last year in testimony before the U.S. Election Assistance Commission as evidence that voter-ID laws are not unconstitutional.)

Finally, there's Bradley Schlozman, the DoJ official who brought a controversial set of indictments just days before the 2006 election in Missouri claiming voter-registration fraud. Schlozman was criticized because the convictions seemed to go against DoJ policy to avoid bringing election-related indictments just before the election, so as not to interfere with the upcoming vote. In his testimony last week before the Senate judiciary committee, Schlozman said repeatedly that he acted at the "direction" of the Public Integrity Section of the DoJ.

In pre-Internet days, Schlozman might have been able to get away with that. But the blogs and newspapers were promptly all over the story of lawyers from that section objecting to Schlozman's mischaracterization. Thus forcing him to backpedal from the story, yesterday issuing a "clarification" that he only "consulted" with the section. But if Schlozman thought the voter-fraud indictments were so strong, why was he trying to hide behind the Public Integrity Section last week?

Don't these voter-fraud warriors know that in the Internet age they can run, but they can't hide?

Richard L. Hasen is a professor of law and political science at the UC–Irvine School of Law and author of The Voting Wars.