Skinning the Cat

There’s more than one way to skin a cat. Yes, idioms make no sense – no one skins cats. But everyone knows what it means – there’s more than one way to solve a problem. This particular idiom has been attributed to the American humorist Seba Smith, first used in his 1840 short story “The Money Diggers” – and here’s a profile of Smith – with no mention of his ever owning a cat. He was friends with Davey Crockett, for what that’s worth. Maybe the two of them discussed Crockett’s coonskin cap, but it’s more likely Smith just loved colorful language and liked making up old sayings out of thin air, pretending people always said just that, in this case something about skinning cats. Then the oddest thing happened – this one actually became an old saying. People say it all the time, much to this dismay of those learning English as a second language. Irrational idioms are always a problem, but there’s always more than one way to solve a problem – there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

That’s what the Republicans are working on as the first presidential debate looms large and early voting in many states is already underway. Mitt Romney is likely to lose as the debates may not make that much difference. A study of all the polling data since 1960 shows no direct correlation between the winner of each debate and the winner of the presidency – so even if Romney shines and Obama stumbles, a safe assumption is that no one is changing their minds now.

That’s bad enough and the current polling data is truly dismal:

Mr. Romney is at best holding ground in the polls, and quite possibly losing some, at a time when he needs to be gaining it instead. Further, it’s increasingly implausible for Mr. Romney to attribute the numbers to temporary effects from the Democratic convention. Mr. Obama’s probability of winning the Electoral College advanced to 83.9 percent in the Nov. 6 forecast, up from 81.9 percent on Wednesday.

Then there are the pundits. Whose Idea Was It to Nominate Romney, Anyway? – Romney was a bad choice, if the only possible choice, but really it’s the party, not him, that’s the problem here. On the other hand there’s In the End It Is Mitt  – immediately countered by Sorry, It Is Not Romney’s Fault – and so on and so forth. There’s also Go Large, Mitt versus Going Large Is for Losers – It’s Never, Ever a Good Sign and much more. All this assumes, perhaps rightly, that Romney will lose, barring some miracle. This also assumes that there’s probably nothing much Romney can do about that now. Only fools, and those who buy lottery tickets, count on long-shot miracles. Obama will get more votes, many more votes, and that’s that.

This is where the cat comes in, as there’s more than one way to skin it, as everyone knows. If voters who vote the wrong way are the problem, then you figure out a way to keep as many of those folks from the polls as possible, with an endless series of bureaucratic impediments to voting, at least in the states run by Republicans – ending same-day voter registration, imposing absurd requirements on voter-registration drives, and on voters themselves. Voter-ID laws, to prevent in-person voter fraud, which doesn’t exist, can be framed as protecting the integrity of the vote and that sort of thing. You pass laws establishing those ID laws, or you can do what Ohio did in 2004 to assure Bush carried the state – in heavily Democratic precincts have only one working voting machine, not the usual twenty or so, so the lines are long and after waiting in line over ten hours, in the rain, just to vote, folks give up and go home. That works too. There’s more than one way to skin a cat.

As for changing the law, it is imperative that you do scream a lot about in-person voter fraud, and if you have to admit there is none, and never was any, and likely never will be, then you do have to get all pious and talk about the integrity of the process, which must be maintained, because in-person voter fraud might happen one day, somewhere. One never knows, after all.

Fine – the theory of future fraud in vaguely plausible – but that makes the story of Strategic Allied Consulting quite delicious:

What first appeared to be an isolated problem in one Florida county has now spread statewide, with election officials in at least seven counties informing prosecutors or state election officials about questionable voter registration forms filled out on behalf of the Republican Party of Florida.

Lux said there have been forms that listed dead people and were either incomplete or illegible. He met with local prosecutors on Friday, but added that his staff was still going through hundreds of forms dropped off by Strategic employees.

Lux, who is a Republican, said he warned local party officials earlier this month when he first learned the company was paying people to register voters.

“I told them ‘This is not going to end well,'” Lux said.

Nope, you’re not supposed to get caught committing voter fraud yourself, and the Los Angeles Times has more:

The controversy in Florida – which began with possibly fraudulent forms that first cropped up in Palm Beach County – has engulfed the Republican National Committee, which admitted Thursday that it urged state parties in seven swing states to hire the firm, Strategic Allied Consulting. The RNC paid the company at least $3.1 million – routed through the state parties of Florida, Nevada, Colorado, North Carolina and Virginia – to register voters and run get-out-the-vote operations. Wisconsin and Ohio had not yet paid the firm for get-out-the-vote operations it was contracted to do.

Oops. They’ll have to rethink this tactic. After suggesting this was a minor matter, then seeing the problem spread, the RNC eventually fired the firm, at least this specific one. The effort to pad the voter rolls may continue, but of course everyone will be watching now. Drat.

Obviously this is time to go find another cat. There must be another way to skin Fluffy, and of course there is. There’s True the Vote – a Texas anti-voter fraud group recently profiled by the New York Times:

True the Vote’s plan is to scrutinize the validity of voter registration rolls and voters who appear at the polls. Among those in their cross hairs: noncitizens who are registered to vote, those without proper identification, others who may be registered twice, and dead people. In Ohio and Indiana, True the Vote recently filed lawsuits to force officials to clean up voter rolls.

Efforts to tighten voter requirements have become a major issue in the presidential election. Over the last few years, many states have passed voter identification laws, and many of those are being challenged in court.

Now, a network of conservative groups is waging an aggressive campaign on the ground. In a report this month, the liberal-leaning organizations Common Cause and Demos cited True-the-Vote as the central player in this effort, which it called a threat to the fundamental right to vote.

It’s just another way to skin the cat:

A polished and provocative video, circulating among Tea Party activists, seeks to raise a “cavalry” to march on swing states and identifies True-the-Vote as a participant in the effort, called Code Red USA.

In the past year, Americans for Prosperity, an organization founded by the billionaire Koch brothers, and other Republican-leaning independent groups have sponsored meetings featuring… True-the-Vote speakers. A spokesman for Americans for Prosperity said that the group had hosted events including True-the-Vote speakers but that election integrity was not a focus of his group.

Right – the Koch brothers have no interest in who wins the election – it’s just that they spend their money well:

True the Vote is now using proprietary software to accelerate the process of challenging voter registrations. It says its databases will ultimately contain all voter rolls in the country. Using computers, volunteers can check those rolls against driver’s license records, property records and other databases, turning the process into an assembly line production.

But when True the Vote vetted petition signatures in Wisconsin’s recall election, the state’s Government Accountability Board reported that the process was “at best flawed.” The group raised questions about thousands of signatures that the board deemed valid.

This is no more than harassing voters until they just give up. They may have the right to vote but you outlast them, and you get organized about it:

Driving down the Interstate in Florida, you may see an R.V. wrapped with a picture of Abraham Lincoln.

These eye-catching vehicles are mobile command centers for registering and energizing voters. They are part of a citizen effort to “defeat Obama, hold the House and win the Senate in November,” Fred Solomon, a retired Alabama businessman, said in an e-mail to fellow Tea Party supporters.

Mr. Solomon is a coordinator for Code Red USA, the plan to flood swing states with conservative volunteers. “Partnering with True the Vote, a nonprofit, nonpartisan watchdog group, we will train and put election observers in polling places in the swing states to reduce voter fraud,” Mr. Solomon said in his e-mail.

Code Red USA is financed by the Madison Project, a political action committee whose chairman is former Representative Jim Ryun, a Kansas Republican who was regarded as among the most conservative members of Congress. The provocative video promoting Code Red accuses Democrats of “a clear intent to commit massive voter fraud.”

ProPublica has all the details – this is a massive effort at alternative cat-skinning. The objective is to “train, mobilize, and merge a million new election workers into the 2012 process” – so someone is going to show up at your polling place and get in your face. At the Democratic Strategist, James Vega, J. P. Green and Ed Kilgore preview some of that – like in the Scott Walker recall election, up in Appleton, Wisconsin:

On Election Day, poll watchers appeared to have slowed voting to a crawl at Lawrence University in Appleton, where some students were attempting to register and vote on the same day. Charlene Peterson, the city clerk in Appleton, said three election observers, including one from True the Vote, were so disruptive that she gave them two warnings. “They were making challenges of certain kinds and just kind of in physical contact with some of the poll workers, leaning over them, checking and looking,” said John Lepinski, a poll watcher and former Democratic Party chairman for Outagamie County. He said that as a result of the scrutiny, the line to register moved slowly. Finally, he said, some students gave up and left.

That works, and there’s a tale from Ohio:

When the voter walks up to the table the first thing the voter does is state their name, address, and presents a “proof of the elector’s identity.” Ohio lets voters use a variety of forms of ID, including a current electric bill, as long as it has the voter’s name and address.

However, the law provides no standards or guidance for precinct election officials in determining whether the form of ID is valid. How does the judge decide whether it is a real ID? If you have any suspicion about its validity can you give the voter a provisional ballot? Do you have to have probable cause in order to reject the ID? Is it a reasonable doubt standard? Giving no guidance for standard of review leaves a loophole large enough to drive a Mack truck through. Here is where the law allows the zealously partisan poll worker to find any minuscule irregularity and make someone vote a provisional ballot.

Of course, the most common form of ID that voters will carry is the driver’s license. Information on the ID will be checked against what the precinct election official sees (your physical appearance & what’s in the poll list or signature poll book). What if you’ve lost a lot of weight since that picture was taken? Is that enough to doubt the ID? What if you have a wildly different hairstyle? Again, where is the standard?

After the ID check, the second vulnerable stop is the signature comparison. The voter is directed to sign in the poll list or signature poll book. Here the poll worker can challenge if they think the signature doesn’t match the one the voter provided on her registration form. The law then provides for a vote of the precinct election officials on whether the signature “substantially conforms” to the one in the signature poll book. Expect some partisan-line voting here with the presiding judge breaking the tie.

The third most obvious vulnerability emerges as a consequence of the others: long lines caused by frivolous challenges. This is most likely to happen at the busier times of day at the polling place. Seeing irregularities everywhere and asking for votes on many disputes will send the queue out the door. Some people will be deterred from voting.

It’s all good. The cat gets skinned, although Vega, Green and Kilgore offer Democrats these countermeasures:

Neutral election officials should be prepared and encouraged to call for police assistance in maintaining order the moment problems begin to arise and not wait until frustrations have mounted. The militants in the voter vigilante groups will have no hesitation about dismissing virtually all electoral monitors – state, federal or neutral third party — as collaborators in the sinister Democratic conspiracy but they will emphatically NOT want to be seen as clashing with the local police. The organizers of the voter fraud groups will not want to see video of their militants confronting policemen or news headlines that read “Voter fraud groups clash with police at polling places.”

Democratic observers should be prepared to caution frustrated voters that angry confrontations or disruptive behavior will play directly into the hands of the voter vigilantes and conservative media. In contrast, calm but firm protest and dignified interviews with local TV and other media can dramatically illustrate who are the victims of injustice and who are the victimizers.

Citizens at polling places should be prepared to relentlessly track and digitally record all Fox News and other GOP-friendly media and cameramen with their cell phones and be prepared to quickly provide local and national TV stations with any video evidence they obtain of conservative photographers and reporters encouraging obstruction or disorder. “Fox news cameramen provoke clash at polling place” is headline Rupert Murdoch will most definitely not want to see the day after the elections.

Democratic election monitoring groups should be prepared and have a system in place to precisely document all legitimate voters who are denied the right to vote because of delay or disruption of the polling place by the voter vigilantes and be ready to use this documentation as the basis for both civil and criminal legal action against any voter fraud groups whose actions result in the disenfranchisement of American citizens.

That sounds like no fun at all, but it beats listening to Mitt Romney pretending to be human and all the pundits talking about his strangeness and lack of charm, or whatever it is they think he lacks. This is a different battle, and in a separate post, Kilgore puts it this way:

It’s hard to imagine a more dangerous scenario than that of hundreds of thousands of self-righteous suburban wingnuts showing up in poor and minority neighborhoods to hassle would-be voters, with Fox News cameras on hand to record any random examples of Solid Citizens experiencing resistance from annoyed locals.

And if we head towards Election Day with Obama still enjoying a clear lead in the polls, you have to figure True the Vote’s shock troops will be loaded for bear, viewing themselves as the last desperate defenders of “their” country against the barbaric hordes of looters and baby-killers who are already plotting to herd them into concentration camps during Obama’s second term, after they close the churches and shut down radio talk shows. At a minimum, we can expect “poll-watchers” to come up with enough “documented” example of “voter fraud” to support a general post-election effort to de-legitimize the results.

Kevin Drum simply disagrees:

First, my gut tells me that all these tea-partiers are going to find their little field trips to the inner city a wee bit less exciting than they think. Organizers won’t be able to round up as many volunteers as they think, and the folks who do head into the valley of the shadow of death probably aren’t going to make much trouble. They’ll be too busy being terrified of getting mugged.

Second, I’ve been hearing a lot about this idea that conservatives are gearing up for a huge effort to “delegitimize” the election if Obama wins. I don’t see it. I think you can explain all their current actions as pretty standard fare for a hard-fought election. Poll watchers are nothing new, allegations of voter fraud are nothing new, smears are nothing new, racially motivated attack ads are nothing new, and even poll denialism isn’t really all that new. If the election is as close as 2000, then sure: Republicans will fight to the death. But they fought to the death in 2000 too. Remember?

More than likely, Obama will win by a modest but unchallengeable margin in November, and conservatives will despairingly accept the results and then repair to their dens to figure out what to do next. In other words, pretty much the same thing liberals will do if Romney wins.

Sure, Kevin Drum can say that – he lives down in white-bread safest-city-in-America Irvine, down in Orange County. No big Code Red busses will roll in there. And they won’t roll in here either, here in Hollywood where everyone votes Democratic anyway and there’s not much anyone can do about that. Anyway, everyone on this block votes in the front hall at the International Cinematographers Guild down on Sunset Boulevard, across the street from the exotic car rental place – the latest Ferrari or a new million-dollar Bugatti for eight or ten thousand dollars a day. The only busses that roll though here are the tourist busses, with the pale folks from Iowa taking pictures of this and that with their iPhones. The Code Red folks would be taking tourist pictures too.

Code Red will show up in those poor and minority neighborhoods to hassle would-be voters – but Drum might be right about them not wanting to get out of the bus once they’re there. A pasty-white overweight Tea Party guy in his late sixties might think twice about the advisability of getting in the face of a young and strong and proud black woman just trying to vote before she has to get back to work or back to the kids. Discretion is always the better part of valor.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat there too of course. Go to Avis and rent an anonymous looking sedan, take off the plates, load up lots of your favorite NRA guns, and drive to the polling place in that poor and minority neighborhood. Circle around firing clip after clip in the air, on full automatic, and then scoot off before the police get there. No one will know who you were – then you can slap the plates back on the car, return it, and be gone in an hour. No one will be the wiser and those people who always vote the wrong way will now never vote, at least that day, not there. No one wants to get shot. That works too.

No one would do that of course. But there are lots of ways to skin a cat – and Romney is hopeless otherwise. It’s all a matter of American ingenuity.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Skinning the Cat

  1. Doubting Thomas says:

    Put all this together with the partisan efforts to alter the electoral register (sorry UK terminology) and could Republicans explain just how different the USA is beginning to look from Iran.

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