Republicans crossed line with voter purge attempt

Guest opinion
2008-10-04T23:00:00Z Republicans crossed line with voter purge attemptBy John Bohlinger - 10/05/2008 Montana Standard
October 04, 2008 11:00 pm  • 

Frank St. Pierre, of Anaconda, fought in World War II. He is one of the most decorated living veterans in America. And yet, on Wednesday, my party — the Montana Republican Party — tried to invalidate his voter registration because he lives in a county with a lot of Democrats. Incredible as this may sound to you, it is the truth.

When people ask why, as a Republican, I agreed to become part of a Democratic administration, I tell them that I believe in putting my state before my party. This has created tension at times. On occasion the folks who run the Republican Party have tried to lock me out of their convention, and this year they even tried to prevent me from speaking at the Presidential Primary Caucus in support of John McCain.

I have always taken this treatment in stride. As the saying goes, "All's fair in love, war and politics." But the executive director of the Republican Party crossed the line when he attempted to remove 6,000 voters from the rolls in Montana. These voters are law-abiding citizens and are legally registered. Some are veterans. Others are active servicemen, serving in Iraq and Afghanistan or about to be deployed there.

As a Republican, I was ashamed to hear of this. But as a Marine, I was outraged. Why would the Republican Party, which always claims to care greatly about our troops, do this?

It appears that Republican operatives looked to gain an advantage by purging as many voters as possible from counties that lean Democrat. The director of the Republican Party issued a blanket challenge to validly registered voters based on false criteria, trying to persuade election clerks that a mere change of mailing address is grounds for automatic cancellation of voter registration.

Not only was the effort blatantly deceptive, but the Republicans based their challenge on a national change-of-address database from an out-of-state vendor who sells personal information. Among other problems, this database lists servicemen and women who have been deployed overseas as having moved out of Montana. In other words, if you go to Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Fort Sill, Okla., to report for active duty, you have "moved out of the state" according to this list.

A significant number of the 6,000 voters targeted were servicemen, including Kevin Furey, a former state legislator from Missoula who left the legislature to serve in Iraq; Cindie Kalan-Green, who is also serving in Iraq; and Mathew Robison, who I am told has been deployed to Fort Drum.

Many were college students and elderly people. For example, Babe Aspholm, of Anaconda, an elderly man, simply moved across town from his house to a senior living center. The Republicans tried to void his registration. Tom Detonacour, a policeman from Deer Lodge County who simply bought a house in another county, also got targeted.

But worst of all is the legendary Frank St. Pierre, 86, also of Anaconda, who helped save thousands of allied troops at Dunkirk in World War II and has 10 Medals of Honor. St. Pierre, too, moved from one end of town to the other, and the Republicans tried to void his and his wife's registrations. I have a copy of the signed affidavits from the Republicans, declaring that Frank and Marilyn St. Pierre's voter registrations must be purged. An utter disgrace.

Beyond the outrageous lack of consideration for citizens, patriots and heroes, a significant burden and cost has been placed on county election administrators, public servants who work hard to ensure the integrity of our elections. They have been completely swamped by this scheme.

I am a Republican, and I will continue to be a Republican. But I am appalled at the leadership of my political party. I urge party elders to take action and promptly withdraw this outrageous effort to challenge the eligibility of legitimate voters, and to call for the removal any Republican Party employees responsible for this. This kind of activity has no place in a democracy. Finally, I would urge the voters of Montana whose registrations have been improperly challenged not to be discouraged by this unfortunate effort.

— John Bohlinger is Montana's lieutenant governor. He may be reached via e-mail at jbohlinger@mt.gov.

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