Before cavalierly dismissing the New Black Panther voter intimidation debacle as yet another right-wing conspiracy or as a story about race, perhaps apologists should review the actual facts of what happened on Election Day in November 2008.
That Election Day, the poll watchers stationed inside the polling place noted that several Panthers, who were caught on tape, had been outside for at least an hour before finally being removed by the police. Poll watchers later testified that voters approaching the polls immediately reversed course and left upon seeing the Panthers out front.
The New Black Panther incident, as well as other voting place shenanigans, cannot be lightly dismissed as a partisan issue. In fact, Bartle Bull, a civil rights lawyer and lifelong Democratic activist who worked for the campaigns of Democrats Jimmy Carter and the late Bobby Kennedy, filed an affidavit in connection with the New Black Panther case based on his observations that day and stated that the behavior he witnessed was “the most blatant form of voter intimidation I have encountered in my life” and “was a racially motivated effort to intimidate those poll watchers aiding voters, as well as voters with whom the men did not agree.” Bull can hardly be described as a Republican plant.
Most remarkably, what those who want to scapegoat the “right-wing” seem to forget is that charges were filed against the New Black Panthers with the Justice Department. The Panthers, perhaps feeling that they were above the law, ignored the complaint and the United States obtained a default judgment. A default judgment is the legal equivalent of a forfeit. It basically means you win because the other side did not show up. But as a court was ready to enter a judgment in favor of the United States and against the Panthers, the Obama Justice Department ordered the prosecutors to dismiss the case. This is akin to the Yankees failing to show up for a game against the Phillies, and then the Yankees being declared the winners. The Justice Department’s pass is nothing short of outrageous. Panther apologists, however, magnanimously provide excuse after excuse for the Obama administration. Jerry Jackson, Jr., the taller Panther in the video, is still an official Philadelphia election worker — a duly elected Democratic committeeman.
The Panthers’ actions, as well as the Justice Department’s dismissal of their case, sent a clear message: Election Day misbehavior is tolerated and explicitly encouraged in Philadelphia and will not be prosecuted, even if the perpetrators are caught on tape, billy club in hand, and do not show up in court when they are charged. Is this the message that the birthplace of our nation wants to be sending? I think not.
More recently, on May 18, 2010, the day Pennsylvania held its 2010 primaries, I represented the Pennsylvania Republican State Committee in Philadelphia’s own Election Court. What many Philadelphians may not realize is that our county has a dedicated Election Court, which is open and fully staffed on election days, purportedly so that voters and candidates can seek immediate redress of infringements on their rights in a town where Election Day lawbreaking is all too commonplace. This year, I participated in a case captioned Citizens for Jonathan Ramos v. the Committee to Re-Elect Angel Cruz, et al, which involved a race between two Democratic primary candidates running for a seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Witnesses testified to such irregularities as “people going into the booths two or three at a time and pushing the button for them,” the candidate going into the polling booth with voters to “assist” them, and the candidate threatening poll workers who questioned his actions, saying “I’ll get you guys fired. You’ll never work in this town.”
I questioned each of the four witnesses on the record as to whether any of the Judges of Elections in the polling place did anything to stop the behavior or enforce the law. All gave a uniform and resounding “No.”
Philadelphians seem to have become so jaded that they acknowledge the bedlam that exists here on election days and even quietly condone it like a family that chuckles about that one crazy uncle that may indulge a little too much at holiday dinners. Oh well — election fraud again — it’s just too pervasive to stop.
As long as the Justice Department walks away from default judgments of lawbreakers like the New Black Panthers and the Democrats look the other way when their own polling place workers ignore, or even participate in, voting irregularities, we might as well put a neon “Welcome Voter Fraud” sign on City Hall.
Linda Kerns is an attorney in Philadelphia.