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Alabama: NY Times editorializes against Riley takeover of voter registration

The New York Times states in an editorial: President Bush's Justice Department has been criticized for letting partisanship guide its work on voting and elections. And party politics certainly appears to have been a driving force in a legal maneuver it just pulled off in Alabama, where it persuaded a federal judge to take important election powers away from the Democratic secretary of state and give them to a Republican governor. The Justice Department says it is trying to enforce the election law, but that is unconvincing. There are plenty of ways to enforce the law without creating the impression that it is tilting the electoral landscape in favor of Republicans.

Alabama is one of many states that have been late in meeting a federal requirement to create a computerized statewide list of voters. Secretary of State Nancy Worley says the delay is due to factors outside her control. Her critics disagree. But whatever the reason, the Justice Department has every right to try to speed things along. The trouble is, rather than work with Ms. Worley to get the job done, it decided to go to court to take away her authority and hand it to Gov. Bob Riley.

Sadly, a federal judge agreed yesterday to do just that, in a one-sided proceeding that felt a lot like a kangaroo court. The Justice Department and the Alabama attorney general, Troy King, both argued that Governor Riley should control the voter database. Mr. King, a Republican, was appointed to his job by Governor Riley after serving as his legal adviser, and when Ms. Worley realized that Mr. King would not represent her interests, she asked him to let her hire a lawyer to argue her side. He refused. The Alabama Democratic Party tried to intervene in the case, so it could argue against giving control of the voter rolls to the governor. The judge, who was recently named to the bench by President Bush, would not let the Democrats in. -- Strong-Arming the Vote - New York Times

Disclosure: I was one of the attorneys for the Democratic Party in that case.

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