Hillary Clinton, who is proud of having stood up against the GOP's attack machine, appears to have borrowed a few vote-suppressing tricks from Karl Rove and his ilk, her critics charge. UPDATE: The latest tactic , the lawsuit by supporters of Hillary to block on-site voting by casino workers, was rejected today by a federal judge and may have backfired because of the sharp criticism of alleged vote suppression. Steve Rosenfeld, who co-authored a book chronicling GOP vote-denying schemes in Ohio in 2004, was one of the first to call her on the campaign's machinations in a story called "Hillary Clinton's Dirty Campaign Tactics":
The headlines say the latest schism among the top Democratic presidential candidates is over gender and race. But on the ground in the presidential season's opening states, there is a darker narrative: that Hillary Clinton will not just fight hard, but fight dirty, to win. And her tactic of choice is attempting to suppress the votes of her rival's supporters.
The latest example is from Nevada, where the Nevada State Education Association is widely seen as filing a suit on Clinton's behalf to stop Las Vegas' most powerful union, Culinary Workers Local 226, from caucusing inside downtown casinos after the union endorsed Barack Obama. The tactic foments a split along racial and class lines in arguably the strongest union city in America.
"It's horrible," said one longtime Nevada activist, who didn't want his name used. "It will cause fights and damage that will last for years."
But the Clinton campaign has made similar moves in New Hampshire and Iowa.
In the first primary state, her supporters -- backed by New Hampshire Democratic Party officials -- pressured poll workers to remove observers stationed by the Obama campaign. These volunteers had intended to track voters as part of their get-out-the-vote effort. That tactic came after the Clinton campaign sent a mailing targeting women that said Obama would not "stand up and protect" a women's right to choose because he had voted "present" -- but not yes -- on a few abortion-related bills in the Illinois legislature.
A judge ruled today on the last-minute lawsuit brought by allies of the Clinton campaign, including the Nevada State Education Association, that aims to block the heavily Hispanic membership of the Culinary Workers Union from voting in areas set aside for caucuses in the casinos.
The rules that were challenged were agreed to by all the campaigns as far back as March (including by four of the plaintiffs). But after Obama won the endorsement of that union, the Clinton team apparently turned to nominally "unalligned" Democrats and the teachers' union to block the casino workers' voting rights. At the same time, the Clinton campaign has offered its usual mix of ambiguous responses and a hands-off approach to the lawsuit itself ( just as it's claimed no prior knowledge of the drumbeat of comments about Obama's youthful drug use offered by such supporters as BET founder Bob Johnson, among others).
As the AP reports:
The Clinton campaign has denied any involvement in the lawsuit, but Obama noted it was filed two days after he was endorsed by the powerful Culinary Workers Union Local 226, which has organized many workers along the Strip. The union is the state's largest with 60,000 members, more than 40 percent Hispanic.
The Illinois senator drew cheers at a Culinary Union event Sunday when he said the rules were fine until the union decided, "I'm going to support the guy who's standing with the working people instead of the big shots."
By Monday, Bill Clinton was defending the lawsuit. "I think the rules ought to be the same for everybody," the former president told high school students near Las Vegas.
The Culinary Union circulated a less subtle message on fliers to members: "Backers of Hillary Clinton are suing in court to take away our right to vote in the caucus." It's airing the same message in Spanish-langauge radio ads.
While the Clintons are giving at least tacit support to the lawsuit, these tactics appear to be at odds with the spirit of the "Count Every Vote Act" she has championed in the Senate to restore integrity to our voting system -- and her support of the reauthorized Voting Rights Act. During a floor speech in 2006, she proclaimed:
When you deny a person his or her right to vote, you strip that individual of dignity and you weaken our democracy.
The endurance of our democracy requires constant vigilance -- a lesson that has been reinforced by the last two presidential elections, both of which were affected by widespread allegations of voter disenfranchisement.
It seems, though, that she hasn't been as eager to "Count Every Vote" if those votes might go to her chief opponent in the race, Sen. Barack Obama.
Update: You can read how the Culinary Union is responding with its own fliers here.