Presidential news: the FEC stand-off and the Missouri ID laws

Two non-campaign developments that occurred last night could have a major influence on the presidential race -- and neither storyline was expected to be resolved in this way.

FEC stand-off: Senate Democrats have been blocking the nomination of President Bush's nominee to the FEC, Hans von Spakovsky, because of his support for the Georgia redistricting plan and for restrictive ID laws. His nomination was stalled in the Senate, whose leadership refusing to hold a vote. As a result, the GOP refused to consider the Democratic nominees to the FEC either, leading to months-long stalemate in which the FEC has lacked a quorum to operate. And just like that, the agency meant to regulate election spending has been unable to operate since January 1st in an electoral year...

Yesterday, however, von Spakovsky withdrew his nomination, citing the financial strain on his family. This unexpected development makes it likely that Senate Democrats and the Administration will be able to resolve the stalemate and confirm enough nominees to allow the FEC to operate and get down to some urgent unresolved business.

This is both a huge relief for the McCain campaign and a potentially problematic development. First, McCain is planning on asking for public financing for the general election. The FEC needs to approve public financing requests, meaning that McCain could have been deprived of funds had the FEC stalemate not been resolved. Second, Democrats have been pressing the FEC to examine whether the McCain campaign is allowed to not take public financing in the primary given that it used the promise of these funds to secure grants from banks at the end of 2007 (more details about this controversy here).

Democrats have been filing complaints about this issue since February to no avail since the FEC cannot do anything but this issue would be examined quickly once the FEC reaches a quorum. If the commission rules against McCain, it would be a devastating blow to the GOP as McCain has already surpassed the totals he is allowed to spend under a public financing system -- which would create legal trouble and mean that he can spend no more until August. It might seem unlikely that the FEC would take such a meaningful decision, but consider that FEC Chairman David Mason wrote a letter to McCain back in February telling him that he is not allowed to withdraw from public financing just yet.

Since then, President Bush has withdrawn Mason's name from the list of nominees it was submitting to the Senate -- a transparently partisan move at a time the GOP is accusing the Democrats of injecting partisanship by holding back von Spakovsky's nomination.

Missouri ID law: The Missouri legislature was considering a bill that would require voters to prove not only their identity but their citizenship. No state has this restrictive a law but since Indiana's ID rules were approved by the Supreme Court last month many states are looking to toughen their laws even more. Designed to prevent illegal immigrants from voting, the Missouri law would have disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of voters who do not have a passport and who would not be able to find a birth certificate that easily, as a much-discussed front-page article in the New York Times last week emphasized. Some estimations suggested that as many as a quarter of a million voters would not be able to participate. After all, a passport does cost a lot of money and many voters were born at a time and in places where birth certificates were not kept, not to mention that obtaining them is often an administrative hassle.

The exact repercussions of the bill had yet to be worked out -- would only newly registered voters have to submit these forms? would all voters have to go through it? would it apply to this election? -- but it was clear that under some of the more restrictive interpretations this could mean the sure loss of Missouri for Democrats in this year's general election, not to mention a few competitive House races in the state.

But the year's legislative session ended yesterday without time for the GOP to bring the bill to the Senate floor, which gurantees that this will not be applied to this year's election since it would have had to be approved by Missouri voters in an August referendum. While Republicans managed to pass a bill requiring proof of citizenship to get food stamps (which will be equally difficult for many legal residents and American citizens to meet), the voting ID law will not be applied for now -- a huge relief for Democratic efforts to put the Show Me State on the map in November.

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  • I am a Democratic and I agree with the requirement to show citizenship. There is no reason why millions of illegal immigrants should be able to vote and corrupt the political process.

    By Anonymous Tom, At 17 May, 2008 18:24  

  • Because implementing it in such a short amount of time will lead to thousands of disenfranchised voters. That's why, Tom.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 17 May, 2008 18:28  

  • I am not advocating it for this November but for future elections there should be no issue.

    By Anonymous Tom, At 17 May, 2008 21:29  

  • These laws seem to the first steps on the way to a universal ID card which many nations use. The privacy concerns are less important now that government and business (insurance companies etc.) know every detail of your life from birth to death.
    I don't see the laws has just a concern of Democrates. There are lots of libratarian Republicans who will find these laws very invasive.

    By Anonymous fritz, At 18 May, 2008 08:52  

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