The race to fill President Barack Obama’s old Illinois U.S. Senate seat – and to effectively replace Sen. Roland Burris (D-IL) – took an interesting turn over the past week. Allegations abound as Republican nominee Mark Kirk frantically fends off charges that he is conducting a racially-charged “voter fraud” monitoring effort in four state areas with large populations of African Americans, including Chicago. Kirk is overheard in a secret taping – later blasted on YouTube by Illinois politics blog ArchPundit – discussing strategies with state GOP leaders, including an effort to eliminate voter fraud in Black districts that typically vote Democratic by dispatching what he calls “voter integrity squads” to those areas.
“I have now funded the largest voter integrity program in 15 years for the state of Illinois,” Kirk boasts. “These are lawyers and other people that will be deployed in key, vulnerable precincts. For example, south and west side of Chicago, Rockford, Metro East, where the other side might be tempted to jigger the numbers somewhat.”
The 24-second recording can be found here.
Democrats, looking to close any polling gap between Kirk and their candidate Alexi Giannoulias, immediately seized the issue as an example of “Karl Rove-like tactics” by Republicans. And some describe Kirk’s use of the term “jigger” as inappropriate given the context of the statement and the word’s peculiar similarity to the infamous and racially charged “N-word.” Steve Brown, spokesman for Illinois Democratic Party Chairman Michael Madigan, accused Kirk of planning “voter suppression” in areas with high concentrations of minority voters. “He wants to go out and intimidate folks who are trying to vote. It’s a sign of desperation,” argued Brown. “Those are significantly African-American areas. Apparently he thinks that’s the only place there’s voter fraud. Why not [predominantly White] Champaign County?”
“For him to insinuate that there is some vote fraud going on in these communities is just an insult,” argues Southside Chicago Alderman Freddrenna Lyle.
The Kirk episode is the latest wrinkle in an unfolding conservative political strategy widely used this 2010 election cycle to battle minority turnout for Democrats in close races. Republican allegations of “voter fraud” led to the demise of ACORN, the community-based grassroots activist organization that became the initial rallying cry for conservatives building a “reverse racism” narrative. And Republican Members of Congress have repeatedly called for investigations into the Department of Justice’s handling of an alleged 2008 voter intimidation case involving New Black Panther Party Members at a Northeast Philadelphia polling station.
The Kirk campaign, responding to inquiries, issued a statement denying any “racial” motivation in their plan to monitor voter fraud in Illinois on November 2nd. “Congressman Kirk supports statewide efforts to combat machine politics and voter fraud that is well-known in Illinois,” said Kirk spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski. “Just this week, two individuals pled guilty to vote fraud in Metro East. Voter fraud dilutes votes and disenfranchises citizens.”
“A ‘voter integrity’ program? However he tries to dress it up, it sounds to me like Mark Kirk is talking about a coordinated campaign of voter suppression in some of Illinois’ best known African American neighborhoods,” retorts Will Crossley, Democratic National Committee Counsel and Director of the DNC’s Voter Protection program in a recent DNC blog. “Indeed, although Republicans continually claim that such voter suppression campaigns are merely intended to prevent voter fraud, conclusive evidence of any systemic fraud in any recent American election has never been found.”
Meanwhile, a recent Rasmussen polls has Giannoulias ahead of Kirk 44% to 43% – and Green Party candidate LeAlan Jones behind at 4%. Another Southern Illinois University poll shows both candidates tied at 37%.