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In Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22,” Yossarian, a World War II bombardier, makes a terrible misjudgment when he fails to drop his bombs on the target, a bridge. To nobody’s surprise, the bridge was untouched by the bombs dropped by the other bombardiers. To everyone’s astonishment, Yossarian calls for a second run over the target and, even more amazing, hits it, at the expense of the loss of a plane and several lives. His commanding officer, Colonel Cathcart, is not particularly upset by the loss of the plane and its occupants nor particularly pleased by hitting the target. He is concerned only with his own standing and his chance of advancement. He fears that he will be in trouble when he reports these events. Cathcart can not understand why Yossarian did not drop his bombs the first time. Cathcart considers Yossarian’s explanation — that he would have missed the target — to be irrelevant. Yossarian suggests that the way out is to give him a medal. Another officer, Colonel Korn agrees, telling Cathcart, “You know, that might be the answer — to act boastfully about something we ought to be ashamed of. That’s a trick that never seems to fail.” When Cathcart asks if this will work, Korn answers, “I’m sure it will. And let’s promote him to captain, too, just to make certain.” Embarrassed by this turn of events, Yossarian engages in his own minor protest. He appears naked at his medal ceremony, making it difficult to pin the medal on his chest. When it comes to democracy and the Voting Rights Act, Katherine Harris is like Yossarian, except for the shame, and the Republican Party is like Colonel Cathcart. There is not much question that Harris’ actions as Florida secretary of state during 1999-2000 violated the Voting Rights Act. In seeking to strike felons from the voting lists, she targeted African-Americans. Although she had ample evidence that her list of 57,700 alleged felons was too large, she proceeded, illegally excising thousands of African-American voters, much to the benefit of her party. Harris should have been investigated by the Justice Department, but there were other problems, starting with, “How do we figure out who will be the president?” That question was resolved by Bush v. Gore. It would have been a little awkward for the Bush Justice Department to start an investigation that would likely have concluded that Harris should be indicted. Her promotion came two years later, when Harris was elected to Congress, with a great deal of support from the Florida and national Republican parties. She might well be running for Senate, had the White House not decided that its Cuban-American HUD Secretary, Mel Martinez, was better for the Bush ticket in Florida. The amazing part is not that this happened, but that we are letting it happen again. Jeb Bush ordered a list of felons which included African-Americans, but not Hispanics, who are more likely to support his brother. He tried to keep the list private. When the facts became public, it should have caused shame and outrage — and an investigation — but when Jeb admitted to “an oversight and a mistake,” the issue disappeared. The Justice Department, which appears to be out of the business of enforcing the Voting Rights Act, did nothing. Since 2000, the Voting Rights Act has been enforced in Florida through litigation by the NAACP and others. Florida is not an isolated incident. It appears that Tom DeLay used federal funds to help redistrict Texas congressional districts. Ohio’s Republican secretary of state, reacting to a successful Democratic voter registration drive, directed that new registrations be rejected if they were not printed on a particular paper stock heavier than the paper commonly used. Colorado’s Republican secretary of state determined that certain provisional ballots will count in the presidential race, but not in Colorado’s Senate race. As President George W. Bush likes to say, democracy is hard. Disenfranchising voters is a crime and it should be a scandal, but we are too complacent, and the attorney general appears to be more concerned with reelecting the president than with enforcing the law. Too many people don’t bother to register, because they think it doesn’t make a difference. People argue that Florida in 2000 was proof that every vote counts, but there is an equally compelling argument that Florida stands for the opposite proposition. There is less confidence now in the sanctity of our votes than at any time in recent history. Do you think that the votes in Florida, Colorado and Ohio will be fairly counted? Do you think that the Republican Party has a national strategy to exclude African-American voters in close elections? Go ahead — convince me that this is overly conspiratorial. I hope you are right, but I’m not very sure. Robert Solomon is a professor of law at Yale University. This piece originally appeared in Recorder affiliate Connecticut Law Tribune.

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