Join 3,557 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


My client stands willing to provide you with the verification you seek as soon as you are able to show that you are entitled to it.
May 21, 2012 4:25 PM   Subscribe

Putting a law degree to good use: a Deputy Attorney General of the State of Hawaii responds to a request for Barak Obama's birth certificate from the Secretary State of Arizona. (Scroll down for the actual correspondence.)
posted by alms (149 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Can't we just demote Arizona to a non-state like D.C. now? Or maybe, even better, build a fence around it to keep the white people in and then sell it to Mexico?
posted by axiom at 4:36 PM on May 21, 2012 [22 favorites]


Whether or not that happens, if Hawaii can’t or won’t provide verification of the President’s birth certificate, I will not put his name on the ballot.

Good luck with that.
posted by Talez at 4:36 PM on May 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


" The group Left Action has asked folks to send requests to Secretary Bennett to investigate whether Mitt Romney is a unicorn. To date, more than 3,600 requests have been sent."

- from one of the comments
posted by pyramid termite at 4:39 PM on May 21, 2012 [54 favorites]


"You shall have to prove that this place called "Arizona" exists. Given the details of your request, we suspect that it might be a mental asylum."
posted by Roentgen at 4:39 PM on May 21, 2012 [17 favorites]


Go Jill! This is a particularly satisfying legal smackdown:

From: Jill T. Nagamine
Sent: Saturday, May 19, 2012 3:38 PM
To: Bennett, Ken
Subject: RE: Request from the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office

Dear Mr. Bennett:

I am in receipt of your email dated May 17, 2012. As I have informed you and Mr. Drake, Hawaii law requires that for verification of a vital record the requestor must satisfy the requirements of section 338-18(g), Hawaii Revised Statutes, which provides:

(g) The department shall not issue a verification in lieu of a certified copy of any such record, or any part thereof, unless it is satisfied that the applicant requesting a verification is:
(1) A person who has a direct and tangible interest in the record but requests a verification in lieu of a certified copy;
(2) A governmental agency or organization who for a legitimate government purpose maintains and needs to update official lists of persons in the ordinary course of the agency’s or organization’s activities;
(3) A governmental, private, social, or educational agency or organization who seeks confirmation of a certified copy of any such record submitted in support of or information provided about a vital event relating to any such record and contained in an official application made in the ordinary course of the agency’s or organization’s activities by an individual seeking employment with, entrance to, or the services or products of the agency or organization;
(4) A private or government attorney who seeks to confirm information about a vital event relating to any such record which was acquired during the course of or for purposes of legal proceedings; or
(5) An individual employed, endorsed, or sponsored by a governmental, private, social, or educational agency or organization who seeks to confirm information about a vital event relating to any such record in preparation of reports or publications by the agency or organization for research or educational purposes.

I asked you for legal authority that establishes your right to obtain verification, and your email of May 17, 2012 provides me with references to Arizona Revised Statutes 16-212, 16-301, 16-502, 16-507, and unnamed others. These statutes seem to deal with election of presidential electors, nomination of candidates for printing on official ballot of general or special election, form and contents of ballot, and presentation of presidential candidates on ballot, but none, as far as I can tell, establish the authority of the Secretary of State to maintain and update official lists of persons in the ordinary course of his activities. I researched other sections of the Arizona Revised Statutes and was unable to find the necessary authority.

If I have missed something, please let me know. My client stands willing to provide you with the verification you seek as soon as you are able to show that you are entitled to it.

Thank you,
Jill T. Nagamine
Deputy Attorney General
State of Hawaii

posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 4:40 PM on May 21, 2012 [26 favorites]


I'm curious to why you think this is putting a law degree to good use? This is the type of back and forth that lawyers go over on a day to day basis. Granted, you might find that the topic is interesting politically. But from a standpoint of "this is the type of stuff lawyers do" standpoint, this is as vanilla as you get.

I wonder if you think this is as interesting when the topic is one that you might not agree to with politically. I can tell you from experience that these types of letters are very, depressingly common when you seek FOIA requests about governmental abuse. They play the same "show me why you are entitled to this" game.

For instance, I have a lawsuit pending for the violation of civil rights of a poor man with psychological issues who was literally beat to death (or, if you prefer their view, "physically restrained") by some governmental employees. When I sought governmental records about past incidents and internal files about this event, I got the exact same response. Some stonewalling about how they will surely require with their FOIA obligations as soon as I make a request for documents I am legally entitled to receive. They made ridiculous claims of privilege and other things to hide these documents and then claim I have no authority to receive such documents. Is that putting a law degree to good use? It is functionally identical to the above from a lawyering perspective in that it is typical, plain vanilla lawyer stonewalling. But maybe you don't think that is a "good" use, in which case your view in this instance says little about what the lawyer is doing and more about the net result to whoever this Ken Bennett person is.
posted by dios at 4:40 PM on May 21, 2012 [56 favorites]


Whether or not that happens, if Hawaii can’t or won’t provide verification of the President’s birth certificate, I will not put his name on the ballot.

What would be the consequences of that, I wonder? Could the DoJ charge him with electoral fraud?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:40 PM on May 21, 2012


Is it actually possible/legal for Ken Bennett to omit a candidate's name from the ballot in his state? (Genuine question - I don't know much about US politics)
posted by cranberrymonger at 4:40 PM on May 21, 2012


Man people are really scared AZ might swing for Obama.
posted by 2bucksplus at 4:41 PM on May 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


I'm starting to seriously worry about the possibility that this nutjob Bennett is going to follow through and leave Obama off the ballot in Arizona. What is the legal recourse for such a thing?
God! Why is Arizona such a toilet? Are they having a secret "WTF" contest with Florida?
posted by Fnarf at 4:42 PM on May 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


Gods below, has politics always been a game of "So's yer mother" and I just missed it? How can a government do this and expect to be taken seriously?
posted by Mooski at 4:43 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


If Bennett succeeds in keeping Obama off Arizona's ballot, nothing stops the other states from doing the same.
posted by Ardiril at 4:44 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


For those of use who don't get the nuances of legalese, can someone translate?
posted by zardoz at 4:46 PM on May 21, 2012


has politics always been a game of "So's yer mother" and I just missed it?

yes.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 4:46 PM on May 21, 2012 [11 favorites]


They play the same "show me why you are entitled to this" game.

In a case like this I don't think it's a "game" : releasing personal records (the "long form" Hawaii birth certificate Obama posted before is not a public document, which is why he had to release it himself) without authorization would be a bad thing.

It's good that privacy be taken seriously and that private records not just be released to random people who want them.
posted by wildcrdj at 4:47 PM on May 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


I'm curious to why you think this is putting a law degree to good use?

Using legal machinations to protect murderers is not putting a law degree to good use.

Using legal machinations to obstruct the work of tendentious idiots who are undermining American civil society is putting a law degree to good use.

Using legal machinations to undermine the clean air act is not putting a law degree to good use.

Using legal machinations to preserve the environment is putting a law degree to good use.

You can argue that the legal profession should be abolished. But for those who do have law degrees, there are opportunities to put those degrees to uses that are good or not.

This correspondence, in my opinion, was good.
posted by alms at 4:47 PM on May 21, 2012 [14 favorites]


Arizona is actually a large scale milligram type experiment.
posted by The Whelk at 4:48 PM on May 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


For those of use who don't get the nuances of legalese, can someone translate?

Bennett: Fuck you.
Nagamine: Eat shit.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 4:48 PM on May 21, 2012 [11 favorites]


I wouldn't say "Fuck you" and "Eat shit." I think it's more like this:

Secretary of State Arizona: prove that Obama is really an American.

Deputy Attorney General of Hawaii: no.

Lawyer's are always polite with each other, at least on the surface. That's the point.
posted by alms at 4:50 PM on May 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Secretary of State Arizona: prove that Obama is really an American."

"Deputy Attorney General of Hawaii: no."


SoSA: Works for me.
posted by Ardiril at 4:52 PM on May 21, 2012


I just picked up the last open records response I received. Here is what I got.

1. Recitation of what I asked for.
2. 23 bullet points about "clarification" sought on such bullshit thing as clarifying what I meant by "any document" and "any information" and "third party" and in what capacity did I request the information etc.
3. Then a nice closing FU paragraph that says "If, after receiving the above clarification, we determine that the requested information is public and not excepted from disclosure under the Public Information Act, we will provide you with copies of any responsive information to which you have a right of access in your stated capacity." Do you think there is any chance my clarifications would make a difference and I would get the incriminating? Of course not.

But I guess that was good use of the law license.
posted by dios at 4:52 PM on May 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


The most ridiculous thing about the Arizona Secretary of State wanting the information is that it's irrelevant. Obama is eligible to be president no matter where he was born. He was born a US citizen, so he's a "natural-born citizen," as required by the Constitution. (PDF source.)

Also, if you look at pages 39-40 of that document, it says that the legal presumption has always been that a presidential candidate is eligible. In other words, the person who challenges the candidate's claim of eligibility is the one who has the burden of proof. So, it doesn't make sense to say "I'm going to leave him off the ballot unless I see specific proof that he's eligible."
posted by John Cohen at 4:52 PM on May 21, 2012 [18 favorites]


Arizona is actually a large scale milligram type experiment.

Surely a large scale experiment would be on the order of kilograms if not tonnes.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:52 PM on May 21, 2012 [32 favorites]


Sos AZ: Help us pander to our most racist, paranoid, single issue voters.
DA HI: Pass
posted by 2bucksplus at 4:53 PM on May 21, 2012 [17 favorites]


"I was just wondering if you knew whether the request was received and how long it usually takes to process? Thanx." -Ken Bennett

You forgot to say plz.
posted by ancillary at 4:55 PM on May 21, 2012 [13 favorites]


" The group Left Action has asked folks to send requests to Secretary Bennett to investigate whether Mitt Romney is a unicorn. To date, more than 3,600 requests have been sent."

This is just silly. The Unicorn is a fabulous and Legendary Creature of Wonder that sweats rainbows and dew drops. Mitt Romney, form all evidence is a sort of boring guy in a suit who has not actually been seen to sweat and may, indeed, lack glands. How one could be mistaken for the other is beyond me.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:55 PM on May 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


Using legal machinations to protect murderers is not putting a law degree to good use
Wrong. If anything that's one of the most important uses of a law degree. It's very important that state is required to provide a coherent and legal case against the defendant. That's true even for the obviously guilty.
posted by aspo at 4:56 PM on May 21, 2012 [60 favorites]


Using legal machinations to protect murderers is not putting a law degree to good use.

You realise that if guilty parties don't have the right to representation, then neither do innocent parties, right? The only way to defend the innocent is to make sure that everyone has the right to a defence.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:56 PM on May 21, 2012 [19 favorites]


Damn it, apso!
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:58 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, I know about and agree with the right to legal representation. I was responding to dios's comment about the difficulty of getting FOIA requests satisfied. In the case cited, it was about the murder of someone held in government custody.

Using legal machinations to withhold those documents has nothing to do with the right to representation in a legal proceeding.
posted by alms at 4:59 PM on May 21, 2012


Ladies and gentlemen:

Enclosed please find a request for a verification in lieu of a certified copy for the birth record of Barack Hussein Obama II. In addition to the items to be verified in the attached form, please verify the following items from the record of birth...


Ladies and gentlemen? Is he wearing a top hat in the center circle of a circus? Or is this common terminology in legal writings, instead of "to whom it may concern" or the like?
posted by filthy light thief at 4:59 PM on May 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


alms: disappointed to know that the value of the law license is directly related to whether an attorney does things with which you personally agree.

So going back to the post in question: this person is "putting a law degree to good use" by stonewalling a person alms doesn't like, not because it shows a particularly enlightened or impressive use of legal machinations?

I wrongly assumed the latter and found the "actual correspondence" to be pretty yawn-inducing from a legal standpoint. As it is the former, the fact that it is an attorney doing this seems rather irrelevant.
posted by dios at 5:02 PM on May 21, 2012


A birther just popped up in another forum I frequent, told us we were all very stupid for not realising quite how earth-shattering Obama's lies were, roundly excoriated us for even mentioning the contemporary birth notices in the Hawaiian newspapers (He couldn't explain those, so "we'd just have to ask them, they're not important") and vanished.

It was most peculiar. Is it going to be like the hatching of the cicadas?
posted by Devonian at 5:07 PM on May 21, 2012


If your an attorney representing a client in some kind of law suit/criminal case, is the FOIA is the right way to request documents? I figured the discovery process, and a judge's order, would be the best method? Am I missing something?
posted by PJLandis at 5:11 PM on May 21, 2012


dios, I'm thinking that the "Putting a law degree to good use" phrasing was a rhetorical device? Also wondering if this topic is good for another 4 years?
posted by sfts2 at 5:13 PM on May 21, 2012


Dios, I don't think the political state of this country and the corrosive effect of the right wing on our body politic is a simple matter of "things with which I personally agree", any more than your anger at the government employees who killed someone in their custody was something which you "personally disagreed".

Do you think that the judgement of whether legal skills are being put to good use should be detached from the moral context of the thing their advocating for?
posted by alms at 5:14 PM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


What would be the consequences of that, I wonder? Could the DoJ charge him with electoral fraud?

The very first thing that will happen is that a writ of mandamus will be filed for. "mandamus" is Latin for "We command", but what they're asking for is a judgement commanding a government officer to perform their duty.

Fundamentally, the Secretary of State is, well, a secretary. Their core job is to issue paperwork as ordered. The fact that the US Secretary of State is also the leader of the diplomatic core is an unusual twist on the job -- the UK has a Secretary of State, but they also have a Foreign Minister in the cabinet. Most of them are just, well, Paper Filers and Stampers, First Class.

So, he could leave Obama off the ballot -- so long as the prevailing authority orders him to do so. In most states, and I believe in Arizona, it's not his job to authorize, only to certify. If he does so without the prevailing authority telling him to do so, then he's refusing to perform his duty.

Refusing to do your duty is what a writ of mandamus is for. The best translation I have for it is "Do your fucking job." It orders an official to stop pretending they have the authority to change a decision and to do their job.

Because of this, they're actually very rare -- the courts generally will only issue them when it's rock solid obvious that the official has the duty, is refusing the duty, and there's no other way to compel the duty, because it is a big weapon. Even in cases where it seems a slam dunk, they'll often find a way to get the act performed without issuing the act.

For example -- when the whole Blago thing blew up, we were all wondering in Illinois what amazingly stupid thing he'd do next. Well, the amazingly stupid thing he did next was to appoint Roland Burris as the replacement for Obama.

The response ranged from "Roland who? Or, that guy" to "(face palm), to "Fuck me, he did it." Then Secretary of State Jesse White said "No, you're not doing that" and refused to sign the writ -- even though he did register the decision. Harry Reid, Majority leader of the Senate then decided that the Secretary of State refusing to sign was enough to refuse to seat Burris, under Article I, Section 5, the bit where Congress determines the validity of members, and he did just that.

Screw you, Blago, Screw you, Roland Burris. Right? Wrong.

Roland Burris went to the court and asked for a writ of mandamus. He argued that it was not his job to decide if it was right or not, Jesse White's job, as Secretary of State, was to fill out the paperwork after the governor told him that he was to be appointed.

Burris won the day, but didn't get the Writ. Instead the Illinois Supreme Court said that White's signature wasn't required, it was Blago's signature that made the appointment, and he did that and the paperwork had already been filed -- sure, without White's signature, but White's signature meant nothing at all. All Burris had to do was request an official copy from the state, and Jesse White would be required to provide such under signature and seal. It was clear that if Jesse White refused to do that, then a writ of mandamus might be in the offering, but right now, there was an automatic way that White's office could be compelled to issue the document, and Burris should use that.

As to the Senate demanding a specific form with the Secretary of State's signature before the Senate would consider it valid, the IL Supreme Court's response was officially "no explanation has been given as to how any rule of the Senate, whether it be formal or merely a matter of tradition, could supersede the authority to fill vacancies conferred on the states by the federal constitution" and unofficially, "put that in your pipe and smoke it, Reid. Don't like it? Try SCOTUS, watch them laugh at you too."

Faced with this, White shut up and sent the form, Ried shut up and realized he'd be pwned by Blago, Burris took his seat, and the Illinois Supreme Court smiled, content in the thought that they'd upheld the law without having to drop a writ of mandamus on anybody, and even better, Roland Burris would be far, far away.
posted by eriko at 5:16 PM on May 21, 2012 [40 favorites]


John Cohen: He was born a US citizen, so he's a "natural-born citizen," as required by the Constitution

The birthers aren't thinking big enough. Don't challenge the birth certificate, that's amateur hour. Challenge Hawaii's statehood! Can't be a natural born citizen if Hawaii wasnt a state.
posted by dr_dank at 5:18 PM on May 21, 2012 [12 favorites]


translation :

arizona dude - show me the birth certificate
hawaii - prove you need it
arizona dude - i want it
hawaii - no, we mean, with law - prove you need it and that you're fighting this hard to get mitt romney's documents.
arizona dude - here's some law that doesn't really apply! did i mention i really want it??
hawaii - no, no - we really mean, show us the law - your citations don't apply and neither do any other we can find.
arizona dude to supporters - i told them i wanted it and they wouldn't give it to me! *cries like a baby, stomps feet* now i won't put him on the ballot (which i probably don't have any real authority to do unless i'm trying to start the second civil war).

this is a law degree put to good use not because it's something i agree with, but because when met with a representative of a frothing mob, the lawyer just kept asking for facts and laws that supported the claim. it might happen every single day, but it's still evidence of someone who understands the nuances of not only the laws in their state, but will also school high ranking state officials on the laws in other states.
posted by nadawi at 5:18 PM on May 21, 2012 [32 favorites]


Using legal machinations to protect murderers is not putting a law degree to good use.

That's incoherent. The only way there can be a legal conviction for murder is if the defendant is effectively represented by an attorney. Otherwise, there would be a violation of the 6th Amendment.
posted by John Cohen at 5:22 PM on May 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Wait, there are still Birthers out there?
posted by Old'n'Busted at 5:22 PM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


By pandering to these idiots for as long as he has, Bennett has put himself into an invidious position. Consider his closing paragraph:

I can tell from the tone and language of your letters that the only acceptable outcome for you is that his name not be on the ballot, period. That may be what happens, but under my watch, it won’t happen based on opinions, petitions, probability or pledges to support or oppose me in the 2014 Governor’s race. My oath of office is to uphold the Constitution and laws of our State and country, and I’m going to do that by following the law. I look forward to continuing to work this issue under those parameters. Otherwise, I will respectfully agree to disagree.

That's about as close to a "fuck off" as an elected Republican has the courage to give a Tea Party Birther in 2012. He's setting himself up to make--as he has made here--a half-assed show of attempting to keep Obama off the ballot. He will be told "you can't", he will accede to that and put Obama on the ballot, and then he will lead the birthers in the customary chorus of frothing idiocy accompanied by the finger-pointing dance.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:25 PM on May 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


but none, as far as I can tell, establish the authority of the Secretary of State to maintain and update official lists of persons in the ordinary course of his activities

I'm not a lawyer, not intimately familiar with Arizona election procedures, but wouldn't this (from the Arizona Secretary of State webpage) require an "official list of persons"?
"Serves as Chief Election Officer for the State and certifies candidates and measures (initiatives and referenda) to the ballot and certifies election results."

I mean, I'm sure the government in Hawaii is sick as all hell of these birth certificate shenanigans, but I'm not sure that cutesy letters are the answer.
posted by madajb at 5:27 PM on May 21, 2012


I don't know what Bennett hopes to accomplish here.

The government of the State of Hawaii is on record, repeatedly, certifying that Obama was born there. Sooner or later, Nagamine is going to tell him "Yes, he was born here," and Bennett puts Obama on the ballot. Bennet is now the guy who agrees with Hawaii, hardly a good position for an apparent Tea Partier like him.

Alternatively, Bennett decides Nagmine's word isn't good enough, he needs to see the "long form" himself, etc. etc., and Hawaii tells him to go stuff it. Now what? An awful lot of commerce in the US happens because the States agree to honor each others various forms of documentation. Throw that out the window and the country grinds to halt, damn fast. It wouldn't take much for Hawaii to "retaliate" at Arizona.
posted by Frayed Knot at 5:27 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


PJLandis: if your comment is directed to me, the request I was referring to was done long before suit for the purposes of investigating why the person died, so it was appropriate. But as a technical matter, there is nothing about a lawsuit that precludes the use of FOIA, but once initiated, written discovery is far more effective because of the deadlines and enforcement mechanisms in a lawsuit.

alms: I read this post because it shows up on the lawyers tag/rss. But this doesn't really have anything interesting to do with lawyers. So the only reason I was asking you questions because I was curious if your really thought this was interesting from a lawyering perspective. I guess the answer is no; seems to me upon your follow up comments that this is about the birther trainwreck. It really is beside the point that this person is a lawyer. That's all I was asking about.
posted by dios at 5:27 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


dr_dank: The birthers aren't thinking big enough. Don't challenge the birth certificate, that's amateur hour. Challenge Hawaii's statehood!

My favorite political cartoon about the issue.
posted by tzikeh at 5:29 PM on May 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


I demand to see the cicadas' long form brood cirtificate.
posted by The Whelk at 5:29 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


And what happens if he refuses to comply with a writ of mandamus?

Jail? Removal from office? Something else? What if he's willing to go to jail (hypothetically - it sounds to me like he's not fully invested in this harebrained scheme; he just wants to make a show at an effort to appease the crazies)?
posted by Flunkie at 5:31 PM on May 21, 2012


Hawaii may be legally correct, but it seems to be beside the point.

The appropriate administrator of Hawaii just walk out to the parking lot and nail the birth certificate to the nearest palm tree. "There. That settles it."

Of course the birthers won't consider it settled. They never will. I get that (and I hope Hawaii does, too). Trying to settle it is just wrestling with a pig.

But the legal wrangling is not good PR.

So, just make one big release and be done with it. "There. We framed the copy and hung it in the lobby where anyone can look at it. We literally cannot do any more. We are no longer doing anything more about this, because there is literally nothing left to do."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:31 PM on May 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


The main thing that this whole episode shows is just how debased and fucked up your entire electoral process is. You USians really need to take a step back and look at this rationally.

Politicians need to stay right away from all of the electoral processes. Your processes are a standing joke in the democratic world, claims to "world's greatest democracy" have always been a cause of mocking laughter, this episode is just one more small example of why your entire system is fundamentally broken.

You need an independent electoral commission that determines eligibility, determines electorate boundaries, runs the voting process and declares total votes cast.
posted by wilful at 5:33 PM on May 21, 2012 [11 favorites]


dr_dank - going back to last election, it would make things extra murky if that route was taken. technically, john mccain is only retroactively a "natural born citizen" if that means on US soil - a law was passed that people born in the panama canal zone after 1904 were citizens, but at the time of his birth that law didn't exist. i always thought the birther thing was hilarious because it seemed pretty obvious it spawned from racism/just plain wacko-ness, but also that if you really wanted to challenge one of the candidates on their birthplace, mccain was probably a better target.
posted by nadawi at 5:35 PM on May 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


Why don't we just kick Arizona out of the Union? That would solve the problem, and Mitt Romney could be their president!
posted by Chuffy at 5:35 PM on May 21, 2012


Thanks dios, I was just wondering because I thought if they know your an attorney they're probably even less likely to be cooperative, especially under the circumstances you're talking about, than if they knew you were just a journalist. Not that it's right, but I guess it's not surprising to hear. The difference in this case is that the information is already out there and widely disseminated rather than being actively covered-up but I guess the tactics don't look any different.
posted by PJLandis at 5:36 PM on May 21, 2012


It was most peculiar. Is it going to be like the hatching of the cicadas?

No, because cicada cycles are actually interesting and worthy of more than 30 seconds of serious attention.

unrepentant CICADA-IST
posted by jquinby at 5:36 PM on May 21, 2012 [6 favorites]



You need an independent electoral commission that determines eligibility, determines electorate boundaries, runs the voting process and declares total votes cast.
Oh, an independent electoral commission that determines eligibility, determines electorate boundaries, runs the voting process and declares total votes cast! That so simple, why didn't we "USians" think of it! I'm sure that that will totally solve the problem, as obviously no one like this Secretary of State will be able to get on it! Thanks so much for the helpful hint!
posted by Flunkie at 5:39 PM on May 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


It works elsewhere, Flunkie. I'm sure you can figure out a way.
posted by Jimbob at 5:41 PM on May 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


the UK has a Secretary of State, but they also have a Foreign Minister in the cabinet

In fact in the UK most top tier ministers have a title that goes Secretary of State for X. The "Foreign Minister" goes by the official title of "Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs". In everyday shorthand they are referred to as the Foreign Secretary. People that are merely a "Minister" are usually on a lower tier and report to a Secretary of State. e.g. The current Foreign Office ministers.

Also the UK in principle and to a fair degree in practice has Cabinet government, so no way are any of those Secretaries of State just "Paper Filers and Stampers, First Class".
posted by philipy at 5:42 PM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Let's combine South Carolina and Arizona and make it Scarizona.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:42 PM on May 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


alms: "Do you think that the judgement of whether legal skills are being put to good use should be detached from the moral context of the thing their advocating for?"

Possibly the point is that a clerk or a paralegal can file (and possibly respond to?) these type of requests? I think it'd be like someone saying "thanks for fixing my ipod, I'm glad you're putting your computer science degree to good use".
posted by boo_radley at 5:43 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


The issue is that there are masses of fucking crazy people who have become severely politicized, not the process. Our process worked more or less fine in years past (I'm not saying it's without fault or cannot be improved), and waving a wand and saying "Now it's independent!" isn't going to help.
posted by Flunkie at 5:43 PM on May 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


Your processes are a standing joke in the democratic world, claims to "world's greatest democracy" have always been a cause of mocking laughter, this episode is just one more small example of why your entire system is fundamentally broken.

Honestly I'm not a fan of the electoral college, but I feel like you're talking about something else here that is only tangentially related? Thankfully Arizona is but one state, with clearly defined "electorate boundaries" and they get but 11 precious electoral votes, so nope, while we remain vociferous and obnoxious about petty details like "chads" and "Supreme Courts" I think we're good.

(I've lived in Italy, under Berlusconi, and all I have to say is that they did have awesome political symbols, and we definitely should get some donkeys with jetpacks and elephants with lasers for the 2012 debates.)
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:44 PM on May 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't know what Bennett hopes to accomplish here.

A fact finding mission to Hawaii at the AZ taxpayers' expense? It is fucking hot in Phoenix this time of year.

Why don't we just kick Arizona out of the Union? That would solve the problem, and Mitt Romney could be their president!,

My only problem with that idea is I was born in Arizona and so it is my proof of US citizenship. What was funny was in the AZ law to require a birth certificate for president, my Arizona birth certificate does not comply. Fucking idiots.
posted by birdherder at 5:46 PM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


with clearly defined "electorate boundaries"

What Wilful is referring to is Gerrymandering - where there seems to be a constant battle to make Republican districts more Republican, Democratic districts more Democratic etc. - alternative algorithms exist, and are used elsewhere, to do the opposite. Adjust the boundaries of districts to make them as even as possible.

and waving a wand and saying "Now it's independent!" isn't going to help.

How did the Secretary of State get his job? Was he (a) elected, (b) put there by the Governor, or (c) applied for an advertised position, and was selected from potential candidates based on his skills and suitability for the job? Options (a) and (b) are how this situation arises. Option (c) is what you want.
posted by Jimbob at 5:47 PM on May 21, 2012


Selected by whom, Jimbob?

The crazy people will worm their way in. They'll make it their mission to worm their way in.
posted by Flunkie at 5:49 PM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Flunkie, what is your objection, apart from the fact that the US isn't the greatest (when it is in fact completely piss-poor)? Independent electoral authorities work fine in most developed countries.

jetlagaddict, this isn't about the electoral college (though that's a bollocks system too), this is about eligibility, which should not be prosecuted by politicians. What if Obama had been born in Arizona? There's a chance this bullshit would have run and run and run, and he wouldn't have ever been President.
posted by wilful at 5:50 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


The appropriate administrator of Hawaii just walk out to the parking lot and nail the birth certificate to the nearest palm tree. "There. That settles it."

The White House already did that over a year ago.

These idiots are crazy and nothing will ever satisfy them.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:50 PM on May 21, 2012 [15 favorites]


The crazy people will worm their way in. They'll make it their mission to worm their way in.

Are you seriously claiming that independent authorities can never work? Because, many, many examples in many, many countries would seem to disprove that.

The Australian Electoral Commission is pretty good, IMO.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:52 PM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


boo_radley: that's basically it.
posted by dios at 5:54 PM on May 21, 2012


The crazy people will worm their way in. They'll make it their mission to worm their way in.

I was under the impression people in the US could be fire pretty easily for failing to do their job properly. So what's the answer? You're declaring that institutional corruption in the US is now so pervasive that even hired, non-politician public servants are free to bend the political system to their own will, and no-one can do anything about it.
posted by Jimbob at 5:55 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


What Wilful is referring to is Gerrymandering - where there seems to be a constant battle to make Republican districts more Republican, Democratic districts more Democratic etc. - alternative algorithms exist, and are used elsewhere, to do the opposite. Adjust the boundaries of districts to make them as even as possible.

This is actually my first election with a "real" vote but it's my understanding that except in a few very rare cases, there's no gerrymandering for electoral votes. There's gerrymandering in virtually every other race, but electoral votes are determined by state lines with a few proportional voting exclusions. It's also worth pointing out that you vote at the same time for federal and state officials; any sort of overview board would have to deal with the politics of fifty different state standards + D.C. as well as local level district differences. Not saying it's impossible, but we do have oversight standards, and the complexity of the state and federal levels is somewhat different in the U.S. than it is in Australia or England.
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:56 PM on May 21, 2012


i'm pretty sure they're saying that just making the system independent isn't an instant fix and crazy ass people will find other crazy people to hire them, independent or not.

also, it's not really so easy to fire government employees. there's an entire swath of american sketch comedy dedicated to that topic.
posted by nadawi at 5:56 PM on May 21, 2012


Flunkie, what is your objection, apart from the fact that the US isn't the greatest (when it is in fact completely piss-poor)? Independent electoral authorities work fine in most developed countries.
WTF man. Where did I say the US is the greatest. I even explicitly said that I'm not saying our process is without fault or cannot be improved.

Ignoring that crap: I'm unsure how I can make my objection more plain, so I guess I'll just repeat it and add a little more:

Sure, they work fine elsewhere. That's great. But if you're claiming, as you seem to be, "therefore your answer is to change to that system", that's absurdly oversimplistic and confuses correlation with causation. Our stuff worked more or less fine here too, until huge masses of fucking crazy people became severely politicized. Show me more detail on exactly how your proposed system is going to keep the huge masses of fucking crazy people from working their way into it, and I'll consider it. Until then, all you've done is just a drive-by "USians stoooopid".
posted by Flunkie at 5:58 PM on May 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


also, i mean, the system isn't being presently broken by these idiots - they're just banging their toys on the floor and holding their breath until their face turns red. obama ran for and was elected president while lots of jackasses ran around yelling about kenya and long form birth certificates - the fact that some of them hold government office isn't really that big of a deal in the entire scope of things.
posted by nadawi at 5:58 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


and the complexity of the state and federal levels is somewhat different in the U.S. than it is in Australia or England.

Yeah, I understand this to be the stumbling block. And, of course, any suggestion that federal elections should be run centrally by the federal government is going to immediately be shot down by "states rights" obsessives.
posted by Jimbob at 5:59 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


The crazy people will worm their way in. They'll make it their mission to worm their way in.
Are you seriously claiming that independent authorities can never work?
No. Jesus.
posted by Flunkie at 5:59 PM on May 21, 2012


this is about eligibility, which should not be prosecuted by politicians. What if Obama had been born in Arizona? There's a chance this bullshit would have run and run and run, and he wouldn't have ever been President.

The whole point of this though is that the system is actually working. Hawaii is saying, hey, no, that's not how this goes. Arizona hasn't actually done anything untoward yet, aside from wasting tax money in several time zones; the election's not until November, and Obama definitely was on the ballot in every state last time. That Arizona has crazy people who enjoy wasting their tax dollars on phone calls to Hawaii is not really a sign of the failure of democracy in America. And, frankly, Obama would probably never have been a senator from Arizona in the first place, if we're playing with hypotheticals.
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:01 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


by "states rights" obsessives.

i know states rights usually get trotted out when denying things like civil liberties comes up - but, it's not just obsessives that demand a line between state and federal on all manner of issues. it's not an easily bucked thing - it would basically take a rewriting of our entire government from the constitution on down. that's certainly not just an easy "make it independent!" fix. when thinking about state rights, i think it's important to keep in mind that 3 of the states in the US are in the top 15 world economies.
posted by nadawi at 6:05 PM on May 21, 2012


And, of course, any suggestion that federal elections should be run centrally by the federal government is going to immediately be shot down by "states rights" obsessives.

Wait so the independent electoral commission is supposed to be just another federal department? Because we do have the Federal Election Commission which is an independent body for funding. Do you mean they'd run separate polling places? I don't know, I kind of like that there isn't a vetting process for candidates, I think it makes the elections rather more free of easy excisions of inconvenient candidates by party leaders.
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:08 PM on May 21, 2012


Our process worked more or less fine in years past (I'm not saying it's without fault or cannot be improved)...

Just for context, when in your opinion did it stop working? Are you referring to the problems with this election cycle, or something further in the past?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:09 PM on May 21, 2012


The very first thing that will happen is that a writ of mandamus will be filed for. "mandamus" is Latin for "We command", but what they're asking for is a judgement commanding a government officer to perform their duty.

Thanks, eriko. This part of the story seems to have more pertinence to our democracy, and it is definitely much more interesting than the derail about law degrees. I'm not the biggest fan of the current regime, but if our elections could get held up by the legal equivalent of trolling, I hope there are some long-term consequences for those openly threatening to disenfranchise voters.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:11 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't know how it is absurdly oversimplistic or is confusing correlation with causation. You sure you know what those arguments mean or do they just sound like a good way to be dismissive? And you do seem to be claiming that independent authorities don't work, because of crazies.

Your system hasn't worked for a long time, gerrymander was invented in the US in 1812. And you haven't had a possibly contentiously eligible president before, so it's stress tested the very first time.

States rights issues could be easily overcome/negotiated. In Australian we have both the Australian Electoral Commission and relevant State Electoral Commissions such as the Victorian one. It wouldn't be hard to enact some hybrid model where formal power was with each state electoral commission but coordinated for federal elections by the USEC.

jetlagaddict, no, parties still very much choose their candidates, this has nothing to do with primaries etc, but electoral commissions can be the arbiters of someone's formal capacity to run for office. And tallying. And electoral boundaries. And all of the other formal processes to ensure a free and fair election, without hanging chads, or diebold machines, or birtherism.
posted by wilful at 6:12 PM on May 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


I wrote Hawaii and asked for proof they were a state. They didn't write back. I'm a stater!

Seriously, I figured this would be the next line of attack by the birthers, so I was trying to preempt the argument, but then I found out there are already a bunch of people that believe this. You can't make this shit up.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:20 PM on May 21, 2012


I hope there are some long-term consequences for those openly threatening to disenfranchise voters.

There is. They call it "The House of Representatives". Or, failing that, "Political Commentator".

They're both pretty well paid.
posted by aramaic at 6:20 PM on May 21, 2012


This is just silly. The Unicorn is a fabulous and Legendary Creature of Wonder that sweats rainbows and dew drops. Mitt Romney, form all evidence is a sort of boring guy in a suit who has not actually been seen to sweat and may, indeed, lack glands. How one could be mistaken for the other is beyond me.

Seriously. Some lawyer needs to get on this ASAP.

Defending unicorns from defamation and libel: putting a law degree to good use.
posted by formless at 6:21 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


And you do seem to be claiming that independent authorities don't work, because of crazies.

you are seriously the only one saying this. what is being said is that just going independent isn't a fix, not that independent groups running elections doesn't work.
posted by nadawi at 6:21 PM on May 21, 2012


you are seriously the only one saying this.

No, I thought that's what flunkie was saying too.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:25 PM on May 21, 2012


This is the last thing that I will say on this subject.
I don't know how it is absurdly oversimplistic or is confusing correlation with causation.
Really. You don't know how "our system has worked and therefore your problem is that you don't use our system" is absurdly oversimpistic or how it confuses correlation with causation.
You sure you know what those arguments mean or do they just sound like a good way to be dismissive?
LOL, try some self-awareness.
And you do seem to be claiming that independent authorities don't work, because of crazies.
Well then get some reading comprehension. Hint: "huge masses of severely politicized".
Your system hasn't worked for a long time, gerrymander was invented in the US in 1812.
Do you understand, or do you not, that with the possible theoretical exception of, what, three electoral votes in Nebraska and two in Maine, gerrymandering has absolutely nothing to do with presidential elections?

I never said our system was the greatest. I never said it couldn't be improved. I never even said your system isn't better. I repeat, WTF. Christ almighty. Goodbye.
posted by Flunkie at 6:25 PM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


gerrymandering has absolutely nothing to do with presidential elections?

No, but it serves as an excellent general example of why putting elected/selected people in charge of elections is like letting the fox design the chicken coop. The same principle applies all over the place.
posted by Jimbob at 6:30 PM on May 21, 2012


The birthers aren't thinking big enough. Don't challenge the birth certificate, that's amateur hour. Challenge Hawaii's statehood!

It doesn't matter, as point out upthread. Obama could have been born on the moon: his mother was a citizen, so he is one too automatically. Which makes him natural-born (as in, not naturalized). There's probably enough wiggle-room on that for birthers to still complain, of course...
posted by BungaDunga at 6:30 PM on May 21, 2012


I'm sick of these republican AG's wasting money on frivolous lawsuits. Tort reform begins at home.
posted by humanfont at 6:32 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't say "Fuck you" and "Eat shit." I think it's more like this:

Secretary of State Arizona: prove that Obama is really an American.

Deputy Attorney General of Hawaii: no.



Actually, I got that it was more like:

Secretary of State Arizona: prove that Obama is really an American.

Deputy Attorney General of Hawaii: prove that we NEED to prove it to you.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:32 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


His thoughts were red thoughts:

when asked "Are you seriously claiming that independent authorities can never work?" Flunkie very clearly said "No. Jesus." earlier he also said "Sure, they work fine elsewhere."

it just isn't an automatic fix to whatever problem is being complained about especially if that problem is partisan idiots doing election related jobs.
posted by nadawi at 6:33 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I described it to a friend as:
Arizona: DOX PLZ
Hawaii: TALK 2 TEH HAND
posted by mrbill at 6:37 PM on May 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm curious to why you think this is putting a law degree to good use?

it's not - it's putting common sense to good use

the reason your analogy doesn't work is that the stonewalling that you are encountering involves an incident where the evidence is being made unavailable and the truth has yet to be ascertained

the stonewalling bennett is encountering involves something where ALL of us have seen the evidence and the truth has been obvious to everyone but those who have a childish desire to deny it

surely, as an officer of the court, you do not believe that the judge presiding over a case should have to explain to every defendant (or plaintiff) that the gold fringe on the flag in the courtroom doesn't mean that the court has been established under maritime law and therefore has no jurisdiction over a "sovereign american citizen"?

would that be stonewalling? - to refuse to entertain each and every objection to something that is considered self-evident to reasonable people?

bennett's request for proof of obama's citizenship has already been fulfilled in the media, by the state of hawaii and by president obama himself and to email hawaii over and over about it is nothing more than the equivalent of badgering the witness

it's a ridiculous request on par with the self-educated nuts who carry on about that gold fringe in the flag

surely, you wouldn't put your law degree to use trying to settle such controversies, would you? - by your own admission, you are using it to attempt to find the truth about a man who died in custody, which seems like a good use of a law degree to me

similarly, it seems to me that using a law degree to shutdown absurd and useless hectoring over matters that have already been settled by reasonable people is a good use of a law degree

the bottom line, dios, is this - would you use YOUR law degree to argue a case contesting the president's citizenship?

if your answer is no, then i do believe you've answered your own question
posted by pyramid termite at 6:42 PM on May 21, 2012 [10 favorites]


Gawd, Hawai'i was already so much cooler than Arizona. It will be insufferably stuck up now.
posted by spitbull at 6:43 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Holy crap. The guy in that photo looks like an extra from a comic drawn by Steve Dillon. I always thought his characters couldn't exist in real life.
posted by RakDaddy at 6:45 PM on May 21, 2012


And you haven't had a possibly contentiously eligible president before

And we still don't. We have racists.
posted by inigo2 at 6:49 PM on May 21, 2012 [11 favorites]


Who's Barak Obama?
posted by lumensimus at 6:54 PM on May 21, 2012


Legalese is the language used when telling an idiot to go fuck himself without calling him an idiot. So, yes, this was good use of a law degree. I realize that lawyerly humor goes over my head, but I can hear the zings, even from here.

(You lose a point every time you say "duh.")

(1) What list are you updating?
(2) Is it your normal procedure to update all entries on your list by requiring birth data verification?
(3) Are you requiring birth data verification of all entries on your list, rather than just targeting one name on your list? (please provide evidence that you are doing so)


Bennett can't win because he's the straight man.
posted by mule98J at 6:57 PM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why does it matter? I mean, it's a democracy, right? You get to vote for who you like, is the basic thrust.

Make your own mind up whether citizenship matters. If a sixteen year old lesbian Sakizaya wants to stand, why not?
posted by Devonian at 6:59 PM on May 21, 2012


Ken Bennett is Mitt Romney's Arizona campaign co-chairman. This seems like a clear conflict of interest and he should recuse himself.

Not that that's new for Republicans. Katherine Harris was co-chair of George W. Bush's campaign and the Florida Secretary of State during the 2000 election and recount.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:00 PM on May 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Unless someone in Arizona has a tardis this whole thing is useless to argue about. The ship, she has sailed.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:01 PM on May 21, 2012


So I wonder what everybody thought of this Ken's last email:
I can tell from the tone and language of your letters that the only acceptable outcome for you is that his name not be on the ballot, period. That may be what happens, but under my watch, it won’t happen based on opinions, petitions, probability or pledges to support or oppose me in the 2014 Governor’s race. My oath of office is to uphold the Constitution and laws of our State and country, and I’m going to do that by following the law. I look forward to continuing to work this issue under those parameters. Otherwise, I will respectfully agree to disagree.
posted by boo_radley at 7:03 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


(1) What list are you updating?
(2) Is it your normal procedure to update all entries on your list by requiring birth data verification?
(3) Are you requiring birth data verification of all entries on your list, rather than just targeting one name on your list? (please provide evidence that you are doing so)


So, all Arizona needs to do is:

1) Create a list of individuals that includes President Obama for some legitimate purpose - say, for example, a list of all living current or former U.S. Presidents to whom the State of Arizona will send a commemorative bumper sticker upon verified eligibility;

2) Codify a normal procedure to update all entries on that list by requiring birth data verification; and

3) Require birth data verification of all entries on that list, then provide Hawaii with copies of the letters sent to the birthplaces of the other four people on that list.
posted by The World Famous at 7:05 PM on May 21, 2012


Signed the Unicorn petition.
posted by bongo_x at 7:11 PM on May 21, 2012


God, I spelled corps core. Or the computer "helped" me.


Sigh.
posted by eriko at 7:22 PM on May 21, 2012


From the FB conversations at the bottom of the article:

"I already sent Mr. Bennett's office an e-mail questioning Mitt Romney's eligibility to be on the ballot… "

> "Mitt's an anchor baby. Daddy was born in Mehico."

I thought that was pretty good humour.
posted by sneebler at 7:23 PM on May 21, 2012


And holy roman empire strikes back to the future, I just realized this thread has dios *and* quonsar.

It's like 2005 called and took its blue back.

(Hey, guys. Seriously. Good to see you again.)
posted by eriko at 7:27 PM on May 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


Mitt Romney was born in Toronto when his mother went into early labor while on a day trip there. The whole thing was covered up by his father and his right wing co-conspirators who sought to raise a future conservative Mormon president. Boston Consulting Group was Saul Alinsky and David Ayers with money and short hair.
posted by humanfont at 7:35 PM on May 21, 2012


Obama derangement syndrome is deeply frustrating but, fortunately, the Obama campaign store has the perfect mug in which to contain some liquid therapy.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 7:48 PM on May 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think this is the third (?) time I posted this link, but it deserves to be posted anytime this birther nonsense bubbles up. The gist is that being born to an American citizen makes Obama an American citizen at birth. Since the US Code never bothers to define what constitutes a "natural born citizen," but does take the time to define who is a citizen at birth, we can conclusively define Obama as a natural born citizen.

Anyway, here is the link to the relevant code. It astounds me that people are still arguing about this 4 years later, as I have yet to hear about any assertion that contradicts this part of the US Legal Code. People who think Obama is not a "natural born citizen" at this point are no different from people who believe that the US faked the moons landings.
posted by Panjandrum at 8:03 PM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


On one hand I agree with dios on principle.

But on the other... god I'm sick of hearing about Obama's fucking birth certificate! And I'm sure the Hawaiian officials are a hundred times more fucking sick about it than I am. Almost as I am of drum-beating conservative types showing up only in blue moon threads to tell all those stupid liberals har har. Organizing a flood of FOIA requests for information that has never been seriously in doubt is about as much as an abuse of the process, as much as a subversion of democracy, as obstructing those requests.

In a sense it's worse -- stalling the Arizona guy out of spite? That's bureaucratic nonsense. Getting a bunch of the vaunted "people" we're supposed to be respectful of to write in with hundreds of utterly bullshit requests for the same damn piece of information? That's damage to the utter foundations of the democracy -- if the will of the people of idiotic, that's just the kind of ammunition that those people who would destroy that democracy need, and that's not tragic, that's frightening.
posted by JHarris at 8:28 PM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Anyway, here is the link to the relevant code. It astounds me that people are still arguing about this 4 years later, as I have yet to hear about any assertion that contradicts this part of the US Legal Code.

That argument doesn't work, because the Constitution trumps statutes. As I said earlier in this thread, I think Obama would be constitutionally eligible even if he had been born in Kenya. But that's because of what the Constitution itself says. If that interpretation were incorrect, it couldn't be fixed through the US Code.
posted by John Cohen at 8:50 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


States rights issues could be easily overcome/negotiated.

Yeah, just dump the US Constitution and start over. Easy peasy! The electoral system in the US is pretty screwed up in a lot of ways, but pretending that disregarding the federalist system that is part of the DNA of the US is how to fix it is futile and betrays a lack of understanding of the bedrock principles of US federalism and the US Constitution. To be clear, I am not necessarily making a normative judgment, merely a practical one.
posted by Falconetti at 8:51 PM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Do you think that the judgement of whether legal skills are being put to good use should be detached from the moral context of the thing their advocating for?

dios has argued as much in the past. The lawyery temptation is always to explain that the law, when looked at from a detached and totally unbiased point of few, forces us, reluctantly, to accept that the thing that everyone, including the lawyer, believes is totally morally terrible and awful, must fall down in favor of that lawyer's client.

Secretary Bennett isn't an incompetent demagogic time-wasting, dishonest jackass, he's just doing what must be done!
posted by deanc at 9:03 PM on May 21, 2012


That argument doesn't work, because the Constitution trumps statutes. As I said earlier in this thread, I think Obama would be constitutionally eligible even if he had been born in Kenya. But that's because of what the Constitution itself says. If that interpretation were incorrect, it couldn't be fixed through the US Code.
About a year after the Constitution went into effect, Congress passed a law (the Naturalization Act of 1790) that explicitly classified certain people born outside of the United States as "natural born citizens".

Given that these were essentially the same people who put the phrase (without definition) into the Constitution in the first place, I'd hazard a guess that there's nothing "incorrect" about the idea that "citizen at birth", rather than exclusively "citizen born in the country", is what they meant, or at the very least compatible with what they meant.
posted by Flunkie at 9:06 PM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'd hazard a guess that there's nothing "incorrect" about the idea that "citizen at birth", rather than exclusively "citizen born in the country", is what they meant, or at the very least compatible with what they meant.

Especially since there was no birthright citizenship in the U.S. before 1868, by which point all of the founding fathers were long dead.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 9:11 PM on May 21, 2012


Yeah, just dump the US Constitution and start over.

Hardly. A hybrid system that respected States rights could readily be devised. All Section 4 says is:
The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Place of Chusing Senators.
Section 5 says:
Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members,
Not seeing the impediment.
posted by wilful at 9:18 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dios--putting something to good use does not mean using it particularly skillfully or deftly, it merely means using it to a good end. Forestalling investigation of a murder is a bad end. Forcing Bennett to confess that he has no legal grounds on which to pursue his stupid and vexatious request is a good end.
posted by yoink at 9:23 PM on May 21, 2012


"I don't know how it is absurdly oversimplistic or is confusing correlation with causation. You sure you know what those arguments mean or do they just sound like a good way to be dismissive? And you do seem to be claiming that independent authorities don't work, because of crazies."

Well, no, but having just had a conversation with someone who used to control the districting in California, "independent commissions" have a poor track record here because they often do things like minimize minority community of interests, and they also often rely on the patronage of the people who select them. If you elect them, you're back to the partisan complaints.

Your system hasn't worked for a long time, gerrymander was invented in the US in 1812. And you haven't had a possibly contentiously eligible president before, so it's stress tested the very first time.

That the Gerrymander was invented in 1812 is not evidence that the US system has not worked for a long time, unless you consider electoral results generally illegitimate after 1812 but not prior. If you do, you're talking out your ass.

States rights issues could be easily overcome/negotiated. In Australian we have both the Australian Electoral Commission and relevant State Electoral Commissions such as the Victorian one. It wouldn't be hard to enact some hybrid model where formal power was with each state electoral commission but coordinated for federal elections by the USEC. "

The US constitution is intentionally difficult to amend, and would need an amendment to make that change. It's also worth noting that while Australia is a fine country with several states, your vaunted system neither prevents dickbags from being elected nor would necessarily scale to a great big country, which the US happens to be. For instance, getting all of California to sign on to a single system is moderately difficult, and we've already got more people here than are in Australia.

A bit more familiarity with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 might give you a bit of a better view on US federal/state election interactions.

jetlagaddict, no, parties still very much choose their candidates, this has nothing to do with primaries etc, but electoral commissions can be the arbiters of someone's formal capacity to run for office. And tallying. And electoral boundaries. And all of the other formal processes to ensure a free and fair election, without hanging chads, or diebold machines, or birtherism."

Yes, until some nutter gets onto the commission. Or is elected as the secretary of state.

And frankly, this generally just doesn't come up. No one gave a shit about this stuff since the Red Scares of the '20s. Having a system where these problems crop up every 100 years or so is pretty good. It's not like we're saying that Pauline Hansen makes Australian politics inherently suspect.
posted by klangklangston at 9:30 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Someone correct me if I'm wrong but I'm pretty sure that the title of "World's Greatest Democracy" is based on Olympic medal counts. (weighted score, 3 points for a gold, 2 points for a silver, 1 for bronze)
posted by Bonzai at 10:02 PM on May 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Given that these were essentially the same people who put the phrase (without definition) into the Constitution in the first place, I'd hazard a guess that there's nothing "incorrect" about the idea that "citizen at birth", rather than exclusively "citizen born in the country", is what they meant, or at the very least compatible with what they meant.

You're talking about evidence of the original meaning — that's completely different from saying that a statute passed a few years ago somehow makes it constitutional. Congress does not get to legislate an interpretation of the Constitution. That's basic separation of powers.
posted by John Cohen at 10:49 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


a Deputy Attorney General of the State of Hawaii responds to a request for Barak Obama's birth certificate from the Secretary State of Arizona.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't it spelled "Barack" with a "c"?

Maybe someone should check out his birth certificate and see what it says.
posted by sour cream at 11:34 PM on May 21, 2012


he's a "natural-born citizen," as required by the Constitution

Hells Yeah! Screw them test-tubers and cesarean-sectioners deliveries!
posted by srboisvert at 3:03 AM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dear Mr. Bennett;

Attached is a letter that we received on March 30, 2012. I feel you should be aware some asshole is signing your name to stupid letters.

(previously)
posted by TedW at 3:15 AM on May 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


This is not any ordinary government lawyering, are you kidding? Normally a simple request like this between states would be unproblematic, and no government lawyer would engage in an exchange like this with the actual Secretary of State of another state.
posted by yarly at 4:57 AM on May 22, 2012



Sheriff Arpaio has sent his crack "Threat Management Unit" investigator to Hawaii.

I know what you're asking - how can that be safe ? Well, Shefiff Joe has that covered. He also sent along a member of his civilian posse.

It was a classic showdown, full of tension and drama.
A Hawaii deputy attorney general gave the men information concerning the legal requirements to obtain such a document; the requirements are posted on the Health Department's website. The two men then left the office, Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo said.
Heh.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:34 AM on May 22, 2012


Sheriff Joe Arpaio Sends ‘Threats Unit’ Investigator To Hawaii To Escalate Birther Probe
posted by zombieflanders at 7:40 AM on May 22, 2012


[Arpaio] said taxpayers were footing the tab for the airfare and hotel for the investigators, but he hopes the agency will be paid back through private donations.

what
posted by jquinby at 7:51 AM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Arpaio declined to explain to the Arizona Republic why the threats unit was involved in the birth certificate investigation, instead making only a vague reference to “security issues…that I can’t got into.”

yeah look I really don't think any kind of governmental commission whatsoever would convince him that President Obama is actually American. Doctors haven't. Teachers haven't. His mother hasn't. If angels came down from the sky bearing little Hawaiian shirts and leis and singing "Hark! For lo the guy is veritably a son of America!" they would probably be convinced that fluoride in the water was causing delusions of a liberal nature. Arpaio is a total nutter and this is a complete boondoggle of public funds, but he too is a duly elected official so unfortunately there's not much to do but send good thoughts to Hawaii's administrative staff.
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:14 AM on May 22, 2012


As I said earlier in this thread, I think Obama would be constitutionally eligible even if he had been born in Kenya. But that's because of what the Constitution itself says. If that interpretation were incorrect, it couldn't be fixed through the US Code.

Good point, though it does seem like the crux of the matter is that the Constitution doesn't define the term, which leaves it open to interpretation. If only the Founding Fathers had included a glossary....
posted by Panjandrum at 8:42 AM on May 22, 2012



Good point, though it does seem like the crux of the matter is that the Constitution doesn't define the term, which leaves it open to interpretation. If only the Founding Fathers had included a glossary....


Doesn't the "Full Faith and Credit" clause come into play ? Like, if Hawaii says Obama was born there, doesn't Arizona pretty much have to take them at their word ?
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:48 AM on May 22, 2012


I write letters similar to the Hawaii atty's almost every day. I'm a lot more patient and understanding with pro se folks who are desperately trying to do anything to save their homes (I do foreclosures -- evil, I know) and pull nonsense off the internet.

However, I get the very same "internet gobbledygook" from attorneys. Attorneys! My letters to them look a lot like the Hawaii attorney's letters.

I work in a non-judicial foreclosure state, Georgia, and one attorney from Florida demanded that I "produce the wet-ink signature note" and send him the complaint and demanded all kinds of discovery. I responded much like the above: here are the statutes and the law. Learn the law before making a fool of yourself. Go away.

Lately, I've gotten tired of attorneys collecting fees from people who cannot afford to pay their mortgages and doing absolutely nothing for them, so I've taken to just writing that their assertions are meritless and frivolous, and go away.

Therefore, I found that entire exchange quite amusing, myself!
posted by JKevinKing at 10:18 AM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


In related news, The Iowa GOP officially endorses birtherism and other crazy conspiracy theories.
posted by dirigibleman at 11:35 AM on May 22, 2012


That whole thing is bonkers. The ACORN stuff - just wild.
posted by cashman at 3:14 PM on May 22, 2012


Bennett Backs Off Birther Threat, Apologizes To Arizona

Naturally, it's one of those non-apology apologies along the lines of "if I offended anybody..."
posted by zombieflanders at 4:08 PM on May 22, 2012


it just isn't an automatic fix to whatever problem is being complained about especially if that problem is partisan idiots doing election related jobs.

The problem being complained about is that partisans are appointed or elected to positions where they can oversee elections, with no conflict of interest oversight. Not gerrymandering. The fix proposed was, as I understand it, to have non-partisan election commissions, not appointed nor elected but composed of hired career bureaucrats, to oversee not the candidate selection or verification but the actual mundane administrative details of running the election (printing the actual ballots; determining how many ballots or machines go to which district, based on number of voters in the district not the political leanings of most people in the district, and getting them there; counting the ballots in some clear and accountable manner; and making sure that all parties follow campaigning and elections rules). It sounds like there has been some confusion about the details of this.

The advantage of this system is that the elected official can make laws governing generally how elections should be run, and then the bureaucrats can be held liable if they fail to apply those laws consistently to all parties. Canada has this. Ridings (aka voting districts) are still set by the politicians, so that doesn't help with gerrymandering; but it seems to help greatly with situations like this current one in Arizona, or Ohio or Florida in past elections, where the state election commissioner was blatantly partisan and influenced elections by applying election procedures unevenly to different districts and different candidates/political parties. In fact, it's kind of a tailor-made solution to exactly the problem being complained about.
posted by eviemath at 6:39 PM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Anti-Obama ‘Metrosexual Black Abe Lincoln’ Ad Campaign Would’ve Been The Funniest Shit Ever
posted by homunculus at 8:00 PM on May 22, 2012


The fix proposed was, as I understand it, to have non-partisan election commissions, not appointed nor elected but composed of hired career bureaucrats, to oversee not the candidate selection or verification but the actual mundane administrative details of running the election

Who's hiring and firing these career bureaucrats? I don't think you understand the depth of the partisan divide in this country, not to mention the lengths certain politicians will go to ensure that even "career bureaucrat" positions will conform to the party's wishes. The Independent Counsel was supposed to be an "independent", "non-partisan" position, after all.
posted by dirigibleman at 12:51 AM on May 23, 2012


The implication of I'm not (from) here so I couldn't possibly understand is perhaps not a very effective argument. For one, it's highly susceptible to the (equally false) counter-argument of "I am too, therefore I do understand!", which I could pull here.

The career bureaucrats would be hired and fired the same way that the vast majority of election workers in US states are already hired and fired. The change would mainly affect the elected politician who has power to both set policy and control the administration of elections, with no checks for conflict of interest. Job ads would have to be posted listing the proper job qualifications for each employee of the bureaucracy (including the director). The job ad for the head of the agency would be drawn up by elected politicians rather than others in the agency, presumably, but they would have an incentive to make it non-partisan since whoever they hire would be an ongoing employee, not changing with each administration. Also, the employees would be tasked only with carrying out the procedures set up by the politicians, so that would take a bunch of the partisanship out of it (yet still protect voters from election irregularities due to the elected state elections commissioner's conflict of interest).

Think of it this way. Currently, states have some elected politician in charge of overseeing elections, and a bureaucracy of underlings who do the actual work. Now give the single elected politician a little less power: they are supposed to set policy, so let them or the entire group of elected politicians continue doing that. But instead of letting the elected politician keep the power to decide district-by-district how many ballots or voting machines to send, make it so that they can only set policy that applies the same to *all* districts. Then charge the lower-level bureaucrats with carrying out those policies, rather than allowing the elected politician to be involved. Make it so that any party can request an investigation of the election procedures (if some basic criteria to avoid nuisance investigations are met), and that the bureaucrats can be fired for not doing their job if they are found to have applied the elections policy/regulations unequally or in a biased manner. But have the investigations carried out by actual law enforcement, not politicians; so that the politicians can't get the bureaucrats fired just for political reasons, but only if they truly have failed to do their job properly. I think that's pretty much how it works in Canada, from my few years here.

Of course it doesn't work perfectly. It's still susceptible to political influence via budgeting decisions, for example. But it does separate out the policy-making from the administration, which is a step in helping ensure accountability. It sets up incentives that make it *less* likely that there will be partisan bias in administering elections. And it allows for greater transparency and accountability, since both (in the US) parties would have a slightly uneasy relationship with the elections commission. (In Canada, you see this accountability currently with the investigation of the conservative robo-calling scandal, and with the overturning (by a judge; this was a law enforcement investigation) of the election results in one very close Ontario riding due to some irregularities and lack of following proper procedure by the elections commission there.)

The US in fact has many such agencies that work fairly effectively, despite seeming like they could be highly partisan. The Internal Revenue Service, for example, or the US Postal Service. Even law enforcement agencies, while they appear to have a fair amount of bias against non-governmental groups such as leftist protesters, seem to avoid strong bias toward or against either political party, irrespective of whoever's in charge at a given time. One could completely ignore how elections commissions are run in other countries and just set up an agency along the same lines as the IRS, if one wanted a completely made in the USA solution.
posted by eviemath at 4:52 AM on May 23, 2012


wilful: "gerrymander was invented in the US in 1812"

That's just silly. The term dates to Elbridge Gerry, sure, but that class of electoral trick dates much farther back. Look at rotten boroughs, for example.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:23 AM on May 23, 2012


Hawaii has verified the birth certificate. Again.
posted by MrVisible at 10:12 AM on May 23, 2012


"Think of it this way. Currently, states have some elected politician in charge of overseeing elections, and a bureaucracy of underlings who do the actual work. Now give the single elected politician a little less power: they are supposed to set policy, so let them or the entire group of elected politicians continue doing that. But instead of letting the elected politician keep the power to decide district-by-district how many ballots or voting machines to send, make it so that they can only set policy that applies the same to *all* districts. Then charge the lower-level bureaucrats with carrying out those policies, rather than allowing the elected politician to be involved. Make it so that any party can request an investigation of the election procedures (if some basic criteria to avoid nuisance investigations are met), and that the bureaucrats can be fired for not doing their job if they are found to have applied the elections policy/regulations unequally or in a biased manner. But have the investigations carried out by actual law enforcement, not politicians; so that the politicians can't get the bureaucrats fired just for political reasons, but only if they truly have failed to do their job properly. I think that's pretty much how it works in Canada, from my few years here."

So, generally, elections in the US work like this:

County officials are generally the front lines of elections. This tends to make sense, as different counties tend to have different issues on their ballots each time. The vast majority of them are hired bureaucrats, but each county will generally have one elected person whose responsibility it is to make sure everything happens according to the law, and to certify documents. (They generally do a lot of other stuff beyond elections too, like registering deeds and handling documentation requests.)

Then, above them, they have an elected state official with a smaller staff who handles larger questions, as well as generally having quite a few other duties (usually the Secretary of State for a state). In Michigan, they also supervise the issuance of licenses and coordinate communication between counties. They also certify ballot language and are responsible for allocating funding. Which, as a note, isn't generally equal in all counties. The reason is simple once you think things through — most counties have wildly different populations. You'd waste resources if you sent the same number of voting machines to Kern County as you do Los Angeles, and you'd thwart voters if you sent the same number to LA as you do Kern.

This is further complicated by the fact that both state and federal legislative districts often are incongruent with county lines, so the Secretary of State (or equivalent office) has to coordinate between counties to make sure that ballots have the correct races on them.

So, the answer is that it's actually significantly more complicated than you make it out to be. Further, lots of election law requires interpretation, having been written by legislators who have personal interest in how elections are conducted. So what you're proposing would require a significant overhaul of every state's laws — all 50 of them — and probably some federal law, as well as county law. This is in order to fix a problem that statistically just doesn't occur very often, and is prone to the fallacy of misleading vividness.

The US election system is not generally broken, and the hiccups that are seen are a) generally anomalies, b) generally pretty obvious when they are partisan (but that partisan decision is almost always popular, so there's no impetus to change), c) independent due to the latitude federalism allows, and d) nowhere near as corrupt as even 50 years ago.

So while it's an interesting thought experiment, the scale and the level of interest generally preclude a radical reform like you're proposing (radical not in politics but with relation to the amount of change required). Because of that, you're getting skeptical pushback from folks who actually live here and have a bit of experience with how the system works in practice.
posted by klangklangston at 10:34 AM on May 23, 2012


From Mr. Visible's linked article, above:
"If I embarrassed the state, I apologize," Bennett said earlier Tuesday in an interview with Phoenix radio station KTAR.
Actually, I think the state has quite a few other politicians who've been embarrasing the state already.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:43 AM on May 23, 2012


So while it's an interesting thought experiment, the scale and the level of interest generally preclude a radical reform like you're proposing (radical not in politics but with relation to the amount of change required).

You don't think the problem is worth the effort to switch to a different elections administration system. I think that's debatable rather than eminently clear, but fair enough. I was mainly disagreeing with the folks who were claiming that an independent elections commission somehow wouldn't work or would be impossible in the US. And as a USian living abroad, yeah, our elections processes are not viewed highly in other parts of the world. (Though I can see why wilful's original comment raised some hackles.)


Expanded version of comment:

As with everything in the US, there are always exceptional states. Alaska and New Hampshire don't seem to have county-based election agencies. I haven't verified this or checked all the states, but in my home state of Maine, elections are supervised at the municipal, not county level, despite the text in that first link. Elections are overseen by the Maine Secretary of State, who is elected by the state Legislature (not by voters). The lower-level offices are appointed, not elected. The supervisory ward clerk role is usually appointed as well, though cities can specify some other method of selecting a ward clerk.

The duties of the municipal elections officers are all administrative, so Maine already technically has the separation between policy and administration I was talking about (I believe most states do). However, the appointment process leaves lots of room for political influence. Though in Maine I've mostly just heard complaints about nepotism. At least people employed by a candidate's campaign (or related to a candidate, or having a financial interest in the election) can't be municipal elections officers.

There does not seem to be anything baring the Maine Secretary of State from working for a particular candidate's election campaign, however; just financial conflict of interest regulations.

It looks like changing to an independent state elections commission in Maine would require changing just a few statutes. The two statues governing selection of ward clerks and election clerks would need revision. The larger change would be in the role of the Secretary of State and in creating a new agency (which, as mentioned above, I would imagine could be administratively similar to the state Revenue Service).

The other state that I have voted in, New Jersey, legally mandates that the party currently in power runs the next election. [sarcasm]Which has never caused problems or enabled political corruption in New Jersey.[/sarcasm]

Setting up an independent elections commission in New Jersey would certainly be more complicated than doing so in Maine. As would setting up an independent federal elections commission. It would be a change in government administration on the level of creating the Department of Homeland Security, if not more involved. It's possible that stronger conflict of interest rules for people holding the offices that supervise elections could suffice to cut down on the sort of political tampering in elections processes that we saw in Ohio, Florida, and that this current FPP indicates may happen in Arizona. I think that there is a problem there that should be addressed, however.
posted by eviemath at 6:28 AM on May 24, 2012


He really didn't apologize but it does seem like for the time being he stopped sipping the crazy juice and/or haterade.
posted by cashman at 12:03 PM on May 24, 2012


It was less an apology than an open insult to the State of Arizona and its idiot residents, who are clearly not embarrassed by this nonsense.
posted by The World Famous at 1:31 PM on May 24, 2012


Senate Candidate Hoekstra: Create A National Birther Office

Pete Hoekstra Defends Birther Commission Proposal
posted by homunculus at 7:02 PM on May 31, 2012


The Daily Show: Trump-o-Gram
posted by homunculus at 7:06 PM on May 31, 2012


« Older Day Z is the best thing I’ve played so far this ye...  |  “Old age isn’t a battle, it’s ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments