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Wednesday, April 2, 2008 03:33 pm

Rushs chaos

Conservative talker pushes Clinton to damage Democrats

Untitled Document “Operation Chaos,” Rush Limbaugh’s campaign urging Republicans to vote for U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton in Democratic primaries, has been very effective. It doubled Republican turnout in Ohio and Texas, boosting Clinton and prolonging the Democratic race. But in Ohio it was also almost certainly illegal. Ohio law requires that citizens genuinely support a political party to vote in its primary. To change parties for a primary, a citizen must pledge, under the penalty of election falsification, that he or she is affiliated with the party and “supports” its principles. Lying on the pledge is a felony, punishable by as much as a year in jail and a $2,500 fine. The law also stipulates that poll workers have a “duty” to challenge voters who are “not a member of the political party whose ballot the person desires to vote.”
In Cuyahoga, Ohio’s largest county, 16,000 Republicans switched parties for the primary last month. Several did so in bad faith, without truly changing parties, according to newspaper interviews and Internet postings. The Cuyahoga Board of Elections is investigating. Despite the massive crossover voting, however, prosecutions are considered unlikely. A spokesperson for Ohio’s attorney general told Alternet that it is “very hard to prosecute” crossover-voting cases because the crime depends on proving a voter’s motive on Election Day. Limbaugh’s motives, however, have been perfectly clear from the start. “I’m asking people to cross over and, if they can stomach it, and I know it’s a difficult thing to do, vote for Clinton,” Limbaugh said before the Ohio primary. The goal, he explained, was to ensure that Barack Obama was “bloodied up politically” and to extend the Democratic primary “soap opera.”
Since the Ohio investigation began, Limbaugh has revved up his special brand of self-promotional damage control. He ran several segments defending Operation Chaos with the disingenuous argument that politicians also ask for crossover voters. Of course, intent makes all the difference: Reagan Democrats actually supported Reagan. Limbaugh’s campaign is under legal scrutiny because he asked people to cross over in bad faith — to tamper with elections. But for $19.95, Limbaugh is still hawking shirts and caps emblazoned with “Operation Chaos” so listeners can join the program’s “street team.” Wear one of those shirts to the polls, though, and you just might provide enough evidence of the motive needed for prosecution. The shirts list “mission objectives” such as “enjoy liberals tearing each other apart,” “prolong” the Democratic primary, “drain the DNC of campaign cash,” and “win in November.”
Finally, Limbaugh is lashing out at anyone who notes that he urged thousands of listeners, whether maliciously or ignorantly, to break Ohio law. He recently complained that NBC’s Norah O’Donnell and the New Republic’s Michael Crowley dared to discuss the issue. Then he was outraged that Fox’s Julie Banderas said that election-law violations must be “taken seriously” and “Republican shock jocks” were possibly “anti-American” for urging people to break the law. 
Limbaugh loves playing up partisan fights for his audience. But this is not only about politics: Rush Limbaugh abused his listeners’ trust and encouraged potentially illegal conduct. 
After a Republican Justice Department spent years hyping voter-fraud charges, now some of the most blatant election-law violations are being stoked repeatedly and unrepentantly by one of the most prominent figures in Republican politics.
Ari Melber is a regular contributor to The Nation magazine, where a version of this column first appeared.
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