Pick of Bush administration official for Fairfax election board riles Democrats
Friday, March 12, 2010
Fairfax County judges have quietly appointed a Republican to the county's three-member electoral board, a move designed to both fill a vacancy and comply with state law calling for the majority of such boards to be filled by the party of the sitting governor.
But the Republicans' choice of Hans A. von Spakovsky, a former assistant attorney general for civil rights and member of the Federal Election Commission under President George W. Bush, has set the stage for political acrimony with Democrats, who say his controversial background will only create more tension in already tight local races.
Von Spakovsky, 51, was appointed March 1 to a three-year term to replace Reston lawyer Brian McConville, a Democrat, whose term expired Feb. 28. He joins Margaret K. Luca, a Democrat who serves as chairman, and Carol Ann Coryell, the board's secretary and a Republican.
Von Spakovsky's tenures at both the Justice Department and the FEC were marked by sharp criticism from Democrats who asserted that he tried to exert undue political influence on the government's handling of voter fraud and identification matters.
Former Justice Department colleagues submitted a letter during his Senate confirmation hearings for the FEC post, saying von Spakovsky furthered "partisan interests" with his work on voting rights. His reappointment for a full six-year term was stalled for months by Senate Democrats, and he eventually withdrew his nomination in May 2008.
Since then, von Spakovsky served briefly as a staffer for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and as a legal fellow and writer for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington. Rex Simmons, chairman of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, called von Spakovsky's appointment "disturbing," outlining what he called a record of "trying to restrict legitimate voters." Luca said she was "very surprised" by the appointment and questioned whether his presence on the board would draw added scrutiny.
In an interview, von Spakovsky said he was asked by Republican Party officials to submit his name, after being told they wanted "someone who wouldn't have a big learning curve." The lawyer has lived in Vienna since 2001 and previously served as a local elections officer in Fulton County, Ga.
"I know how the system works, and I have experience at every level of the election process," he said.
Republicans note von Spakovsky's experience on the federal level. Fairfax County Republican Committee Chairman Anthony Bedell called questions about von Spakovsky's background "ridiculous" and politically motivated.
"I made my picks and submitted them to the judge based solely on qualifications and understanding of electoral law, which under the prior board makeup, in my opinion, was not followed to the law but enhanced and expanded based on their partisan views," he said.
Von Spakovsky, who will earn a modest stipend as a member of the board, has been a particularly frequent political target of the left. An inspector general's report cleared him and other Justice officials of censoring a bipartisan commission's examination of intimidation of minority voters, but Democrats remained opposed to his FEC nomination. Critics said von Spakovsky advocated for a controversial Texas redistricting plan and fought to institute a requirement in Georgia that voters show photo identification before being permitted to cast ballots.
His appointment comes at a time of increasing interest in local elections in Northern Virginia, as both parties focus on increasingly popular absentee ballots.
The ballots became an issue in mid-January after Republicans said they were denied access to voter records during a special election for state Senate in the 37th District. Fairfax County General Registrar Edgardo Cortés initially said the records could not be copied because the documents contained Social Security numbers. The dispute resulted in a decision to redact the ID numbers and clarify a formal policy allowing the public to request absentee voter information.
In the race, Sen. David W. Marsden (D-Fairfax) narrowly defeated Republican Stephen M. Hunt, a former Fairfax County School Board member, by 324 votes. Among absentee voters, Marsden had a 405-vote advantage.