By Jonetta Rose Barras Examiner Columnist In one of its last actions before summer recess, the D.C. Council proved, yet again, it has eyes only for itself.

The council passed, on an emergency basis, so-called anti-voter-fraud legislation. The provision, if exploited, could be used to suppress the same-day voting legislators previously claimed to champion.

Only a few weeks before the Sept. 14 primary, Ward 3's Mary "Open-Transparent-Government" Cheh introduced (without the benefit of a public hearing) the Corrupt Election Practices Emergency Amendment Act of 2010. That law would make it a crime to pay, offer to pay or accept payment for registering to vote or for voting; give false information to establish eligibility to vote; submit a false registration application; and procure or cast ballots that are materially fraudulent. Violators of the law are subject to a $10,000 fine, not more than five years in prison, or both.

Federal election laws already cover such actions. So, why the need for a District law, asked Ward 6's Tommy Wells, who seemed the only legislator familiar with the phrases "conflict of interest" and "appearance of a conflict of interest."

"I'm not comfortable voting on this before an election," said Wells, who's running for re-election. "We have a direct stake in this."

Seven other legislators hope to retain their seats or move to higher office -- but they did not say anything. In fact, his colleagues essentially told him to shut up. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray talked of his earlier experience with a straw poll taken by Ward 8 Democrats: Initially, he lost that unofficial and inconsequential vote, after young people, wearing Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's green campaign T-shirts, showed up at the candidate's forum, registered and voted.

Gray's camp subsequently challenged the results; the Ward 8 Dems executive committee, asserting there wasn't any provision for same-day registration and voting in its bylaws, discounted several of the Fenty votes. Gray ultimately won.

In other words, legislators' fear of losing and their desire to scare the hell out of their opponents' voters fueled their decision to pass the emergency bill.

The shenanigans have just begun, however. Expect fanciful claims of violations of the anti-fraud act -- although it lacks definitions. What constitutes payment, for example?

Historically, District pols have purchased lunches for voters, particularly senior citizens. They have provided cash for transportation or offered free bus rides to the polls. Would these be considered violations?

Of greater concern is how candidates or their supporters might broadcast the law and use it to prevent legitimate voting. The People for the American Way Foundation reported several years ago that voter suppression is "overwhelmingly achieved through regulatory, legislative and administrative means." It further noted that such actions often are couched in "feel good phrases like 'voter security' and 'anti-voter-fraud.' "

Apparently, council members didn't consider that history. Or maybe they did, as they calculated how best to win.

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