Digger Tidbits: Got ID? O’Keefe seems to be missing his; House to take up brokers’ fees

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Got ID? That was the probing question the “investigative” camera crew led by James O’Keefe wanted polling officials to ask. When local town clerks didn’t pose THE question, O’Keefe and crew tried to prove, on video, that voter fraud is rampant in Vermont.

Trouble is, voting without ID is perfectly legal in the Green Mountain State. Voters simply turn up at the polls, tell election officials who they are, get checked off the voter list and proceed to the ballot box.

In a video posted on YouTube titled, “Caught on Tape: Dead People and Clones Offered Ballots in Vermont Primary,” O’Keefe’s attempts to demonize unwitting female election officials don’t acknowledge that fact. The filmmakers spent 10 minutes raking officials over the coals, then compared their experience at the polls with ID checks for people who go to bars, make hotel reservation payments and apply for gay marriage certificates. The inference was, how could Vermont ask for ID at the local watering hole and not at the polls?

This is the second time in a week the voter fraud card has been pulled against the Vermont Secretary of State’s office. The day after Town Meeting Day, Jack Lindley, chair of the Vermont GOP, insisted that Romney should have won 50 percent of the vote (and taken all the state’s ballots). Read the VTDigger.org report.

Lindley blamed “irregularities” in Burlington for Romney’s capture of 40 percent of Vermont ballots, and he wondered whether voters, about 7,000 of whom he claimed hadn’t been purged from the Burlington checklist, were Americans.

The great unwashed in Vermont — with voter ID in hand, or not — however, had their say, and the only party guilty of fraud, it turns out, is O’Keefe. It’s illegal in Vermont to pose as a voter.

You remember O’Keefe, right? He’s the one who gave us the gotcha 2009 video that led to a freeze on funding for Association for Community Organization for Reform Now, a group that serves low-income Americans. O’Keefe posed in the video as a “pimp” and appeared with a “prostitute” at six ACORN locations. The couple asked ACORN employees for advice on tax evasion, human smuggling and child prostitution. In another hidden camera stunt, O’Keefe discredited National Public Radio development officials.

Now he’s launched “Project Veritas,” and he’s going after poll workers across the nation.

Secretary of State Jim Condos says O’Keefe’s tactics to undermine the credibility of poll workers in Vermont is similar. “It’s much ado about nothing,” Condos said. “It’s like he’s try to incite a riot when there is no riot. This guy is on a mission to expose voter fraud across the country, but he’s the one who’s committing it.”

Condos filed a formal complaint with the Vermont attorney general on Tuesday, asking the state’s chief prosecutor to investigate O’Keefe.

Voter ID requirements disenfranchise about 10 percent of voters, most of whom are the citizens who are old, poor and from diverse racial backgrounds, and face barriers at the polls, according the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. These voters also tend to trend Democratic. A report from the National Conference of State Legislatures shows that 29 states required some kind of identification as of last November.

Redistricting: It’s not over until it’s over

Politics never stop. Not even in Vermont. A week after Democrat Miro Weinberger won his bid for mayor of Burlington, the Queen City’s pols are embroiled in a dust-up over a redistricting plan for state rep seats.

The House of Representatives approved a redistricting plan last month that kept the status quo in place and managed to be about as noncontroversial as a reapportionment plan can be. The map was then sent to the Boards of Civil Authority around the state for approval.

In Burlington, the BCA is the City Council and on Monday night council members approved a new version of the House map that includes a swap out of three neighborhoods that Jason Lorber, Jean O’Sullivan and Kesha Ram represent.

The plan was approved 9-6 after seven of the nine reps for the city sent a formal letter of complaint to the Board of Civil Authority subcommittee, which was comprised of two Progressives, two Republicans and one Democrat. The letter from Burlington Democrats accuses the BCA of significantly altering Chittenden 3-1, 3-2 and 3-3.

Democrats say the Progressives and Republicans on the council cooked up a plan to erode Democratic power in an important area of the city. A Progressive proponent of the new plan says it was the only way to make the Roosevelt Park neighborhood contiguous.

The upshot is, Jean O’Sullivan, who was appointed by Gov. Peter Shumlin to replace Rachel Weston, will lose Roosevelt Park to Chittenden 3-3 and Sandra Circle neighborhood to Republican Kurt Wright’s conservative stronghold in Chittenden 3-1. In exchange, O’Sullivan will represent Lakeview Terrace and Lake Street.

The swap also leaves two other Dems out in the cold. Lorber and newly appointed Rep. Jill Krowinski, who share the 3-3 district, will lose Lakeview Terrace and Lake Street and will serve the Roosevelt Park neighborhood instead.

Nick Charyk, head of the Vermont Democratic House Campaign, sees it as a triple whammy. He suspects the Progressives have one or two candidates from Roosevelt Park that want to run for the House.

“There’s a pattern of Republicans and Progressives teaming up,” Charyk said. “It’s a tactical decision. This way they have much better chance of getting Jill Krowinski or Jason Lorber out of there.” The move also leaves O’Sullivan potentially vulnerable.

Progressive Emma Mulvaney Stanak says the redistricting changes were not about politics, they were about geography. Roosevelt Park, she says, is not contiguous with the rest of its existing district. The neighborhood became part of 3-2 for the first time in 2002 in a bizarre cutout. “There’s no physical connectivity to the rest of 3-2,” she said. “The commonsense around that was obvious. Why not have the whole section be contiguous.”

City Council member Ed Adrian, a Democrat, says the swap will solidify Wright’s base and potentially set the table for a new Republican in the House when Rep. Bill Aswad, 90, a Democrat, retires.

“Three neighborhoods are being swapped out for the sake of being swapped out,” Adrian said. “If they were left where they were, the numbers would be OK.”

Adrian says the current configuration meets the standard deviation requirements. He questions the necessity of the changes. “I think it’s doing a disservice to people in neighborhood when they’ve gotten used to voting in a certain place, and they know who their reps are.”

Mulvaney-Stanak accused the Democrats of being unwilling to negotiate on the issue. Progressive Rep. Chris Pearson, on the other hand, she said, was willing to engage in a give-and-take in his district located near UVM. “The big idea is you have to compromise on these maps,” Mulvaney Stanak said. “There wasn’t much compromise going on with the Dems.”

Fees for health insurance brokers on the docket for House floor on Wednesday

On Wednesday the House will debate a bill that would require more transparency in the fees consumers pay for brokers in their health insurance premiums.

A bill from the House Committee on Health Care would require insurance companies to list in a policy contract how much people are paying for brokers’ fees.

Brokers help people pick the right insurance plans for themselves or their employees. In the individual and small group market, these fees are “baked in” to the premiums. Consumers pay between 3 and 4 percent of their monthly health insurance premium to pay the fee, regardless whether they use the service. The fee currently does not show up on the agreement with the insurance company.

The bill would not prohibit the billing practice in July when it goes into effect, said Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas, vice chair of the health care committee. It would only require insurance companies to itemize the costs for brokers.

Starting in 2014, however, when the state implements a health benefit exchange or insurance marketplace, brokers’ fees can’t be baked into the rates per requirements in the federal health care law, Copeland-Hanzas said.

~Alan Panebaker

Anne Galloway

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