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House lawmakers spar over elections past, present and future
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    WASHINGTON — House Democrats and Republicans sparred Tuesday over elections — not who wins and loses, but who gets to vote, and how.
    With a week to go before a new round of critical presidential primaries, the hearing in Congress showed just how much lingering suspicion remains among Democrats over the last two presidential elections.
    Democrats on the subcommittee won a vote authorizing a subpoena for Kenneth Blackwell, a Republican and Ohio’s top election official in 2004, the year many Democrats charged that their supporters were being discouraged from voting. The state’s 2008 presidential primary takes place next Tuesday.
    Republicans on the panel derided the subpoena effort as a waste of time.
    While Democrats authorized a subpoena for Blackwell, House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., has yet to decide if he will actually issue one.
    ‘‘Mr. Ken Blackwell, wherever you are in North America today, please know that we are not sending the gendarme for you this moment,’’ said Conyers. ‘‘I do not like to issue subpoenas. ... The only problem is we can never reach him.’’
    Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., who chaired the subcommittee hearing, said he hoped the subpoena threat would persuade Blackwell to testify voluntarily.
    Blackwell testified before a different House committee in 2005, defending his state’s handling of the vote. Ohio’s electoral votes were decisive in delivering a second term to George W. Bush over John Kerry.
    Trent Franks, the ranking Republican on the subcommittee, ridiculed Democrats for seeking to re-argue the 2004 election.
    ‘‘Having repeatedly engaged in a variety of wild goose chases that have led to dozens of dry holes, this committee has apparently set its sights on yet another goose, and yet another dry hole,’’ said Franks, R-Ariz.
    Democrats also grilled a Justice Department official over the Bush administration’s record of enforcing voting laws. They charge it has worked to discourage minorities and senior citizens from voting.
    Deputy Assistant Attorney General Asheesh Agarwal insisted that the agency has taken an evenhanded approach to enforcing fair elections.
    Much of the partisan parrying centers on Republican demands for better screening of voters through identification requirements and cross-checks of voter rolls. Democrats complain that those moves are designed to suppress voter turnout among minorities. Democrats also contend that voting enforcement should focus instead on what they say is the much bigger problem of eligible voters being wrongly turned away from polling places.

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