Why have BOTH parties wasted our money on Voter ID?

This just in from Lindsey Graham and Trey Gowdy:

Graham, Gowdy Defend South Carolina Voter ID Law

 WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and U.S. Congressman Trey Gowdy (South Carolina-4) today sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder renewing their request for documents pertaining to the Justice Department’s costly opposition to South Carolina’s Voter ID law.

Last Friday, the Washington, D.C. District Court issued a unanimous decision awarding South Carolina certain litigation costs incurred while defending its Voter ID law against a Justice Department challenge.  The case cost the State of South Carolina an estimated $3.5 million.

“Not only do we strongly support the Court’s decision to award costs, we request follow up on our previous letter regarding the reasons why this costly litigation occurred in the first place,” wrote Graham and Gowdy.  “If some, or all, of the costs associated with these actions could have been avoided by following the recommendation of career Voting Section experts, then we would like to know the reason why they were overruled.”…

Good question. Of course, it would be just as good a question to demand that our governor and legislative majority why they have insisted on passing and then defending in court a completely useless Voter ID bill.

As I’ve said so many times before, I remain completely unconvinced by either Republicans’ claim that there is a need for such a law, or by Democrats’ claim that it constitutes an intolerable burden. Every taxpayer dollar that either party has caused to be spent on the bill has been a waste, in my book.

65 thoughts on “Why have BOTH parties wasted our money on Voter ID?

  1. tavis micklash

    “I remain completely unconvinced by either Republicans’ claim that there is a need for such a law, or by Democrats’ claim that it constitutes an intolerable burden.”

    Voter ID was always going to go through. You are correct when you say it doesn’t meet the thresh hold for an “intolerable burden”. I’m not sure why the Justice department went so hard against it.

    As a private citizen voicing my concern or any politician arguing against it in the open im all for it. I find it morally wrong and since I honestly believe that this was a move by the right to bias ever so slightly in their direction. Much the same way as redistricting does.

    While it doesn’t meet a legal determination that doesn’t mean as a private citizen I shouldn’t fight what I find unfair and bad law.

  2. Juan Caruso

    Given, the partisan position of Democrats that voter fraud is nonexistent (despite convictions across the U.S. ) a more economical solution would be what I have suggested previously. Elevate the criminal penalties for individual voter fraud to loss of voting privileges for life (or at least equal to the term of the elected official with the longest term of office [e.g. 6 years for a US Senator] ).

    For anyone convicted of coaching, coordinating or otherwise abetting vote fraud involving more than 2 voters the penalty should be lifetime loss of voting privilege, loss of professional licenses, loss of state, local and federal pensions, and ineligibility from any appointed position requiring public trust.

    Sound serious enough for a “nonexistent” crime that never has to be prosecuted? Then it would be very economical, fit the crime and satisfy many Republican voters. Treating the potential theft of elections as misdemeanors or minor white collar crime is a pure farce.

  3. Karen McLeod

    Was this ruling determined by the law now in place or the original wording which would have made it very difficult for some (especially elderly poor) to vote?

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      The ruling was based on the original law plus assurances regarding diluted enforcement.

  4. bud

    Once again Brad tries to paint both parties with the same “partisan” brush and once again he misses the point. The GOP is 100% to blame for this waste of money. Voter ID laws in SC and across the nation were much, much worse than worthless. This was orchestrated attempt by the GOP to steal elections by suppressing minority votes by making it difficult to do so. It appears to have backfired badly, especially in Pennsylvania, by illustrating yet again just how destructive the GOP is to working class people. Once the diabolical scheme was recognized minority support for Obama and other Democrats was energized and a large turnout assured. Poetic justice.

  5. Bryan Caskey

    The DOJ lost this case in federal court. They had a weak case to begin with, and the prospects for their success were not high. Despite that, they made the strategic decision to defend a weak case. Accordingly, the entire country is responsible now for paying back some of SC’s cost to bring and successfully win a case against the DOJ. If this had been a private litigant (as I represent) the prospect of paying costs are a large factor in bringing both parties to a mutually agreeable settlement. No so with the DOJ.

    Also, this illustrates how hard it is to prosecute a case against the federal government in terms of sheer resources. Taking the politics out of it, the DOJ would have squashed any private citizen like a bug even though they were actually wrong. Not many folks have a spare $3.5M around to fund litigation.

    The problem I see is the moral hazard here. Even though fees have been ordered, the attorneys at DOJ don’t have any skin in the game. They can take an unreasonable legal position, lose, and then someone else (the taxpayer) pays the legal fees. The client is “insensitive” to being hit with fees.

    I’ll be interested to see what the revised Bill of Costs looks like when SC submits it on 1/11. You want to blame someone? Blame the guys who stubbornly defended what was clearly a weak legal position.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      The State floated an interpretation of the enforcement of the law that was very creative and that was why the state won. DoJ sued on the letter of the law.

  6. SCL

    Honestly, you are the king of false equivalence. Have you EVER written a piece, going back to your editor days, that you didn’t try to fit into that “both sides are at fault” template? I’m not a member of either party, but you’re wrong to say the blame for this one lies anywhere other than 100% with the SCGOP.

    Voter ID, and the costs associated with it, are not both sides’ fault. It’s the fault of a cynical, partisan Republican party, which had a national strategy, since revealed by various people around the country (Florida and elsewhere), to suppress turnout of constituencies that would not traditionally vote Republican.

    So, in line with this national strategy, SC Republicans pass the Voter ID law, knowing that SC is a covered jurisdiction under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. That means SC Republicans knew there was a legally-required federal analysis of the purpose behind the law, which in all likelihood would lead to a case before a 3-judge panel in federal court. So an expensive case was knowable, indeed almost certain from the first moment this law was proposed.

    So SC then spends 3.5 million dollars on this litigation to defend this law. What’s been missing in every article about the feds having to pay some of the costs (except one by Meg Kinnard) is how tiny that number is. The exact amount isn’t yet determined, but it will be tens of thousands of dollars out of $3.5 million. And there was never any hope, argument, or legal basis for it to be more than that. There’s no provision in the Voting Rights Act for an award of attorneys’ fees, so it was always known to SC Republicans that SC taxpayers would pay at least 98% of the cost even if it were determined to be the prevailing party under the Federal Rules and thus entitled to recover things like transcription costs and filing fees.

    The other point that you’ve skipped over is why the Act got approved by the Court. It got approved because SC took a position in the litigation – not clear from the language of the law itself – that the reasonable impediment element in the law would not be second-guessed. In other words, any voter who signed a piece of paper saying they were not able to get a picture ID would be allowed to vote. Anybody. Any reason. One might assume that it took this position because it believe that the law was not likely to be approved otherwise.

    So in the end, with this interpretation of “reasonable impediment,” the law accomplished absolutely nothing. And it did so at a price tag of 3.5 million minus a few tens of thousands.

    It’s another in a long line of ridiculous legislation passed that accomplishes nothing other than exciting partisan Republicans. (Remember the unconstitutional “I Believe” license plates? That costs a bundle too, an outcome that was obvious to anyone who knows anything about first amendment issues.)

    I’m baffled as to why smart people aren’t outraged by this. It doesn’t help when folks like you use that old false equivalence standby of hey, it’s everybody’s fault. It’s not everybody’s fault, and it’s going to keep happening unless somebody tells it like it is.

  7. Brad Warthen Post author

    SCL and Bud, if it makes you any happier, yes, the Republicans started this. There was no problem, no conflict, until they insisted on passing these completely unnecessary laws.

    But my history of frustration with Democrats’ reaction to this goes back a ways. I think the first time I wrote about it was in a column when I complained at the ridiculous amount of time being spent by our Legislature debating Voter ID, with the Republicans relentlessly pushing it, and Democrats fighting back with all their might. What frustrated me at the time, and still does, was that there were so many other REAL problems in South Carolina that they could have been wrangling over with the time being wasted on this. My attitude was, and is, that if I were the Democrats, I would have said “Go ahead and have your stupid, pointless Voter ID bill, and let’s move on to discuss some real issues.”

    I KNOW that for Democrats there is a social justice element to this. And there’s no question that if you look into the hearts of Dems and Repubs both on this, the uglier impulses are on the Republican side. The Democrats are sincerely sticking up for the right of marginalized people to vote — the fact that those people are more likely to vote Democratic doesn’t completely negate the nobility in that.

    It’s just that I’ve always thought Democrats were exaggerating — sincerely exaggerating, but exaggerating — the injustice. There’s a way to get a picture ID for anyone who doesn’t have one — it’s a solvable problem, not an absolute barrier.

    But should people HAVE to go through those extra steps to vote? No. Which takes me back to the stupidity of the Voter ID law to begin with.

    But I just think BOTH sides’ positions are based in hyperbole.

  8. Juan Caruso

    “Voter ID, and the costs associated with it, are not both sides’ fault. It’s the fault of a cynical, partisan Republican party,…” – SCL

    Absurd; our bipartisan state legislatures (lead usually by lawyers) has failed for decades to enact voter fraud penalties commensurate the crime. Now, taxpayers face more daunting legal fees for enacting a constitutional law to control what could have been cheaply controlled with stiffer penalties like those I recited above. Since “voter fraud does not exist in S.C.” , costs of future prosecution would hover around nil, but so would associated legal fees. Does anyone else see the pattern here (legislative lawyers and higher legal costs)?

  9. Bryan Caskey

    “At first blush, one might have thought South Carolina had enacted a very strict photo ID
    law. Much of the initial rhetoric surrounding the law suggested as much. But that rhetoric was
    based on a misunderstanding of how the law would work.” -DC District Court (in the opinion)

    Full text of the opinion here.

    Seems to me much of the blame falls on the folks who whipped everyone into a frenzy with the “initial rhetoric” that was based on a misunderstanding of how the law would work.

    “In other words, any voter who signed a piece of paper saying they were not able to get a picture ID would be allowed to vote. Anybody. Any reason.” – SCL

    Not exactly. The reason has to be truthful. It cannot be a lie.

    1. SCL

      What the opinion says is: “Any reason that the voter subjectively deems reasonable will suffice, so long as it is not false.” This is the functional equivalent of “any reason at all.” That’s because the county boards have no opportunity to examine the question of falsity. Someone could simply say “My car didn’t get good enough gas mileage for me to go get an ID” and that must be accepted. Maybe he drove a Prius and the statement might therefore be completely false, but the analysis of falsity isn’t allowed to happen. The vote counts, without an ID. It’s therefore “any reason at all,” practically speaking.

    2. SCL

      Another thing: Your argument that the blame falls on the people misdescribing how the law would work seems disingenuous. Surely you know that the State took a position later, IN THE LITIGATION, that the term “reasonable impediment” meant, practically speaking, nothing. The phrase was, however, written in the law and therefore presumed by the people who read it to actually mean something. The phrase was just abandoned by the State during the litigation in order to get the statute approved.

  10. SCL

    Juan, summarized: SC had to pass Voter ID because the problem of voter fraud, which was nonexistent, needed stiffer penalties. Um…OK. Got it.

  11. Kathryn Fenner

    There are ZERO documented cases of voter fraud that would have been prevented by this law.

    1. Doug Ross

      And there are only anecdotal stories of people who would have been impacted. And that number of alleged “victims” grows smaller every year.

  12. bud

    I do think the GOP got their comeupance on this. Many minority voters were implored by their elders to jump through the hoops to vote. Given that many of the older folks risked great bodily harm to win the right to vote in the 50s and 60s gave them plenty of ammunation to shame the younger folks into standing in long lines to cast a vote. As for the older voters who were inconvienced, they too felt a civic duty to overcome the absurd and needless barriers of the needless voter ID nonsense. Still, it is gauling that these laws that addressed a phantom problem appear to be legal with some restrictions. SCL is correct in his “false equivelence” claim. Brad Warthen is the King.

    1. tavis micklash

      I disagree.

      This was a presidential election year. The numbers should have been through the roof for minority heavy counties. Instead they were below 2010 numbers.

      I’m referring of course to McBride’s folly where she disenfranchised more people in Richland County than Voter ID did for the entire county.

      This isnt me argueing for voter ID BTW. Its a tainted measure at its base. You simpley cant use Richland Counties numbers to say that minorities GOTV since it was WAY below projected values by 10,000 to 30,000 votes.

  13. Karen McLeod

    Some of our poor, especially elderly poor were delivered at home with no documentation of their birth. I am guessing that there is some way for them to get the required picture ID, but I’m not sure that they would know how, or could follow the instructions without assistance. My take on this is, if the state can effectively disenfranchise 1 voter, then I may be that voter at some time. That sounds really sour to me. The right to vote is at least as precious as the right to bear arms, and I think that we must defend even one person’s right to vote, or one day we may discover that our right to vote is gone.

    1. tavis micklash

      Its distasteful but its been ruled constitutional. Its not an unrealistic burden.

      The black community is getting ahead on this one. The law has been significantly weakened from as passed. Also the minority leadership ESPECIALLY black churches have been huge at GOTV education efforts. The community can bounce back from this speed bump pretty easy.

      Once again I believe voter ID serves a political purposes rather than a fraud prevention. Its a done deal though.

  14. Mark Stewart

    SCL laid out a well-reasoned argument.

    Both parties, unfortunately, have to stand up to the utter nonsense pushed by the other. Otherwise we would all be in far worse legislative shape. That’s the truth. And that is why both parties need to stop being completely bull-headed stupid; the state as a whole suffers each time these things come up.

    I was actually very impressed that Alan Wilson was able to carve such a large escape hatch at the last minute – and get it accepted back in SC. That was a big save he did the Republican Party. The fact that the blowhards walked away from the issue after that revealed just what a cynical, small-minded ploy it really was.

  15. Brad Warthen Post author

    Yeah, I think Alan did a good thing there — and not because it was a “save” for the Republicans. He basically took an unnecessary law and interpreted away any actual effect it might have, both eliminating any harmful effects that Democrats worry about while at the same time winning a case for the state.

    Win-win-win on that.

    But let’s not say it too loudly or he’ll have stiff primary opposition from someone who would not have done this.

  16. Juan Caruso

    “Juan, summarized: SC had to pass Voter ID because the problem of voter fraud, which was nonexistent, needed stiffer penalties. Um…OK. Got it.”

    No, SCL, you haven’t got it at all {and kindly refrain from the… lawyer trick of ‘snowing’]. I very clearly stated stiffer penalties would have been an almost zero-cost alternative for ta truly nonexistent crime of voter fraud. Guess you missed MY summary:

    “Since “voter fraud does not exist in S.C.” , costs of future prosecution would hover around nil, but so would associated legal fees. Does anyone else see the pattern here (legislative lawyers and higher legal costs)?” CONFLICT OF INTEREST when it comes to promoting legal fees in our legislature is bipartisan.

    1. tavis micklash

      Yea Juan was pointing out an alternative to Voter ID. He never supported it.

      Can’t back him on the lawyer conspiracy theory though. I think alot of lawyers get into policy because they like working in law. Writing it is just another extension to practicing it.

  17. Mark Stewart

    I did feel kind of badly for calling Alan Wilson out on a deftly played hand, this being SC and all.

  18. die deutsche Flußgabelung

    Why have both parties wasted our money on Voter ID?

    Because both parties have strongly held convictions on the issue of voter ID. Both parties believe themselves to be right and the other party to be totally wrong on the matter. And knowing this, it is only rational that both parties would fight it out in the courts until the end. Its an American tradition e.g. checks-and-balances, Federalist Paper #10, and all that jazz. I know its hard for you Brad (being from the oh so pious, blame-both-sides middle) to understand that some people have genuine liberal/conservative opinions.

    Also if you really “remain completely unconvinced by…Republicans’ claim that there is a need for such a law,” shouldn’t you support the Democrats trying to prevent an unnecessary and questionable law from being put in place, even if you don’t agree with their reasoning for opposing the law? Or do you often support the passage of laws that you don’t find to be necessary?

  19. Steven Davis II

    Start at a local level, ask why Richland County’s new election director is being forced to retain Lillian McBride at a salary of $75,000. Is there so much election work in Richland County that they need a Director ($97,000), a Deputy Directory ($75,000) plus a full staff? What is that department’s total salary, $300,000/yr. plus another $100,000 for benefits? What exactly do these people do besides set up voting machines once a year? Does it really take a staff of 5-6 (or more) to read census reports and set up folding tables and voting machines in one county?

    1. tavis micklash

      They do registrations as well. It is a combined office.

      They maintain the machines. Alot of planning goes into it. You cant make the arguement that it is so simple a layman could do it when we just Screwed it up royally.

      Dont get me wrong the office gets a ton of money and you can make a fine case that their budget is way bloated now. Especially if over half the departments salary is in 2 executives and your numbers are correct.

      1. Steven Davis II

        “They do registrations as well”

        I thought DMV handled that… I’m registered, but have never been to the Richland County Voter Registration Office complex.

        “They maintain the machines”

        I’d love to see the maintenance records they keep on these machines.
        – Drug the machine out of the closet
        – Wiped the screen down
        – Installed program cartridge
        – Powered on to make sure it worked.

        That’s should take about a week or two per year for one person. Another couple weeks to line up and schedule volunteers for one person. A staff like they have should be able to complete everything needed within two weeks prior to the election.

  20. Kathryn Fenner

    I do not understand why McBride is being returned to her former job at a raise of $8K from what she got before.

    1. tavis micklash

      I suspect that is at the behest of her backers on the legislative delegation. Avoiding litigation and more long drawn out drama over 8k isn’t that bad of a deal. Sucks but being a realist. They hired her lawyer for her on state $$$. Your in private practice correct? Do you have a guesstimate how much that would run?

      Thats not a lawyer bash BTW just a general question.

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        I really don’t know how much time the outside lawyer would have spent, but at a conservative estimate of $200/ hour, it could rack up.

        I mean, some reason related to actual competence and value of the job, not a political buy-out.

    2. Steven Davis II

      @Kathryn – Because she’s black and she’s female. Had a white male been in this position he’d be receiving his 8th unemployment check about now.

      Aren’t you in a position to ask these questions? I don’t live in Richland County, so I’m complaining, but laughing at the stupidity Richland County is pulling.

      Talking about stupidity, how many Police Chief candidates has Columbia interviewed for the open position? Or will the city surprise us all and appoint some retired 44 year old back to the position at likely an increased salary.

      1. Doug Ross

        SD II

        Did you see where the city went back and downgraded the qualifications in the job posting for the City Manager job so that the handpicked candidate could qualify?


        And then she was hired even though she had very little experience at a salary of $190K which is $15K more than her more experienced predecessor.

        $190K per year! Do you think she could have received that salary anywhere else?
        Steve Benjamin has been VERY generous with other people’s money.

  21. Doug Ross

    Could we at least expect weekly status reports from Ms. McBride detailing what she did that week to earn her pay?

    This week: Solitaire, Amazon, Facebook, Checked Email, Read Excel for Dummies book, Calculate Pension Benefit At Retirement

    I’m with Steven Davis on this one.. what exactly could take a person 52 weeks a year, 40 hours a week for this job?

  22. Mark Stewart

    It only matters if the voters who elect the 4-5 state senators and representatives who supported her decide that the legislative delegation blundered. And that isn’t going to happen. So ya gets what ya gets and ya like it – or you work to change the legislative structure.

    Mia went way beyond any other delegate in publically calling this for what it was. That took political courage. There wasn’t a lot of that elsewhere in the delegation and that should be remembered by all voters.

    There is realism annd then there is cynicism. Cynicism ruled the day on this fiasco. It started with the delegation and it ended there. What surprises me is that someone could run a church on cynicism. That takes hutzpah that even Cromartie didn’t have.

  23. tavis micklash

    “Did you see where the city went back and downgraded the qualifications in the job posting for the City Manager job so that the handpicked candidate could qualify?”

    I was at the meeting the other day. Steve specifically addressed this. The reason why they downgraded the posting was because they only got like 6 applications with the original posting.

    Steve also pointed out that neither Gantt or Leona had 10 years city manager experience when they took the job.

    Leona came back with that they in the past had always accepted education as part of that experience. There is the rub. Teresa would still not have met the 10 year guideline with education.

    The salary is an issue though. They posted the salary survey for 10 similar cities. The average came out at 193. Thats why they went with 190 on a equal pay for equal work basis. + 7k vehicle allowance.

    I suggested that it she start at 80% of midpoint to council. Then over a 2 year period she gets to 100% as she meets expectations and goals. Moe argued that it was pretty ridiculous she starts off almost 15k higher than Steve. I also think they should have asked for a hometown discount as well especially since she has no experience with water and sewer.

    I see both sides to the argument. There is alot of problems in the US with woman and minority pay. Its not wrong to hold the city to a higher standard.

    Honestly the way that the city negotiates this stuff seems ridiculous to me. I would think they should negotiate salary and person at the same time. Play the applicants against each other. My business /fiscal conservative roots are showing though.

    In the end I think that Teresa is going to do ok. Columbia has been spoiled for a long time though with Steve who was an excellent City Manager.

    Here is my article on moving forward from this.


    1. Steven Davis II

      So how many people did the actually interview? The same as they will to fill the Chief of Police position? You Columbia get what you pay for… New Orleans East.

    2. Kathryn Fenner

      Yes, I hear from my contacts that she is well-thought of by the good people on city staff. It isn’t her fault that Steve Gantt was underpaid.

        1. Silence

          Columbia, SC – pop. 129,272
          Augusta, GA – pop. 192,142
          Charlotte, NC – pop. 731,434
          Coral Springs, FL – pop. 123,338
          Greensboro, NC – pop. 273,425
          Greenville, SC – pop. 60,379
          Raleigh, NC – pop. 416,468
          Savannah, GA – pop. 139,491
          Tallahassee, FL – pop. 182,965
          Wilmington, NC – pop. 108,297
          I don’t think that these are all really appropriate cities for Columbia to compare itself to in terms of either population or salaries. Most of these cities are much larger than Columbia, and higher cost of living coastal cities to boot. I’d say that Greenville and Augusta are the only ones that would be good comparisons, and they paying a lot less than the median in the survey. I think we are getting royally screwed on this deal.

          1. Mark Stewart


            Macon, Athens, Augusta, High Point, Ashville, Cary, Greeneville NC, Knoxville (180k), Clarksville, Murfreesboro and Greenville would have made a more comparable basket of comparables – oh, except that their avg salary would have likely pegged well below Columbia’s massaged results.

            But we all know that, inc. Columbia City Council. It does amaze me how politicians can give away OPM like this without a care in the world.

            Let her earn premium pay. Don’t give it to her at the start.

  24. Doug Ross


    Thanks for the details. It would be more believable if they had downgraded the qualifications and then hired someone who wasn’t so closely aligned with the mayor. This was a done deal.

    1. Steven Davis II

      “And Randy Scott is an excellent police chief, SD II.”

      And Randy Scott is a retired police chief, SD II.

      There, fixed it for you. If you were employed by a law firm and the Managing Partner retired, then decided to collect his pension and come back two weeks later to retake the Managing Partner position and also collect a paycheck would there be a problem within the firm? Would there be people upset?

      How many people have been interviewed by the City of Columbia for this open position?

  25. Mark Stewart

    No, Kathryn, the stunt he pulled over his “retirement” proves that. A police chief is a public servant. I mean that in the best sense. Double dipping as he did proves he is not worthy of reconsideration. Let him apply for a position elsewhere. He should not resurface in Richland County. To me, he should no longer be a public servant in the state of SC, but not in R.C. would suffice.

  26. Kathryn Fenner

    He took advantage of the deal available to him. He works very hard and does an excellent job. He deserves to take advantage of whatever opportunities the system provides.

    1. Doug Ross

      Those “opportunities” cost the taxpayers money that could be spent elsewhere. There is no valid reason for these opportunities to exist.

    2. Steven Davis II

      You forgot to answer the question about a managing partner retiring and then expecting to return to his old position once his pension started.

      There are people on the police force and in the city of Columbia that don’t have the same feelings about him as you do. People who hope to get promoted but have people like him standing in their way abusing the system. It’s abuse, not an opportunity.

    3. Steven Davis II

      I supposed you view Lillian McBride as one who also took the opportunity presented to her and took advantage of it. So what she’s done is fine as well.

  27. tavis micklash

    @ Mark – “Macon, Athens, Augusta, High Point, Ashville, Cary, Greeneville NC, Knoxville (180k), Clarksville, Murfreesboro and Greenville would have made a more comparable basket of comparables – oh, except that their avg salary would have likely pegged well below Columbia’s massaged results. ”

    You know I will ask around how they came up with these cities.

    You cant equate simply population to dollars. Its worth pulling the string on though.

    1. Mark Stewart

      Tavis, good luck! And yeah, population is the main basis of a city manager’s salary. Are you telling me Columbia is an extra special bubble? But seriously, I wish you well in holding council accountable.

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