WHEN IN DOUBT, SUPPRESS THE VOTE…. The U.S. Senate race in Illinois is one of the most competitive contests in the country, with recent polls showing an extremely tight race between state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (D) and Tommy Flanagan impersonator, Rep. Mark Kirk (R).

Ideally, with just 20 days to go, the campaigns would be doing everything possible to get their supporters ready to vote on Nov. 2. In Kirk’s case, however, this is right about the time to work on preventing some voters from participating at all.

In a private phone conversation that was secretly recorded, Mark Kirk, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Illinois, told state Republican leaders last week about his plan to send “voter integrity” squads to four predominately African American neighborhoods of Chicago “where the other side might be tempted to jigger the numbers somewhat.”

Kirk’s campaign confirmed the candidate was secretly taped last week as he was talking about his anti-voter fraud effort. […]

As TPMMuckraker has reported, accusations from conservatives that ineligible voters are fraudulently stealing elections for Democrats have continued to fly in the 2010 campaign cycle, despite the lack of evidence of widespread voter fraud. “Voter fraud” has been the rally cry for conservative groups seeking to make it more difficult to cast ballots and suppress minority voter turnout.

The story was originally uncovered by the Illinois-based ArchPundit.

Regrettably, this isn’t new — GOP efforts to combat non-existent “voter fraud” have been ongoing for years, but evidence of actual wrongdoing has remained elusive. The fear on the right isn’t about anyone trying to “jigger the numbers”; it’s about reducing the number of minorities who participate in an election.

One can only wonder what it’d be like if candidates like Kirk spent as much energy trying to get these voters to support him as trying to keep them from casting a ballot.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.