The GOP’s Voter Suppression Strategy

The Nation [1] / By Ari Berman [2], November 26, 2012

The following article first appeared on the [3].

In a little-noticed yet significant development on election day, Minnesota voters defeated a constitutional amendment that would have required them to present a government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot. It was the first time voters had rejected a voter ID ballot initiative in any state.

In May 2011, a poll showed that 80 percent of Minnesotans supported a photo ID law. “Nearly everyone in the state believed a photo ID was the most common-sense solution to the problem of voter fraud,” says Dan McGrath, executive director of Take Action Minnesota, a progressive coalition that led the campaign against the amendment. “We needed to reframe the issue. We decided to never say the word ‘fraud.’ Instead we would only talk about the cost, complications and consequences of the amendment.” According to the coalition, the photo ID law would have disenfranchised eligible voters (including members of the military and seniors) dumped an unfunded mandate on counties and imperiled same-day voter registration. On election day, 52 percent of Minnesotans opposed the amendment.

The amendment’s surprising defeat has ramifications beyond Minnesota. “There’s been an assumption of political will for restricting the right to vote,” says McGrath. “No, there’s not.” The amendment backfired on the GOP. “Voter ID did not drive the conservative base to turn out in the way that Republicans thought it would,” adds McGrath. “Instead, it actually inspired progressive voters, who felt under siege, to fight stronger and turn out in higher numbers.The minority vote nearly doubled in the state, compared with 2008. Minnesota was a microcosm of the national failure of the GOP’s voter suppression strategy.

After the 2010 election, in more than a dozen states Republicans passed voting restrictions aimed at reducing the turnout of Obama’s “coalition of the ascendant”—young voters, African-Americans and Hispanics. The strategy didn’t work as intended. Ten major restrictive voting laws were blocked in court over the past year, and turnout among young, black and Latino voters increased as a share of the electorate in 2012 compared with 2008. The youth vote rose from 18 to 19 percent, and the minority vote increased from 26 to 28 percent; both went heavily for Obama.

A backlash against voter suppression added to this increased youth and minority turnout. “When they went after big mama’s voting rights, they made all of us mad,” said the Rev. Tony Minor, Ohio coordinator of the African American Ministers Leadership Council. The black vote rose in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia, while the Latino vote grew in Florida, Colorado and Nevada. “There were huge organizing efforts in the black, Hispanic and Asian communities, more than there would’ve been, as a direct result of the voter suppression efforts,” says Matt Barreto, co-founder of Latino Decisions, a Latino polling and research firm.

In late September, Project New America, a Denver center-left research group, tested more than thirty messages on “sporadic, less likely voters who lean Democratic” (which included young, black and Hispanic voters) to see what would motivate them to vote. “One of the most powerful messages across many different demographics was reminding people that their votes were important to counter the extremists who are kicking people off of voter rolls,” the group wrote in a post-election memo.

The increase in voter turnout among these key demographics, however, doesn’t mean that voter suppression laws did not have an impact or would not have decided the election outcome if the race had been closer. Court rulings and voter education efforts limited the damage but didn’t stop it. A flood of horror stories poured in during early voting and on election day: voters waiting in line for seven hours in Florida, wrongly turned away for lack of photo ID in Pennsylvania, improperly forced to cast provisional ballots in Ohio. The day after the election, 600,000 early votes and provisional ballots remained uncounted in Arizona, most of them in heavily Latino Maricopa County. According to Hart Research Associates, black and Hispanic voters were two to three times more likely than whites to wait more than thirty minutes to cast their ballot.

In-person early voting declined in Florida because of fewer early voting hours, compared with 2008. Florida voter registration dropped by 14 percent because of the twelve months in 2011–12 when the state shut down voter registration drives. The 1-866-Our-Vote hotline received more than 9,000 calls from Pennsylvanians on election day, many from voters wrongly told by poll workers that a photo ID was required in order to vote. Twice as many voters in Philadelphia as in 2008 had to cast provisional ballots because their names were missing from voter rolls. Of all the swing states, Pennsylvania had the sharpest drop in voter turnout, down by more than 7 percent from 2008, which could be attributable to confusion over its suspended voter ID law.

The 2012 election was a case study in how not to run an election. New voting restrictions and confusion over recent court decisions exacerbated problems lingering since 2000: broken voting machines, an antiquated voter registration system, ungodly lines, misinformed poll workers and partisan election officials.

Obama’s ad-lib on election night about long lines at the polls—“by the way, we have to fix that”—energized the movement for election reform. There are smart proposals in Congress, including the Voter Empowerment Act, but it’s unclear what the follow-through will be. The Help America Vote Act of 2002, a response to the 2000 fiasco in Florida, did little to remedy the nation’s election problems. For example, the US Election Assistance Commission, created by HAVA to help states run their elections, has no commissioners, executive director or general counsel, and hasn’t met publicly since 2011. Last year in Congress, Republicans tried to abolish the agency; Democrats have done little to resurrect it. Before Congress tries to pass sweeping election reform, it should take the baby step of getting an election commission back up and running.

Despite Romney’s defeat, GOP-controlled states appear likely to press ahead with new voting restrictions. In Florida, for instance, Governor Rick Scott put his secretary of state—who supported controversial voting restrictions and an ill-considered voter purge—in charge of determining what went wrong with the election. He should start by interviewing his boss. Until conservatives start courting the increasingly diverse electorate, voter suppression will continue to be the party’s main response to demographic change.

The GOP’s war on voting is far from dead. Just three days after the election, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a conservative challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which compels parts or all of sixteen states with a history of racial discrimination in voting to clear election-related rule changes with the federal government. The case will likely be heard early next year. Veteran Court watchers believe the five conservative justices are prepared to overturn Section 5, which Attorney General Eric Holder has called the “keystone of our voting rights.”

Voter suppression attempts over the past two years prove that Section 5 is still needed. Of the nine states covered fully by it, six have passed new voting restrictions since 2010. “The states that passed discriminatory voting laws were disproportionately covered by Section 5,” says Wendy Weiser, director of the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice. The Justice Department successfully objected to restrictive voting laws in Florida, South Carolina and Texas under Section 5 this election cycle. And despite clear evidence of its necessity, the landmark act is under attack: it has been challenged more in the past two years than in the previous forty-five years combined, according to Columbia University Law School professor Nate Persily.

Only a Supreme Court divorced from reality—which this Court may well be—would review the record on voting rights since Congress overwhelmingly reauthorized the Voting Rights Act in 2006 and conclude that a key pillar of the law is no longer needed. If anything, Section 5 should be expanded to include states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. Losing Section 5 would greenlight the very kind of voter suppression that proved so unpopular in 2012.

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Has America’s Stolen Election Process Finally Hit Prime Time?

Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman,, December 30, 2011

It took two stolen US Presidential elections and the prospect of another one coming up in 2012.

For years the Democratic Party and even much of the left press has reacted with scorn for those who’ve reported on it.

But the imperial fraud that has utterly corrupted our electoral process seems finally to be dawning on a broadening core of the American electorate—if it can still be called that.

The shift is highlighted by three major developments:
1. The NAACP goes to the United Nations

In early December, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the largest civil rights organization in America, announced that it was petitioning the United Nations over the orchestrated GOP attack on black and Latino voters.

In its landmark report entitled Defending Democracy: Confronting Modern Barriers to Voting Rights in America, the NAACP directly takes on the new Jim Crow tactics passed in fourteen states that are designed to keep minorities from voting in 2012.

The report analyzes 25 laws that target black, minority and poor voters “unfairly and unnecessarily restrict[ing] the right to vote.” It notes “…a coordinated assault on voting rights.”

The Free Press has been reporting on this coordinated assault since the 2000 election, including the heroic struggle of voters in Ohio to postpone the enactment of the draconian House Bill 194 that was the most restrictive voting rights law passed in the United States. (See Voting rights activists fight back against new Republican Jim Crow attack in Ohio)

The NAACP points out that this most recent wave of voter repression is a reaction to the “…historic participation of people of color in the 2008 presidential election and substantial minority population growth according to the 2010 consensus….”

It should be no surprise that the states of the old Confederacy – Florida, Georgia, Texas, and North Carolina – are in the forefront of repressing black voters. Three other Jim Crow states with the greatest increase in Latino population – South Carolina, Alabama, and Tennessee – also implemented drastic measures to restrict minority voting.

The report documents that a long-standing tactic under fire since the 1860s – the disenfranchisement of people with felony convictions – is back in vogue. This has been coupled with “severe restrictions” on persons conducting voter registration drives and reducing opportunities for early voting and the use of absentee ballots complete these template legislative acts.

Most of these new Jim Crow tactics were initially drafted as model legislation by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a secretive and conservative corporate policy group whose founder, according to the NAACP, is on record in favor of reducing the voting population in order to increase their own “leverage.”

The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that the 25 laws passed in these 14 states could prevent as many as 5 million voters from voting, a number easily exceeding the margin of victory in numerous presidential elections.

Ohio’s HB 194, which awaits a 2012 referendum vote, would disenfranchise an estimated 900,000 in one of our nation’s key battleground states.

An important statistic in all the legislation is that 25 % of African Americans lack a state photo identification, as do 15% of Latinos, but by comparison, only 8% of white voters. Other significant Democratic constituents – the elderly of all races and college students – would be disproportionately impacted.

Ohio voters have just repealed a draconian anti-labor law passed by the GOP-dominated legislature and the state’s far-right governor John Kasich. Whether they will do the same to this massive disenfranchisement remains to be seen. But the fact that it’s on a state ballot marks a major leap forward. Ohio activists are also drafting a constitutional amendment that includes revamping the registration, voting and vote count procedures.(Can we transform labor’s Buckeye victory into a new era of election protection?)

2. The Justice Department awakens

On Friday, December 23, 2011, the U.S. Justice Department called South Carolina’s new voter ID law discriminatory. The finding was based in part on the fact that minorities were almost 20% more likely than whites to be without state-issued photo IDs required for voting. Unlike Ohio, South Carolina remains under the 1965 Voting Rights Act and requires federal pre-approval to any changes in voting laws that may harm minority voters.

The Republican governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley denounced the Justice Department decision as “outrageous” and vowed to do everything in her power to overturn the decision and uphold the integrity of state’s rights under the 10th Amendment.

The US Supreme Court has upheld the requirement of photo ID for voting. Undoubtedly the attempt by US Attorney General Eric Holder to challenge this will go to the most thoroughly corporate-dominated Court in recent memory. The depth of the commitment of the Obama Administration to the issue also remains in doubt.

3. The EAC finally finds that voting machines are programmed to be partisan

Another federal agency revealed another type of problem in Ohio. On December 22, 2011, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) issued a formal investigative report on Election Systems & Software (ED&D) DS200 Precinct County optical scanners. The EAC found “three substantial anomalies”:
• Intermittent screen freezes, system lock-ups and shutdowns that prevent the voting system from operating in the manner in which it was designed
• Failure to log all normal and abnormal voting system events
• Skewing of the ballot resulting in a negative effect on system accuracy

The EAC ruled that the ballot scanners made by ES&S electronic voting machine firm failed 10% of the time to read the votes correctly. Ohio is one of 13 states that requires EAC certification before voting machines can be used in elections. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported in 2010 that the voting machines in heavily Democratic Cuyahoga County had failed during testing for the 2010 gubernatorial election. Cleveland uses the same Republican-connected ES&S ballot scanners – the DS200 opti-scan system. Ohio’s Mahoning County, home of the Democratic enclave of Youngstown, also uses the DS200s. The same opti-scan system is also used in the key battleground states of Florida, Illionois, Indiana, New York, and Wisconsin.

Voting rights activists fear a repeat of the well-documented vote switching that occurred in Mahoning County in the 2004 presidential election when county election officials admitted that 31 of their machines switched Kerry votes to Bush.

But a flood of articles about these realities—including coverage in the New York Times—seems to indicate the theft of our elections has finally taken a leap into the mainstream of the American mind. Whether that leads to concrete reforms before another presidential election is stolen remains to be seen. But after more than a decade of ignorance and contempt, it’s about time something gets done to restore a semblance of democracy to the nation that claims to be the world’s oldest.

 Bob Fitrakis is a Political Science Professor in the Social and Behavioral Sciences department at Columbus State Community College. He and Harvey Wasserman have co-authored four books on election protection, including Did George W. Bush Steal America’s 2004 Election?, As Goes Ohio: Election Theft Since 2004 , How the GOP Stole America’s 2004 Election & Is Rigging 2008, and What Happened in Ohio
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Voting Rights Under Attack as GOP Seeks to Overturn Historic Civil Rights Law

Common Dreams staff, Published on Friday, September 7, 2012 by Common Dreams

Civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) told the audience at the Democratic National Convention Thursday night, “we have come too far together to ever turn back,” warning that Republican-led voter suppression laws are takingAmerica back to the days when states had the right to deny voting capabilities to minority voters. Voting rights for minority voters continue to come under attack as Republican leaders are now turning to the Supreme Court to overturn historic civil rights legislation.

Several federal judges recently struck down voter suppression laws in multiple states, introduced by Republican legislators and governors, such as voter identification laws, provisional voting restrictions, limits on voter registration drives, and reduced availability for early voting.

The court rulings inFlorida,Ohio,Texas, andWisconsin, marked a widespread rejection of so called ‘voter fraud’ legislation, which seeks to greatly limit who can and cannot vote.

However, as Chris McGreal at the Guardian reports today, “Several state governments are [now] looking to the conservative-leaning supreme court, which has already expressed its doubts about racially-based policy,” in order to overturn these rulings. This step would seek to challenge the historic Voter Rights Act of 1965, which gave the federal government some control over voting rules in states with a history of blocking African Americans from voting.

In question is Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires “pre-clearance” for nine states –Alabama,Alaska,Arizona,Georgia,Louisiana,Mississippi,South Carolina,TexasandVirginia– before making changes to voting laws or procedures.

Civil rights leaders and activists have expressed concern over whether the Supreme Court will actually uphold this anti-discrimination law.

“The question is not whether Section 5 of the voting rights act will be struck down, but when and how. Will it die a death of a thousand cuts? Or will it be killed with one swift blow?” Nathaniel Persily, a ColumbiaUniversitylaw professor, told the Guardian.

“There has been a proliferation of cases that aim to take down and rip out this core provision of the Voting Rights Act,” said Debo Adegbile, acting president and lead counsel of the NAACP legal defense fund. “I think it’s fair to say that the supreme court invited these challenges.”

Speaking to the DNC Thursday, Lewis continued:

Brothers and sisters, do you want to go back? Or do you want to keepAmericamoving forward? My dear friends, your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful, nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union. Not too long ago, people stood in unmovable lines. They had to pass a so-called literacy test, pay a poll tax. On one occasion, a man was asked to count the number of bubbles in a bar of soap. On another occasion, one was asked to count the jelly beans in a jar—all to keep them from casting their ballots.

Today it is unbelievable that there are Republican officials still trying to stop some people from voting. They are changing the rules, cutting polling hours and imposing requirements intended to suppress the vote. The Republican leader in the Pennsylvania House even bragged that his state’s new voter ID law is “gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state.” That’s not right. That’s not fair. That’s not just.

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The GOP’s Disgusting New Southern Strategy: Take the Vote Away from Blacks, Roll Back the Civil Rights Movement

By Sherrilyn Ifill,  The RootSeptember 4, 2012  |

This article first appeared in [3].


…Republican Party efforts to diminish minority voting strength for this year’s presidential election are a sobering reminder that the struggle for full civil rights is not over.…The GOP’s war on voting is a serious attack on the fundamental workings of our democracy…

Richard Nixon’s political “Southern strategy” [12] was nationalized….By the 1980s, Republican political operative Lee Atwater had turned the politics of race and fear into an art formit was Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008 that was the real political transformative moment…shook the very foundations of the Southern strategy and left the Republican Party reeling.

…The party has, in effect, abandoned serious engagement with the essence of political activism: trying to persuade voters to support the candidates and viewpoints of one or another political party…

As a result, the Republican Party is now a minority party that still demands majority power…This is why the Republican war on voting should not be viewed solely through the lens of race. Instead it should be seen as part of a larger attack on political participation, with deep historical roots that hark back to the darkest days of American democracy….Republican voter-suppression efforts are a sobering reminder that we are only half a century removed from the time when, in many states, voting strength was based on race, wealth and place…This is what voter fraud really looks like, and all Americans, not just African Americans, stand to lose.

Full text

In states from Florida to Pennsylvania, Republican Party efforts to diminish minority voting strength for this year’s presidential election are a sobering reminder that the struggle for full civil rights is not over. But it’s not only black voters who should be concerned about Republican voter-suppression tactics. The GOP’s war on voting is a serious attack on the fundamental workings of our democracy. It is, at its core, an attempt to negate the important victories of the early 1960s that laid the foundation of our modern representative democracy.

To understand the breadth of the threat represented by voter-ID laws and other new practices designed to suppress votes in Democratic districts, it’s important to realize that the effort to dismantle obstacles to voting rights for black voters in the South during the early 1960s did more than just enfranchise African Americans. It exposed the myriad ways in which key aspects of the American electoral system were fundamentally unfair for all voters. In particular, the disproportionate power afforded to underpopulated rural jurisdictions over the more populous cities was corrected by the Supreme Court in a series of cases that dismantled the framework of unequal voting power that had existed in the South since the turn of the 20th century.

The door opened in 1962 when, in Baker v. Carr [4], the Supreme Court decided that it could rule on cases raising constitutional challenges to state apportionment practices. In that case, the challenge was to Tennessee’s failure for more than 60 years to adjust its state legislative districts, despite massive changes in the state’s population. A year later, in Gray v. Sanders [5], the court outlawedGeorgia’s county-unit voting system, a vote-counting scheme that benefited less populous counties in the state.

In the most important and influential of these decisions, Reynolds v. Sims [6], the court announced the now internationally recognized bedrock principle of voting equality: one person, one vote. These cases rooted out practices advanced principally in the South that, by weighting votes in favor of rural areas, gave land and cattle greater voting strength than people.

The principles announced in those cases are now such a part of our understanding of fairness in representative democracy that it’s hard sometimes to remember that they are only 50 years old. In short, the fight to remove obstacles designed to keep blacks and the undereducated from voting — like the poll tax [7], the literacy test [8] and the understanding clause [9] (in which a registrant would be asked to “interpret” a section of the state constitution) — should be understood within the context of the larger effort to bring equity to a voting system that had been fixed in favor of Southern, rural land-owning elites.

By 1966, after the last of these and other barriers had been removed by the Supreme Court [10] and by the passage of the Voting Rights Act [11], we’d begun the decades-long battle — still under way — to ensure that state and federal officials would enforce the laws that the Supreme Court had upheld. Once these structural barriers to voting were removed, those Southern white Dixiecrats (who formed the base of the modern post-civil rights Republican Party) committed to maintaining their political power and shifted their tactics to adjust to the new normal.

Because black and urban voters now proved a crucial vote in elections throughout the country, the politics of race-based fear increased and spread rapidly to the North. There, entrenched powers also sought to marginalize the potential for new voters to change the political landscape.

Richard Nixon’s political “Southern strategy” [12] was nationalized. Candidates who promised “law and order” flourished after the urban riots in Los Angeles’ Watts and inNewark,N.J. The idea of candidates who would “return”America to its former glory grew in currency. By the 1980s, Republican political operative Lee Atwater had turned the politics of race and fear into an art form, with Willie Horton launched as the poster child for how to manipulate white swing voters.

Despite the reference to Sarah Palin’s vice presidential nomination as a game changer in HBO’s titular movie [13], it was Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008 that was the real political transformative moment. Obama’s ability to peel off the support of voters in three states of the old Confederacy [14] — Virginia, Florida and North Carolina — shook the very foundations of the Southern strategy and left the Republican Party reeling.

The party’s initial instinct was to try to undercut the president’s “postracial” appeal, with party leaders asking Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal to provide the response [15] to President Obama’s first State of the Union address, and selecting former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele as chair of the Republican National Committee [16]. Both of these decisions soon proved hasty and ill-advised.

Now, it seems, the Republican Party is done with politics. The party has, in effect, abandoned serious engagement with the essence of political activism: trying to persuade voters to support the candidates and viewpoints of one or another political party. Urban voters, blacks, Latinos, young people and now perhaps even a majority of women voters appear beyond the reach or interest of the GOP.

As a result, the Republican Party is now a minority party that still demands majority power. And perhaps this is why the party appears determined to shrink the majority, borrowing from pre-civil rights-era Southern states that used voting and election laws to manipulate the voting strength of the electorate.

This is the context in which we should understand Republican election officials’ decision in Cincinnati last month to limit early voting in urban voting enclaves, while they guaranteed weekend voting and more flexible early voting hours in rural and suburban counties [17]. Ending weekday early voting at 5 p.m. and canceling weekend early voting in Ohio’s most populous cities would ensure that working voters in these jurisdictions became second-class citizens to their counterparts who live outside the metro areas. A recent federal court decision [18] requiring uniform early voting hours for all voters in the state may have reversed this plan.

This is why the Republican war on voting should not be viewed solely through the lens of race. Instead it should be seen as part of a larger attack on political participation, with deep historical roots that hark back to the darkest days of American democracy. Combined with the effects of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United [19] decision, Republican voter-suppression efforts are a sobering reminder that we are only half a century removed from the time when, in many states, voting strength was based on race, wealth and place. These new voter-suppression tactics bring us perilously close to reliving those days.

This is what voter fraud really looks like, and all Americans, not just African Americans, stand to lose.

Sherrilyn A. Ifill is a professor of law at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law and a civil rights lawyer.

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