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May 15, 2011 10:20 AM Rigging the game is easier than earning votes

By Steve Benen

It’s not unusual to find a fair amount of 2012 optimism in Democratic circles. The economy is improving; Republican overreach is causing voters to recoil; and President Obama will be on the top of the ballot again, giving Dems a boost they lacked in 2010.

But for all that cautious confidence, it’s worth noting that Dems can’t win if their supporters can’t vote. And with that in mind, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee reported this week on Republican efforts in state legislatures to rewrite voting laws “to make exercising one’s right to cast a ballot more difficult.”

After examining the plethora of bills introduced in statehouses this year that, among other things, would reduce poll hours and require voters to show photo ID, it seems clear that Republicans are trying to make it harder for certain groups to vote. The Advancement Project, an advocacy group of civil rights attorneys, called the push “the largest legislative effort to scale back voting rights in a century.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), Republican legislators have introduced bills that would diminish access to the voting booth in over 40 states. All of these Republican proposals focus on one apparent goal: restrict ballot access and shrink the electorate — often in ways that would decrease Democratic votes.

Many of the proposals are in the form of voter ID legislation, which would require potential voters to present specified forms of identification in order to cast a ballot. Republicans supporting these measures claim they’re necessary to prevent “voter fraud.”

Too bad that “voter fraud” isn’t a problem that actually exists.

By all appearances, GOP efforts fall under the “When in doubt, disenfranchise” category. The Republican-led efforts aren’t addressing actual problems with the integrity of the voting process, unless you consider likely Democrats participating in elections to be a “problem.”

Of particular interest are voter-ID efforts, which are likely to disproportionately affect African Americans, the poor, and voters under the age of 30.

In other words, state Republican officials are targeting — without cause — the constituencies least likely to vote Republican. What a coincidence.

But there are related GOP efforts to stand in the precinct door. Patrick Caldwell has reported on Texas Republicans’ proposals designed to limit access to the polls, including absurd new restrictions on registering new voters. There are also measures in states like New Hampshire to block college students from registering in their adopted home states because, as one prominent GOP leader put it, “Voting as a liberal. That’s what kids do.”

We’re talking about a systematic effort, which is unfolding nationwide for a reason. The easiest way to win an election has nothing to do with candidates, fundraising, or grassroots operations. It’s to stack the deck long before the election — rigging the system so that those most likely to vote the “wrong” way simply don’t get to participate. We saw some of this during the Bush era, relying on odious tactics like “voter caging,” but the strategy is clearly expanding and intensifying.

Ideally, if Republicans are so panicky about losing elections, they should field better candidates and adopt a more sensible policy agenda, not push schemes to block Americans from voting. Indeed, Republicans routinely pull a lot of stunts, but few are as offensive as these anti-voting tactics. It’s one thing to lie one’s way through a campaign; it’s more damaging to the integrity of the country to stop people who disagree with you from even having a say in the process.

In a close election, where a percentage point or two can help dictate the future of the country, just how damaging can these tactics be? I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • Fr33d0m on May 15, 2011 10:31 AM:

    Can none of these be challenged in court? Or is it wiser not to have conservative judges rule them constitutional.

  • j on May 15, 2011 10:41 AM:

    Perhaps we need a grassroots movement to go to poor districts etc to drive people to register and/or obtain a photo ID card,
    surely voting is one constitutional right we cannot cede to the GOP!

  • c u n d gulag on May 15, 2011 10:42 AM:

    And as usual, the couch this behaviour in Orwellian terms - they're trying to 'maintain the integrity of the democracy and the voting booth,' while they actually stifle real democracy and access to voting.

    Here's who they want to limit voting to:
    White
    Male
    Over 40
    Ignorant/Stupid

    Well, if you can't win in the battlefield of idea's, minimize the size of the army you're facing.


    CAPTCHA - once
    CAPRCHA - twice

    Republicans - win at any cost.

  • kevo on May 15, 2011 10:43 AM:

    The strain of Americanism we are witnessing from the current crop of Tea Partying Republican activists and their lot has been with us ever since the dear Govenour Morris referred to the common man as the reptile sunning itself on the rock of mobocracy, or some such ill-begotten reference toward a newly found democratic culture (c. 1785).

    These pesky vote-constrictors are snaking their way through the legislative process because they'd rather set and operate a tyrannical rule here in the good ol'USA, than to let the hoi polloi practice what conservatives fear the worst - the tyranny of the majority!

    Oh My! -Kevo

  • John R on May 15, 2011 10:48 AM:

    Oh they went full speed ahead in Florida
    In addition to trying to overturn a 65% voter approved constitutional amendment ending Gerrymandered districts(using taxpayer money for the lawyers to fight it)
    Democracy - not in Florida.
    from Daily KOS:
    * Voter-registration groups would have to register all their volunteers and paid staff with the state’s Division of Supervisors of Elections, which would then create a database. What's the purpose of the database? NO ONE KNOWS. But in a state where they don't want to make a pill-mill database because it violates the privacy of drug dealers have no trouble with a database that records information of people who just want to help others vote.
    * Restrict the ability of news media and bloggers to take video or audio of voters at polling places. Nice.
    * Volunteers have to turn in registration forms within 48 hours, are face fines and possible criminal penalties.

    Why this? The legislature has tried unsuccessfully in the past to outlaw 3rd party registration groups... so they are trying to eliminate them indirectly. Case in point, the League of Women Voters in Florida said they may have to cease voter registration if this passes.
    * Now non-partisan, elected, county supervisors of elections willl be put under the control of the politically appointed Secretary of State. The Secretary would have the ability to issue orders to these county officials or remove those who do not comply!
    * Cut early voting in half (most early voting is done by Democrats)
    * Cut time for citizen-led initiatives to gain the required 600.000 signatures from four years to just 20 months.

    As a side note, any meaningful reform has come from these citizen initiatives--like Fair Districts (which is under attack). This is just the first step in the eventual elimination of these intiatives.

    The GOP was asked by a few in the media why they are so hell-bent on disenfranching voters. They claim it is all an effort to "stamp out fraud".

    Interesting, since even our Sec of State had to admit he could find no cases of voter fraud. The former GOP chairman told the media to talk with the election supervisors about all the fraud... except none of them, NOT EVEN THE GOP ONES, claim there has been any.

  • Texas Aggie on May 15, 2011 10:51 AM:

    One of the defenses that the right wing occasionally uses for the voter ID is that Mexico uses the same system and doesn't have problems. What they "forget" to mention is that there is an office in every what amounts to a precinct where people can get their voter cards for free. These offices are easily accessible to everyone.

    They also "forget" to mention that EVERYONE is required to have these cards or a passport if they ever need some sort of official identification like withdrawing money from their bank account or paying by check. Driver's licenses, military id's, or anything else just doesn't count. So what they have is essentially universal id's, something the right wing would consider anathema.

    If that's what the right wing wants, then lets give it to them.

  • stormskies on May 15, 2011 10:51 AM:

    Welcome to the new mafia in the USA: the REPIGLICAN PARTY....

  • HMDK on May 15, 2011 10:57 AM:

    Texas Aggie... yep.
    And it's perfect for them:
    The libertaríans will be able to hide their racism, and the racists will be able to pretend to privacy.
    Even though neither grumbles all that much about torture since, once again, it ain't happening to them.

  • Daryl P Cobranchi on May 15, 2011 10:59 AM:

    In NC they're trying to reduce the days that folks can vote early. In 2008, Obama won HUGE in early voting and lost HUGE on election day. So, of course, the Republicans would try to minimize the number of folks who vote early.

  • Texas Aggie on May 15, 2011 11:06 AM:

    Steve,

    What about making a big noise of how this photo ID is just part of the Big Brother push to get universal ID's for everyone? I can think of a lot of instances where the republicans have shown that they want to insert themselves into people's private lives, and associating their push for official government ID cards with Big Brother may make give people pause.

  • PeakVT on May 15, 2011 11:24 AM:

    Or is it wiser not to have conservative judges rule them constitutional.

    Good question. I wish I knew the answer.

  • TCinLA on May 15, 2011 12:01 PM:

    Republicans commit "voter fraud" every time they run for office, as in "defraud the voters." Were any of the things Republicans are now engaged in - busting unions, disenfranchising voters, destroying the environment, attempting to destroy the full faith and credit of the United States, just to name a few - were any of these part of their campaigns that voters might have voted for???

    That is indeed "voter fraud."

  • rikyrah on May 15, 2011 12:11 PM:

    Glad that folks are pointing out the obvious - that the GOP isn't about little 'd' democracy. they can't win elections honestly, so they have to do VOTER SUPPRESSION.

    PERIOD.

  • withay on May 15, 2011 12:27 PM:

    How about a push for voters to request absentee ballots, especially for those voters who are most likely to encounter vote suppression on election day? Voter registration can be followed with instructions for requesting the absentee ballot, which can often be done online.

    Naturally, the poor won't have online access at home, so volunteers will need to set up an operation to help with the requests. And, it is probably safe to expect that Republicans will try to restrict absentee ballots, too.

  • Rick B on May 15, 2011 2:45 PM:

    Another thing those voter repression actions do is to discourage those who disagree with the government from voting. That gives the Republicans an even greater bank-for-their-buck.

    This is an excellent post and I appreciate the comments that advise me what techniques they are getting passed in various jurisdictions.

  • Patrick Star on May 15, 2011 3:26 PM:

    And you may have wondered why the Right was so irrationally apoplectic about the New Black Panthers? This was supposedly the "smoking gun" of Voter Fraud that will from now on be used as justification for disenfranchisement. The whole Voter Fraud myth is just a psychological prop to assauge whatever guilt (if any) authoritarian-type conservatives might feel about their blatantly anti-democratic political impulses.

  • Kiweagle on May 15, 2011 3:31 PM:

    Don't forget that horrendous tactic ex-Governor Jeb Bush used in Florida to get his brother elected President in 2000: Strike off the voter rolls anyone who has the same name as an ex-convict without informing them and then make it extremely difficult to get back on to the list.

    The sick beauty of this little scheme was that it took advantage of the fact that African-Americans and Hispanics, who vote overwhelmingly for the Democratic Party, are the most likely to be on the ex-convict list (for ridiculously discriminatory reasons we discuss another time), which means that people who share their names are likely to vote for the Dems as well.

  • tec619 on May 15, 2011 4:36 PM:

    "Voter fraud doesn't exist?" I guess you haven't read articles of REPUBLICANS "convicted" of voter fraud. It does exist, but the party doing the most complaining is primarily guilty of committing fraud. Just like the family values hypocrisy. Exhibit A: Newt Gingrich. Don't make me go on.

  • KJ on May 15, 2011 7:47 PM:

    I think we should require a summary sheet showing payment of Federal and State taxes, even if the payment is $0.00

    Yes, it likely will cause problems for the same group of people that photo IDs do, but it will also be an issue for the likes of Donald Trump, the Koch Brothers, Rove, Palin, etc... people who want to protect their privacy from those volunteers at the poling place.

  • yellowdog on May 15, 2011 7:58 PM:

    With the likes of Kathy Nickolaus, Charlie White, Ken Blackwell, and Katherine Harris standing between the voters and a fair election, Democrats better be taking this disfranchisement business very, very seriously. The mixture of incompetence and political chicanery is enough to cost us this election. Hyperbole? No. It is deadly true.

  • jpeckjr on May 15, 2011 8:21 PM:

    In my univeristy town, which has officially non-partisan elections although everyone knows everyone's party affiliation, the Tea Party has successfully placed on a initiative on the June 7 ballot changing our city elections from November to June. The stated goal is to prevent the university students from voting in city elections. They believe that by excluding students they will be able to win more city council elections with pro-business, pro-development candidates. The campaign against the measure is very well organized.

  • mgloraine on July 16, 2011 5:22 PM:

    The photo ID requirement should be labeled what it is: a POLL TAX, which is unconstitutional.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twenty-fourth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution

  • Elle Kaye on July 16, 2011 11:34 PM:

    The Conservatives almost managed to disenfranchise the students in Colorado Springs. (U of C, Colorado College, Air Force Academy) by not accepting student IDs, even those with pictures. They relented, allowing the students to register to vote, but only after a huge ruckus. Crisis averted then; calamity in place now. Republicans have no tolerance for democracy.

  • Duke of Earl on July 27, 2011 1:45 PM:

    Interesting premise.
    So showing valid photo ID to buy beer, rent anything, buy CO2 cartridges, get into a R rated movie, use an airline ticket, or drive a car is analogous to a Poll Tax or, more specifically, direct voter disenfranchisement? I had not realized that I have a right to all of those things without ID. Or is voting simply not as big of a deal as the rest on my list?

  • BarbaraPatterson19 on December 21, 2011 11:28 AM:

    Don't have a lot of cash to buy a car? Worry not, just because that is real to receive the credit loans to work out such problems. Thence take a car loan to buy everything you need.

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