Political Animal


July 07, 2011 8:40 AM The specter of Jim Crow

By Steve Benen

About a month ago, commenting on the anti-voting schemes being pushed by state Republican lawmakers, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) raised a provocative comparison. The chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee argued that the GOP intends to “drag us all the way back to Jim Crow laws” and “block access to the polls.”

This caused a bit of a stir, and Wasserman Schultz backed off. But the argument was repeated yesterday by an even more high-profile figure.

Former President Bill Clinton Wednesday compared GOP efforts to limit same-day voter registration and block some convicted felons from voting to Jim Crow laws and poll taxes.

In a speech to liberal youth activists Wednesday, the former president called out proposals in battleground states like Florida and Ohio that could limit the voter rolls.

“I can’t help thinking since we just celebrated the Fourth of July and we’re supposed to be a country dedicated to liberty that one of the most pervasive political movements going on outside Washington today is the disciplined, passionate, determined effort of Republican governors and legislators to keep most of you from voting next time,” Clinton said at Campus Progress’s annual conference in Washington.

“There has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and all the Jim Crow burdens on voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today,” Clinton added.

I’m always glad when this issue gets attention, because it’s as scandalous as it is consequential, and I suspect most of the country doesn’t even realize it’s happening. That Bill Clinton is on the case should raise the story’s profile even more.

There is a concerted national effort on the part of many Republican state policymakers to make it harder for traditional Democratic voters to participate in the 2012 elections. Under the auspices of rooting out “voter fraud” — a problem that appears to exist largely in the over-active imaginations of GOP activists — Republicans are passing voter-ID measures, closing windows for early voting, and approving new laws restricting voter-registration drives. It’s not subtle, but it is disgraceful. The GOP fears losing in a fair fight, so the party is trying to rig the game.

Yes, raising the specter of “Jim Crow” adds a racial/segregationist element to the debate, which the right obviously finds offensive. But it’s not unreasonable to consider these recent efforts Jim Crow-style tactics for the 21st century. The point of both is identical — identifying those the right doesn’t want to vote and passing laws that put barriers between them and the ballot box. The goal here is voter suppression, plain and simple.

As E.J. Dionne Jr. explained a couple of weeks ago, “These statutes are not neutral. Their greatest impact will be to reduce turnout among African Americans, Latinos and the young. It is no accident that these groups were key to Barack Obama’s victory in 2008 — or that the laws in question are being enacted in states where Republicans control state governments.”

Noting a new GOP push in Ohio to make it harder for voters to know where to cast their ballot, Digby joked sardonically the other day, “Soon voting Democratic in some states will be as difficult as getting an abortion.”

That this might actually affect the outcome of the 2012 election should be a national scandal. That this is occurring with minimal national debate is a national embarrassment.

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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  • Grumpy on July 07, 2011 8:52 AM:

    ID check to buy a gun = infringement of 2nd Amendment rights!

    ID check to vote = infringement of... hey, look over there!

  • Todd for VT House on July 07, 2011 8:56 AM:

  • Todd for VT House on July 07, 2011 8:58 AM:

    Grumpy wins right out of the gate. I guess I shouldn't be astonished that the 2nd Amendment is a cherished cornerstone of liberty, but the act of voting is, well...something that should be left to 21 year old, white landed gentry.

  • c u n d gulag on July 07, 2011 9:01 AM:

    Boy, Grumpy, I wish I'd said that!!! *


    Due to changing demographics, they only have a few years lwft to gain and consolidate power before they enter the dustbin of history, and this is part of that power grab.

    If they succeed in gaining and maintaining power, look for them to work to make it into being the Dominionist Christian Fascist States of America.

    *Don't worry, I will. :-)

  • Schtick on July 07, 2011 9:02 AM:

    This isn't really new. It's something that was started in Fla just before the 2000 election. People going to polls to find out they couldn't vote because for whatever lame reason, they weren't on the voting rolls anymore and most of them were minorities and dems. Then because of Fla again, every state in the country is stuck with computer voting machines that can only be set up and repaired by the company. The election, with a few tweaks, like the voter suppression now going on and the fix is in. When it works so well in one state, you'll never see another honest dem in office again in any state. Our dictatorship has begun.

    crapcha....ighlythe Hegner....of course.

  • zandru on July 07, 2011 9:04 AM:

    This debate is alive and going strong in New Mexico. With a new Republican governor and Republican secretary of state at the helm, the top priorities of the state government have been photo ID for in-person voting and restricting the availability of drivers' licenses. Yeah, how 'bout them "jobs"?

    The SoS, Diane Duran, was touted for "turning the registration of her county from Democratic to Republican" during her previous tenure as County Clerk. So far, she has announced 100+ (possibly) "illegal immigrants" who voted. This allegation has since vanished without any apparent prosecution or followup.

    Last month, she came up with 37,000 (!!!) cases of "voter fraud" - since then, walked back to "irregularities" in their MVD / voter registration records. However, the State Police are tediously and laboriously investigating each one. No prosecutions have been announced yet - and you can bet there never will be. It's enough that the factoid that 10% of all votes in the last election were fraudulent has been implanted in the public mind.

    There were two editorials in the paper just today regarding the issue of voter restrictions and the SoS's allegations, one from an Hispanic organization that was "pro", another from a Native American group that urged caution. Letters from the public will continue flowing in.

    Off here in the forgotten, scorched, burning corner of the US, the issue of voter suppression is big news.

  • KurtRex1453 on July 07, 2011 9:12 AM:

    Go Bill. This issue needs to be raised everywhere. When a Republican brings up a stupid idea, like impeachment, the Democrats need to counter with this is stupid and the Republicans are limiting voting rights.

  • jcricket on July 07, 2011 9:17 AM:

    **PLEASE** get rid of the audio ads that spontaneously begin as this page is opened. It is really disruptive to the thought process to have to scroll up and mute the damn ad.

  • walt on July 07, 2011 9:31 AM:

    What the Neo-Confederate party is doing here is raising the bar of difficulty for poor people to vote. Since they tend to vote Democratic, the reason is clear. This issue is not really a loser for them, however. Most Americans have good ID and lots of credit cards. They have little sympathy for those who don't. And given the war on the poor over the past 10 years (including the last two), they have really have few champions. Props to Bill Clinton for talking about this but I suspect it's just a throwaway line for a guy more comfortable hobnobbing in Aspen and Davos.

  • rikyrah on July 07, 2011 9:33 AM:

    I wish you would front page what they're trying to do in OHIO.

    I worked for awhile for the local election board. As an employee who spent their days trying to make sure that our voter database was on point and up-to-date, I canít even tell you how mad this made me when I first read it.

    One of the things that is most important, if you want to ensure QUALITY ELECTIONS Ė is that the voter be able to cast a legal vote.


    I have worked several Election Days. I have been the other person on the end of the line going through all sorts of tricks to find people in the system, so that I can point them in the right direction. The calls that frustrated me the most are when I was talking to a voter, and they said to me, Ď I felt I was at the wrong placeí, and I have to tell them over the phone that, yes, they were at the wrong place, and that, Iím sorry to tell them that there vote will not count.

    This takes me back to PROVISIONAL VOTING AND WHY ITíS A SCAM. The most common reason why a Provision Vote is REJECTED/ELIMINATING THIS PERSONíS VOTE Ė is because they vote IN THE WRONG PRECINCT.

    Sometimes, it canít be helped.

    But, the thought, the mere THOUGHT, that people would be DELIBERATELY DISENFRANCHISED LIKE THIS.

    W-T-F do you mean that the poll workers DONíT HAVE TO TELL PEOPLE WHERE THE RIGHT PRECINCT IS?


    First of all, NOBODY is at those polling places for their health. ERRRRBODY there is COLLECTING A CHECK. So, the tax payers of OHIO, are PAYING people that CAN REFUSE TO POINT THEM IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION SO THAT THEY CAN EXERCISE THEIR RIGHT TO VOTE?


    I will also remind you another reason why this is utter BULLSHYT, and a DELIBERATE ATTEMPT AT VOTER SUPPRESSION:

    We just finished the 2010 Census.

    The REDISTRICTING MAPS, state by state, are being finalized as we speak.

    Let me repeat that.

    THE REDISTRICTING MAPS are being finalized as we speak.

    This means, that entire state maps are being redrawn.

    This means that EVERY DISTRICT, from the State Representative on up, has been looked at.

    Those who do elections, are looking at the maps, street by street. You sit down with maps, and you take a precinct, and you go street by street, and map where the precincts are. Sometimes, the numbers of districts change. Sometimes, the boundaries of districts change. Sometimes, the boundaries and numbers are changed. This is done for EVERY level of political office in a state.

    Now, if you live in podunkville, rural area, the likelihood where all youíve gotten is a number change is about it.

    But, urban areas are something quite different. You can literally have one side of a street voting in one precinct, and another side of the street in a separate precinct.

    On top of this, election departments, like any other enterprise in government, is under the pressure to streamline precincts, meaning that they are under the pressure consolidate more groups of voters into larger precincts, the theory being that they will be more efficient. The bottom line of this, is that you have people, who might have voted for the past 2, 3 elections in the same place, but the Elections Department held off on consolidation, waiting for the 2010 Census numbers to come in, so that they wonít have to do it again for a few elections.

    The place where I used to work for, when I worked for him, had 2800 precincts. Now, they are down to 1900 precincts, and I talked to former colleagues Ė theyíre going to try and cut more with redistricting.

    Thatís a whole lot of people who have seen where they vote MOVE.

    And, if they show up where they USED to vote, in the past elections..

    and not where they NEED TO BE in 2012 Ė THEIR VOTE WILL NOT BE COUNTED.

    It will be discarded.

    And the people standing there, at the polling place Ė DONíT HAVE TO TELL THEM?

    Tell me what this is, if it isnít VOTER SUPPRESSION?

  • Diane Rodriguez on July 07, 2011 10:21 AM:

    Clinton could be really helpful if he would start a national voter registration organization that would inlcude lobbying on such things as an election day holiday every 4 years or establish a standard minimum early voting period. It would be very difficult to "acorn" him.

  • Gretchen on July 07, 2011 1:43 PM:

    I wrote to my state senator here in Kansas about the voter id bill here. She just didn't see the problem - everybody should show id to show they're eligible to vote. She voted for it, and it passed. Diane Rodriguez, I hope the Big Dog hears you.

  • xando foote on July 07, 2011 4:04 PM:

    I haven't seen any effort by the Dems to counter this with educating voters as to specific rules in each state and how they can obtain proper ID. This may have started?

    I assume the most common acceptable document would be a state-issued photo ID, the kind one obtains at a DMV where drivers' licenses are issued? If so, the huge numbers of applicants will certainly delay all teens who are waiting for the right to drive.

    Though they might not all be old enough to vote, I would think that this is an influential and potentially dangerous group for the GOP to annoy in this fashion.

  • Raymond on July 17, 2011 9:20 PM:

    There is a guy Kris Kobach in Kansas who wrote a paper about voter fraud at the Wasington Post and why there was need for new laws. Turns out there were 221 reports, only 7 real convictions, actually I may be a little fuzzy on the details, but look at the pdf file below and then watch Rachel Maddow she had on her show an interesting juxtaposition of the Kris Kobach paper that he showed to prove the rampant voter fraud being perpetrated in the elections. He did not prove his case. Below, at the bottom link, is an article by the guy. The top link is the actual Kansas report on voter fraud. There were 6 cases of double votes, and 1 of electioneering. That's 7 cases out of 221. And there were some iffy alleged offenses, hardly seems worthy of the attention enough to create a new law for.