Political Animal


October 03, 2011 2:00 PM Quantifying the War on Voting

By Steve Benen

One of the more important political scandals of the year — a story that’s likely to have a major impact on the outcome of the 2012 race — generally goes overlooked by the larger mainstream discussion. That’s a problem.

The issue is what Ari Berman recently labeled the Republican Party’s “War on Voting.” As part of the national effort, GOP officials “have launched an unprecedented, centrally coordinated campaign to suppress the elements of the Democratic vote” in 2012.

The campaign isn’t exactly subtle. 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, all targeting specific kinds of voters who happen to be traditional Democratic supporters.

The GOP fears losing in a fair fight, so the party is trying to rig the game through voter suppression, plain and simple. As former President Bill Clinton recently put it, “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.”

But what kind of numbers are we talking about? How much damage could this initiative really do? A new comprehensive Brennan Center study said Republican measures may ultimately make it “significantly harder” for more than 5 million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.

“These voting law changes are radical and completely unnecessary. They especially hurt those who have been historically locked out of our electoral system, like minorities, poor people, and students. Often they seem precisely targeted to exclude certain voters,” said Wendy. R. Weiser, report co-author and Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center. “After the Florida election fiasco in 2000, it became clear that the rules of election administration could affect outcomes. This time, those rules are being altered in a way that will likely hurt millions.”

“Significantly, these voting law cutbacks extend well beyond the most visible and controversial step to require government-issued photo ID that many citizens don’t have,” said report co-author Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Democracy Program and former Chair of the Ohio Secretary of State’s bipartisan Election Summit and Conference. “An array of technical moves can add to significant barriers to the ballot. And it comes at a time when experience has taught us there are many ways to improve the voting process and expand access to the franchise while reducing costs.”

All told, the states that have already cut back on voting rights will provide 171 electoral votes next year.

Digby recently said, “Democrats had better hope that the coming elections aren’t close. If they are, there’s just no way they can win with these laws that are coming on line. And that’s the plan.”

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.


  • bkny on October 03, 2011 2:04 PM:

    and with dick durbin overseeing senate hearings, you can bet this issue is going to quietly go away....

  • Ron Byers on October 03, 2011 2:10 PM:

    Under reported by the MSM. Hummm. I guess the wall to wall coverage of Amanda Knox case is more important than the loss of American democracy.

  • blondie on October 03, 2011 2:16 PM:

    One way to fight these pernicious, wicked schemes is to make GOTV a much bigger process that starts months earlier, helping potentially disenfranchised voters do such things as get photo IDs, encouraging students to register early to vote (which will help identify states and localities trying to put roadblocks in the way), undertaking voter education programs that explain the hurdles and what voters must do to overcome them, to name a few.

  • T2 on October 03, 2011 2:18 PM:

    if you can't win on merit or policy, you cheat....it's the GOP way.

  • c u n d gulag on October 03, 2011 2:19 PM:

    Republican Voting Rights:
    Over 21 - preferrably over 51
    Land/home Owner

  • emjayay on October 03, 2011 2:34 PM:

    Isn't all this the sort of thing that should be somehow in state and federal courts? Aren't these new restrictions most likely unconstitutional at the state and/or federal level? Isn't there a lot of prescedent out there about literacy tests and poll taxes and redistricting etc? How does that work?

    The last two captchas included early American or old German type. Wasn't sure if those f's were really s's or what. Isn't including symbols not on anyone's keyboard going a little too far?

  • Peter C on October 03, 2011 2:39 PM:

    The anti-voting campaign makes it more difficult for people who've moved from a different state, too. I recently moved to Texas, but to get the drivers licence I need to vote, I need to provide not only my New Jersey drivers licence AND a passport (or birth certificate) AND a social security card. When I walked in with only my New Jersey drivers licence and my passport, I was sent home. Meanwhile, the office is only open Monday through Friday during working hours. So, in order to vote I'll have to take ANOTHER vacation day, all because a I didn't bring a paper card with only my name and a number on it.

  • June on October 03, 2011 2:41 PM:

    "War on (fill in the blank)" doesn't have much oomph. We need to start coming right out and call it what it is - in this case, election tampering and suppression of civil rights. A headline I'd like to see: "Republican Governors Engaging in Election Tampering and Voter Suppression." Instead, no doubt we'll just see a tepid, "Democrats Accuse Republicans of a "War on Voting".

  • ManOutOfTime on October 03, 2011 2:41 PM:

    Where have you gone, Jimmy Carter? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

  • Ohioan49 on October 03, 2011 2:42 PM:

    Small piece of good news: the petition drive to collect enough signatures to put Ohio H.B. 194 (the legislation restricting early voting) on the ballot seems to have been successful. The Secretary of State ruled that vetting the signatures be put off until after this year's election, which means (unless something changes in the meantime, which is always possible) the measure will be on the ballot in 2012, and the 2012 election will be conducted under current rules.

  • Emerald on October 03, 2011 2:42 PM:

    Republicans have to do this to stay in power in all but the reddest of states and districts. The demographics are against them. In 20 years, whites will be a minority in this country. Ergo, Republicans have to make sure that they control "democracy."

    The winner in 2012 is going to get at least two Supreme Court nominations. If the Republicans win, be sure that their brand new Supreme Court will, at a minimum, declare the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional (probably it will be a states' rights issue). They will further restrict voting rights until Karl Rove's dream of a permanent Republican majority has been achieved.

    Think not? They've already appointed a whole president and got away with it. They passed Citizens United and got away with it. They're restricting voting rights in their states and are getting away with it right now.

    Blondie is right: we can fight it. And we'd better. This is the crucial election, coming up right now.

  • rikyrah on October 03, 2011 2:47 PM:

    Rachel Maddow and yes, Rev. Al, have been two folks that have consistently been bringing up the War on Voting on their programs. TPM and ThinkProgress have done a good job too.

    it's all about getting the IDs into the hands of those who need them.

    OFA where are YOU on this issue?

  • MCD on October 03, 2011 2:49 PM:

    “voter fraud” — a problem that appears to exist largely in the over-active imaginations of GOP activists

    Don't water it down: "voter fraud" - a problem that exists solely in the over-active imaginations of GOP activists

  • toowearyforoutrage on October 03, 2011 2:49 PM:

    Two thoughts:

    I'm currently lobbying my delegate to require voter rolls to include photos downloaded directly from the DMV. How much harder is it to hack the DMV than fake a driver's license? My state will simultaneously fight "voter fraud" harder than all the pretender states and at the same time remove the need for disenfranchised voters from getting an ID they must bring with them.
    Provisional ballots can be cast in case of a mismatch and digital photos can be taken at the voting site periodically.

    There is a serious drawback to the GOP strategy:
    Politicians chase voters. If you eliminate liberals from the voter rolls, the Democrats chase the most moderate Republicans however conservative they may be, assuming the base will tolerate a less progressive party.

    Democrats will never be far from the 50% mark and that mass of humanity left behind by modern day poll tests and taxes await restoration of rights.
    Should a breaking point deliver sizable majorities to the Dems, they can ban the conservative fixes and produce HUGE majorities and the pendulum will sweep back to the left to a degree producing what to their mind will be a moral and fiscal apocalypse.

    I don't see how it can work out any other way. It's going to be harder and harder to skew the game to include fewer and fewer and increasingly conservative voters. It's not sustainable.

  • square1 on October 03, 2011 2:54 PM:

    Can you have a war if only one side is fighting?

    Democrats are a joke. They even complied with GOP demands to defund ACORN. At best, Democrats will occasionally make half-hearted efforts to block Republican efforts.

    What is totally lacking is any indication that voter turnout (or election integrity) is a major priority for the Democratic party. There is no major push by the party for, say, making election day a national holiday. There is no effort by the party to mandate a verified ballot paper trail.

    The Democratic strategy is purely defensive: hire a bunch of lawyers and then show up on election day and play whack-a-mole against GOP attempts to hijack elections.

  • Ohiobean on October 03, 2011 3:01 PM:

    @ Rikyrah, if it is succesful (i.e., if all the numbers are in and valid per the county BOEs), Ohio's H.B. 194 will be on the ballot in 2012 for repealed and therefore in abeyance for the presidential election. OFA was absolutely instrumental in this process. That means Obama put resources behind this. I should know, I stood in front of the West Side market, in community meals, in front of libraries and courthouses, the list goes on, for a couple months. This is what GOP consolidation of power looks like. This is what happens when Dems don't vote.

  • Michael on October 03, 2011 3:06 PM:

    There is NO overactive imaginations in the minds of the republicans promoting this, merely in the minds of the fox altered alternate reality lowered IQ's who will be doing the voting.Foxes ratings, plus the disenfranchised voters can make this a very dubious outcome.

  • kanopsis on October 03, 2011 3:16 PM:

    Where is all the tea party/republican't outrage about government id cards? Where is all the tea party/republican't outrage about government monitoring it's citizens? Where is all the tea party/republican't outrage about this being one step away from moving people into government work camps?

    I would be willing to bet that if this were a Democratic initiative we would be hearing all this and more. LOUDLY and incessantly. We should play by the current rules and decorum be damned. It's time to take off the gloves.

  • jjm on October 03, 2011 3:23 PM:

    Well, with Jill Abramson as new editor of the NYT it was in this morning's paper--I was amazed.

    It was also in the San Francisco Chronicle, which is actually now a Hearst paper and therefore pretty conservative editorially.

    So it's not being entirely ignored by the msm.

  • square1 on October 03, 2011 3:24 PM:

    This is what happens when Dems don't vote.

    Um, no.

    Dems don't vote when they voted (in 2006 & 2008) to give their party the White House and both houses of Congress, and their party did nothing to protect voters.

    When Dem voters conclude that their party doesn't give a damn then the voters don't bother to show up at election time.

  • June on October 03, 2011 3:36 PM:

    @Ohioan49 -- thanks for that "bit" of good news - excellent.

  • blondie on October 03, 2011 3:49 PM:

    @K. Dennis and GFNC: A state DMV employee was FIRED in Wisconsin for sending an email to his coworkers to remind them that citizens could get a photo ID for free, for purposes of voting.

    And since I'm sure you won't take my word for it, here's the link: http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/news/129469023.html

    And BTW, Denny, the purpose of all these changes is not to out-and-out deny voting rights, it is to RAISE OBSTACLES to make it more difficult to vote. More subtle, and much more pernicious.

  • blondie on October 03, 2011 4:01 PM:

    And not to hog electrons on this post, but @Chris Reynolds, you must be f'ing joking.

    For instance, minority populations (of any age) tend to be concentrated in more urban settings, where mass transit is available. Whether because of income limitations or sheer hassle of parking, they tend to have fewer cars (and if it's a one-car family, you can be sure Mom and/or Dad use it to get to work).

    According to the website Useless Facts, one in four people in the U.S. have never flown on an airplane (http://www.angelfire.com/ca6/uselessfacts/survey/001.html). So I guess they've never had to wrestle with TSA's photo ID requirements.

    And while the number of people who do or don't have a passport varies widely from state to state (http://blog.cgpgrey.com/how-many-americans-have-a-passport-the-percentages-state-by-state/), in 33 states it's less than half the population.

  • President Lindsay on October 03, 2011 4:02 PM:

    Even if Obama manages to win, these suppression efforts can lead to right-wing congressmen getting elected who would otherwise lose, and potentially keep the House and/or Senate in Republican control, in which case we'd be looking at more years of gridlock. It's not all about the presidency. This is critically important. Why isn't the Justice Dept. going after this as a violation of voting rights laws?

  • Greenbeans on October 03, 2011 4:15 PM:

    How is this any different from our Secretary of State project? I'm not saying I like the repubs but . . .

  • Just Someguy on October 03, 2011 4:20 PM:

    And yet if national ID cards were mandated, the fake libertarian wing of the repubs would howl about big bruther guvmint.

  • square1 on October 03, 2011 4:20 PM:

    The voter fraud issue is, like the Obama-born-in-Kenya myth, on of those GOP conspiracies that simply makes no sense.

    Forget about the morality or legality surrounding voter fraud. It is simply and completely impractical. If I was a candidate and I was determined to employ any means necessary to win the last thing that I would do would be to attempt to get supporters to register in multiple districts and then go around on election day and vote all over the place.

    Common sense says that this would never work. Just think about it. It is next to impossible to convince people to vote for a candidate just once. You want people to jump through the procedural hoops necessary to pull this off? Who is going to do it? Only the most die-hard supporters and/or the massively bribed would even consider it. And to do it on a scale that would swing even the smallest elections would require the involvement of thousands of people. And none of them ever talk?

    Plus, if you tried to bribe people, how would you enforce it. Okay, you paid someone to vote for you 4 times, even if you could confirm that they went to 4 polling stations, who can say that they voted for you?

    The fact that Republicans actually worry about a problem that is completely imaginary really tells you how deep-rooted their pathologies lie.

    [You get the final word on this subject. A link from a right-wing website brought the trolls out of the woodwork, leading to a wholesale deletion of comments and turning off comments on this thread. --Mods]