Thursday, October 18, 2012

Political dirty-trick: disenfranchisement of legitimate voters of opposing party

In one of the Lean Forward series of public service messages, Christopher Hayes (political commentator and host of 'Up with Chris Hayes' on MSNBC) says earnestly, "The attempt to disenfranchise voters is a desecration of everything our country stands for. Can you participate in your political system? That is the defining feature of the country since its inception. It's the defining feature of the moments that we now view with the greatest pride. And there is something... profane about stopping people from exercising that right."
And yet, the political machine of the conservative, Right-Wing GOP-Tea Party nexus of the United States, with the November elections nigh upon us, is engaged in doing exactly the same thing, particularly in the swing states. Unabashedly. Without a shred of shame or decency. Here are a few glaring examples.
  1. Florida has a bad rep related to a history of voter suppression, unfortunately. And now, again this election season, under its Republican Governor Rick Scott, the Sunshine State has engaged in purging of voter rolls in the state, a move that is ostensibly to prevent non-citizens from voting, but in reality, targets disproportionately minorities (Black and Hispanic Americans), the young and other voting blocs with a history of voting Democratic. This effort is currently facing inquiries from the Justice Department and pressure from various civil rights groups such as NAACP and ACLU. In a twist to the tale, the voter purge was corroborated by the former Florida Republican Party chairman Jim Greer, a disgraced politician, in a deposition.
  2. Florida, along with five other states, also created barriers to new voter registration efforts by certain voting rights groups, passing temporal strictures and requiring compliance with a host of tedious, bureaucratic procedures. (In response to a lawsuit brought by three voter-registration organizations, League of Women Voters of Florida, the Florida Public Interest Research Group and Rock the Vote, a Federal District Judge, Robert Hinkle, has placed a preliminary injunction upon the new Florida Voter Registration law, stating that it imposes "a harsh and impractical" metric for voter registration organizations.)
  3. Early voting, a convenient system in which voters are allowed to cast their ballots days ahead of the actual Election Day, has been a popular and successful measure to ensure smaller lines and shorter wait times on Election Day, and to boost voter turnout overall. In Florida and Ohio, efforts by the GOP are on to reduce and restrict the number of early voting days, as a means to make it harder for people to vote (In Ohio, the Supreme Court has since nullified the restrictions).
  4. Florida's Republican lawmakers have outlawed voting on Sunday, an African-American tradition, a move that is seen as a "a brazen attempt to steal this fall's election."
  5. Intentional, politically motivated and widespread efforts - by a Texas Tea Party vote-challenge group True the Vote - made across multiple states, to challenge voter registrations by the thousands without any legitimate basis, which according to Congressman Elijah Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, "...could amount to a criminal conspiracy to deny legitimate voters their constitutional rights." He has called for an investigation into the group.
  6. True the Vote would also try its hand at voter intimidation in Tennessee.
  7. Arizona's largest county (Maricopa county; yes, that Maricopa county, of Sheriff Joe Arpaio fame) listed wrong date for the election on voter ID cards (but just in Spanish) - possibly hoping to mislead the Spanish-speaking voting population, preventing them from taking part in the electoral process on the appointed day.
  8. Pennsylvania Voter ID law (requiring each voter to show a valid photo ID, a condition that is designed to make it harder to vote for the historically Democrat-leaning group of voters, namely, the elderly, minorities, the poor and college students), which was penned and passed by Republicans ostensibly to correct a problem (in person voter fraud, that is nonexistent in PA), but which, in reality, was approved to "...allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania", according to a GOP staffer.
  9. Kansas Secretary of State, Republican Kris Kobach (a former top adviser in the Bush Justice Department and rising GOP star, not to mention, a 'birther') successfully defended a law requiring Kansan voters to display proof of citizenship prior to voting. Ari Berman has aptly referred to this as GOP War on Voting in a piece in the Rolling Stone Magazine, given the resounding lack of evidence for voter fraud in Kansas (the state has prosecuted only one case of voter fraud in the past five years).
  10. Pennsylvania and Kansas are not alone; according to the Brennan Center for Justice, since January 2011, 13 states have passed more restrictive laws regarding government-issued photo ID requirements for voting, which would significantly impact the Presidential elections. Says the Brennan Center, "The states — Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, and West Virginia — make up 189 electoral votes, or 70 percent of the 270 needed to win the presidency."
  11. Wisconsin GOP went after young voters in the state, about 242,000 students, with a move calculated to ensure that they may lack the documentation required to vote: according to the new mandate, students can only vote if their IDs meet strict requirements of having a current address, birth date, signature and two-year expiration date – requirements that no college or university ID in the state currently meets.
  12. County DMVs in various states have featured prominently in the wrangling over voter ID. Full-time, working DMVs can help voters obtain the proper documentation. However, the barriers are many; roughly half of all black and Hispanic residents in Wisconsin do not have a driver's license; number of DMVs in Wisconsin is small, and a quarter of those are open for less than one day per month. To top it all, Governor Scott Walker tried to shut down 16 more DMVs – many of them located in Democratic-leaning areas - talk about nasty tricks!
  13. A fallout from South Carolina's voter ID law is the hardship imposed on elderly Black American voters. In order to get the voter ID (which is free), about 178,000 South Carolinians would have to pay for a passport or a birth certificate, which means that elderly Black residents – born at home in the segregated South, having, therefore, no birth certificate – would be forced to visit family courts to prove their identities. However, as a result of a lawsuit in which the Justice Department was a party, the enforcement of  the voter ID law (which, a judge acknowledged, would have discriminatory effects and impose material burdens on Black American voters) has been pushed back to 2013, and South Carolina, for now, has agreed to allow voters without Photo ID to vote with an affidavit.
  14. In New Mexico, Republican Secretary of State, Dianna Duran, sent out mailers to registered voters asking for address confirmation, ostensibly to clean up the voter rolls, but containing, in reality, confusing language that may end up disenfranchising a lot of voters.
  15. Some African American, Spanish-speaking and elderly voters in Florida and Virginia are apparently being targeted by anonymous voter-suppression groups via deceptive phone calls, trying to trick them or intimidate them into not voting in November.
These voter suppression efforts by the GOP/Tea Party may have already started yielding rich dividends. According to a new analysis in Florida, Democratic voter registration in that State has taken a significant hit in 2012. At the same time, legal challenges to these voter suppression attempts have also surged, and in a number of states, the Courts have blocked the restrictive GOP-sponsored laws. Ari Berman has a nice graphic-enhanced report on this in The Nation magazine.

And amidst all this - oh, the sweet, sweet irony! - one legitimate case of electoral malpractice, i.e. voter fraud, and that is committed by a company in the employ of the Republican National Committee.

UPDATE: MSNBC has provided a few more ongoing examples of serious voter suppression, via intimidating and misleading billboards and commercials displayed prominently in the poorer and minority-inhabited areas of cities of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin. These commercials are asking people to show their ID in order to vote, even after the court order had made it clear that such an ID is not required. The billboards are putting out ominous messages about felony voter fraud, which can clearly discourage certain voter subsets from coming forward and voting. This is what Rachel Maddow and Reverend Al Sharpton have both referred to as Voter Suppression by Voter Confusion, and it's going on with impunity. Both these savvy political commentators have indicated that this is even more reason for voters to exercise their electoral rights with alacrity.

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