New York Review of Books: Voting Wrongs

-By Elizabeth Drew

September 21, 2012- The Republicans’ plan is that if they can’t buy the 2012 election they will steal it.

The plan, long in the making and now well into its execution, is to raise great gobs of money—in newly limitless amounts—so that they and their allies could outspend the president’s forces; and they would also place obstacles in the way of large swaths of citizens who traditionally support the Democrats and want to exercise their right to vote. The plan would disproportionately affect blacks, who were guaranteed the right to vote in 1870 by the Fifteenth Amendment; but then that right was negated by southern state legislatures; and after people marched, were beaten, and died in the civil rights movement, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Now various state legislatures are coming up with new ways to try once again to nullify that right.

In a close election, the Republican plan could call into question the legitimacy of the next president. An election conducted on this basis could lead to turbulence on election day and possibly an extended period of lawsuits contesting the outcome in various states. Bush v. Gore would seem to have been a pleasant summer afternoon. The fact that their party’s nominee is currently stumbling about, his candidacy widely deemed to be in crisis mode, hasn’t lessened their determination to prevent as many Democratic supporters as they can from voting in November.

This national effort to tilt the 2012 election is being carried out on the pretext that the country’s voting system is under threat from widespread “voter fraud.” the fact that no significant fraud has been found doesn’t deter the people pursuing this plan. Myths are convenient in politics. Want to fix an election? No problem. Just make up a story that the other side is trying to rig the election—and meanwhile try to rig the election. (Jon Stewart recently concluded a searing segment about the imagined voter fraud by saying: “Next, leashes for unicorns.”)

The Republicans have been making particularly strenuous efforts to tilt the outcomes—in most of the “swing states”: Florida, Ohio, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin. The Republican leader of the House in Pennsylvania, previously considered a swing state, was careless enough to admit publicly that the state’s strict new Voter ID law would assure a Romney victory in November. In fact a state document submitted in court offered no evidence of voter fraud. On September 18, Pennsylvania’s supreme court sharply rebuked a lower court’s approval of the law, questioning whether the law could be fairly applied by the time of the election. This battle continues despite the fact that the Romney campaign in mid-September suspended its efforts in Pennsylvania because polls show that Obama was substantially ahead. Even if the state’s electoral votes are not in question the outcome could still decide whether a great many people will be allowed to vote in November, and could also affect the popular vote.

Eight states have already passed Voter ID laws—requiring a state-approved document with a photograph in order to register or vote, a form of identification that an estimated 11 percent or over 21 million of American citizens do not possess. But these laws are just part of an array of restrictions adopted to keep Democrats from voting. Some use other means to make registration difficult, or put strict limits on the number of days before the election that votes can be cast , or cut back the hours that polling places can stay open.

In the aftermath of the 2004 election, which was characterized in Ohio by lines at voting places in black districts so long as to discourage voters, Ohio Democratic officials made voting times more flexible; after the Republicans took over the state they set out to reverse that.

Iowa, Florida, and Colorado tried to purge the voting rolls of suspected unqualified voters, but their lists turned out to be wildly inaccurate. Florida officials compiled a list of 180,000 people whose qualifications were questioned, but after voting registrars checked (some protesting the unfairness of the purge) only 207, or .0002 percent of the state’s registered voters, were found to be unqualified to vote. Nearly sixty percent of the 180,000 names had Hispanic surnames, another 14 percent were blacks. Officials said that whites or republicans were unlikely to be on the list.
 



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