Purging the vote
GOP working hard to keep minorities, youth away from the voting booth
By Earl Ofari Hutchinson 06/07/2012
A defiant Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott essentially told the US Justice Department where it could go when it demanded Florida stop its loudly trumpeted campaign to purge the names of tens of thousands of people it claims aren’t eligible to vote. Despite Scott’s bellicose rant against the Justice Department mandate, election officials in all Florida counties have halted the purge effort, at least for now. GOP state officials almost certainly will try to figure out a way around the order to halt the voter purge. There is, of course, absolutely no proof there’s any widespread voting fraud, and that the overwhelming majority of those whom Florida voting officials are calling suspect are black and Hispanic voters who, in many cases, have taken painstaking steps to prove their citizenship.
Florida officials’ claim of massive potential voter fraud looked even more suspect when Miami-Dade County election officials sent out more than 1,500 warning letters only to find a grand total of 13 people who admitted they were not citizens. Out of that gargantuan number, they found that an even more stunning total of only two non-citizens said they had cast votes in the 1996, 2000 and 2004 elections. The underwhelming instances of fraud uncovered in Florida were no aberrations. Studies that examined alleged voter fraud in Ohio and Wisconsin in the 2002 and 2004 elections found only a handful of actually fraudulent cases. More than 9 million votes were cast in the two states in both elections.
But the GOP’s bogus war on voter fraud is not about insuring clean and fair elections, nabbing vote fraud lawbreakers or upholding constitutional precepts. It’s about winning elections on the cheap. It can only do that by tipping the vote number balance toward having more likely GOP voters and fewer likely Democratic voters. It’s hardly coincidence that the majority of those targeted for voter purges are black and Hispanic. And it’s even less of coincidence that other bogus vote purge campaigns are zeroed in on the key battleground states of Ohio, Wisconsin, Colorado and New Mexico, where election officials are mounting similar purge campaigns.
The GOP re-learned a lesson from the 2000, 2004 and 2008 presidential elections — that numbers do count in close elections. And in the must-win states that determine who wins or loses the race to the White House, the smallest reduction in the number of Democratic voters can have a huge impact in determining the outcome of a close race. The numbers equation worked for the GOP in 2000 and 2004, and it worked against it in 2008, when Ohio, Colorado Wisconsin and Florida switched party hands to the Democrats and did much to put President Obama in the White House. The GOP got a generous helping hand from the Supreme Court, which upheld Indiana’s stringent photo ID requirement then swung its voter fraud campaign into high gear.
The campaign includes making sure there is an absence of polling places in minority neighborhoods, ballot and vote machine irregularities, using lists of foreclosed homes to challenge voter’s residences, rigid time lines for filing voter applications, a lack of information, misinformation or deliberate disinformation about voter registration forms and materials and eliminating weekend voting, or sharply narrowing down the hours when polling places are open. Estimates put the number at more than 20 million possibly eligible voters who could be affected if the new requirements are fully enforced.
Obama also got a huge election shot in the arm from students and other youthful voters in 2008. To counter that, a number of states now prohibit the use of student IDs as proof of voter eligibility. In Wisconsin, students now must have a new student ID with a two-year expiration date to be eligible. In Virginia, the Republican-controlled State Board of Elections proposed further tightening rules that make it easier for election officials to disqualify absentee ballots for even the most trivial mistakes, such as a misspelling on a signature.
GOP officials have not totally scrapped the old tried and true methods of voter suppression. They include: district gerrymandering, tightening felon bans, skimping on the number of polling places and machines in mostly black and Latino neighborhoods, stationing police at the polls and challenging citizenship papers where they can get away with it. There is even some GOP congressional talk about attempting to scrap the 1965 Voting Rights Act entirely or reduce it to a toothless measure long before its 25-year renewal expiration date in 2032.
The GOP’s bogus war on alleged voter fraud has been a stunning PR success in that it has convinced legions of Americans that massive numbers of mostly blacks and Hispanics, with the connivance of Democrats, are knowingly breaking the law to vote against the GOP. When in reality it’s just the opposite. The Democrats have screamed foul at these thinly disguised suppression ploys and have mounted court and Justice Department challenges. Once again, the 2012 presidential election hangs in the balance in the fight against the GOP scheme.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author, political analyst and MSNBC commentator. He is weekly co-host of “The Al Sharpton Show” on American Urban Radio Network and the author of “How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge.” He is also an associate editor of New America Media and the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK’s Pacifica Radio Los Angeles streamed on kpfk.org.