Voter Suppression Gains in America – Thanks to Republicans

by on September 19, 2011 · 4 comments

in American Empire, Civil Rights, Election


Get your history of voter suppression right here!  GOP rev’s up efforts to make voting more difficult by Americans

Heather Digby Parton / Hullabaloo / September 19, 2011

In the 1964 presidential elections, a young political operative named Bill guarded a largely African-American polling place in South Phoenix, Arizona like a bull mastiff.

Bill was a legal whiz who knew the ins and outs of voting law and insisted that every obscure provision be applied, no matter what. He even made those who spoke accented English interpret parts of the constitution to prove that they understood it. The lines were long, people fought, got tired or had to go to work, and many of them left without voting. It was a notorious episode long remembered in Phoenix political circles.

It turned out that it was part of a Republican Party strategy known as “Operation Eagle Eye”, and “Bill” was future Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist. He was confronted with his intimidation tactics in his confirmation hearings years later, and characterized his behavior as simple arbitration of polling place disputes. In doing so, he set a standard for GOP dishonesty and obfuscation surrounding voting rights that continues to this day.

”]This week, in one of its greatest acts of elective chutzpah yet, Republicans in the state of Pennsylvania set forth a plan to split the state’s electoral votes for president proportionally by congressional district. This is not illegal, or even unprecedented. Two other states have this system. And some people have been arguing for years that the whole country should abolish the Electoral College altogether in order to avoid such undemocratic messes as the 2000 election. Many of them have settled on the idea of all states simultaneously adopting the system of alloting electoral votes proportionally instead of winner-take-all as a sort of compromise.

But that’s not what’s happening here.

Suffice to say that the Republican move in Pennsylvania is not motivated by the idea of a more democratic method of electing presidents. Instead, it’s a cynical maneuver to take advantage of redistricting to ensure that a state Obama will likely win will no longer be in play in the 2012 election. Nobody has ever had the nerve to do that before. Indeed, changing something so fundamental to our federal election system for craven short-term gain would have been unthinkable in the past. Not anymore.

As it happens, there has been pushback from Pennsylvania’s Republican members of congress, and as a result, the plan is unlikely to pass. It turns out that even though the plan might be helpful to the Republican presidential candidate, it could end up hurting Republican congressional candidates, because Democrats would be able to move resources to challenge them in their districts. But it’s notable that the idea that it would be injurious to our democratic system to go about changing the rules to suit the partisan configuration of the moment hasn’t been mentioned. This is all self-serving political expediency. Principles have nothing to do with it.

 Undermining democracy

Voter intimidation and vote suppression had long been a part of Democratic politics in the South, in places where African-Americans had been granted an illusory right to vote. But as the South made its dramatic shift to the Republican Party in the wake of the Civil Rights Act, and as African-American voters in the North then shifted to the Democrats, the Republicans began to dominate the process and thus began the decades-long GOP project to suppress the vote. Along the way it has developed into a full-blown operation to undermine democracy in general, at whatever choke points are available.

According to a comprehensive report by the Center for Voting Rights in 2004, in the wake of Jesse Jackson’s successful mobilization of black voters in the 1980s, the GOP power elite recognized that it could no longer rely on volunteers and crude local efforts, which were running afoul of the Voting Rights Act and ending up in front of judges. So a group of former lawyers in the Reagan administration created the Republican National Lawyers Association, which was characterized at the time as a sort of “Rotary Club for GOP Stalwarts” (and which also happened to provide continuing legal education credits). It became a combination of a professional bar association, a political law firm, an educational institute and an old boy network for Republican lawyers, many of whom concentrated their work for the group specifically on how to use voting laws for their partisan advantage.

They made their bones in the Florida recount in 2000. Here was a situation in which a national group of lawyers steeped in election law could be brought to bear on a situation in which the interpretation of the rules were being written on the fly, and they did their jobs well. The 2000 presidential election marked a new chapter in Republican vote suppression, and signaled a new willingness to subvert the workings of democracy by any means necessary. And it wasn’t surprising that Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist once more put his thumb on the scale. It may be his most enduring legacy.

George Bush being sworn in by Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist. Rehnquist played a key role in Bush's victory in the 2000 election.

What followed during the Bush years was a wholesale abandonment of rules and norms that had been established for decades. In a break with long-standing tradition, House majority whip Tom Delay oversaw a re-gerrymandering of Texas after the 2002 election, which gave the Republicans a greater edge in Congress.

The Bush Department of Justice more or less closed down the civil rights division, which had monitored compliance with the Voting Rights Act. It even concocted an illegal scheme to replace US Attorneys who refused to flout laws and Department of Justice rules against interfering in elections.

The federal courts, which had been packed with GOP judges for decades, began to rule in favor of “Voter ID” laws on the basis of claims of systemic voter fraud for which there was no documented evidence. More states found reasons to deny the vote to people convicted of breaking the law, even after they had paid their debt to society. “ACORN” became a euphemism for inner-city voter fraud.

Little by little, it became more and more difficult to exercise for people of colour, immigrants, the elderly and the poor to exercise their franchise. The resultant red tape and bureaucratic delays have made it more difficult for working people to vote as well. It’s hard to believe that it could get any worse than that, but it has.

Assault on voting rights

It shouldn’t have come as any surprise that the historic election of the first black president, thanks in part to an influx of new voters, would revive the panic Republicans had felt at the prospect of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition successfully mobilizing Democratic voters more than 20 years before. And as before, it resulted in an energized effort to subvert democracy.

 Rolling Stone contributor Ari Berman has documented an assault on voting rights since the 2008 election that makes the previous eight years look like child’s play. Since then, 38 states have introduced legislation designed to make voting more difficult, if not impossible, for American citizens. Berman documents efforts across the country to impede registration, cut short early voting, repeal same-day registration, and more.

Berman reports that this was all centrally coordinated by yet another Republican organization, the American Legislative Exchange Council, funded in large part by billionaire Tea Party activists David and Charles Koch. The piecemeal approach used by anti-abortion activists to make it extremely difficult for women to exercise their right to abortion is now being used by anti-democracy activists to make it extremely difficult for poor people to vote.

In the United States, there has always been tension about the franchise, going all the way back to the beginning of the Republic. Aristocrats were afraid of it for the simple reason that it would mean the government might have to represent and defend people whose interests interfere with their own interests: to maintain their wealth and pass it down to their heirs.

Whenever you give the vote to poor people and others who need government’s protections against the predations of privilege, you are endangering that arrangement – and the privileged fight back. Conservatives are traditionally their soldiers in that battle.

But over time, the United States progressed to the point where people began to believe strongly that every American has a fundamental right to vote (in spite of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s insistence that no such thing exists). Extending the franchise to every American citizen (subject, of course, to the vagaries of residence and criminal status) was one of the great American democratic accomplishments of the 20th century.

Unfortunately, for every two steps forward we apparently must take a step back, and conservatives have been able to leverage racial resentment and a sort of perverted populism to help their wealthy benefactors keep their money.

One certainly hopes for their sake that the GOP grassroots voters never figure out how they’ve been played in this game, or the modern aristocrats may find themselves without anyone left to vote for their interests. Unfortunately, by that time it may be too late for the people. The system may be rigged so thoroughly that even the Tea Partiers will find it hard to cast a vote in protest.

Hubert Humphrey famously said, “It is not enough to merely defend democracy. To defend it may be to lose it; to extend it is to strengthen it. Democracy is not property; it is an idea”. If that is true, it’s an idea that has become nothing but an inconvenient abstraction to the Republican side of the aisle. Extending democracy is beyond our wildest dreams at the moment, as conservatives work overtime to make it harder for average citizens to vote, instead of easier. Defending democracy is the only option we have.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

The Bearded Obecian September 19, 2011 at 4:38 pm

So 38 states have introduced legislation that would make voting impossible? And that benefits Republicans…how?


toto September 19, 2011 at 10:33 pm

A survey of 800 Pennsylvania voters conducted on December 16-17, 2008 showed 78% overall support for a national popular vote for President.
Support was 87% among Democrats, 68% among Republicans, and 76% among independents.
By age, support was 77% among 18-29 year olds, 73% among 30-45 year olds, 81% among 46-65 year olds, and 78% for those older than 65.
By gender, support was 85% among women and 71% among men.

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

Every vote, everywhere­, would be politicall­y relevant and equal in every presidenti­al election. Every vote would be included in the national count. The candidate with the most popular votes in all 50 states would get the 270+ electoral votes from the enacting states. That majority of electoral votes guarantees the candidate with the most popular votes in all 50 states wins the presidency­.

Minority party voters in each state and district would have a voice. Now their votes are counted only for the candidate they did not vote for. Now they don’t matter to their candidate.

Elections wouldn’t be about winning states or districts. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state and district maps. Every vote, everywhere would be counted for and directly assist the candidate for whom it was cast.

The bill has passed 31 state legislativ­e chambers, in 21 small, medium-sma­ll, medium, and large states, including one house in AR, CT, DE, DC, ME, MI, NV, NM, NY, NC, and OR, and both houses in CA, CO, HI, IL, NJ, MD, MA, RI, VT, and WA. The bill has been enacted by DC (3), HI (4), IL (19), NJ (14), MD (11), MA (10), CA (55), VT (3), and WA (13). These 9 jurisdicti­ons possess 132 electoral votes — 49% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.



toto September 19, 2011 at 10:34 pm

Republican legislators seem quite “confused” about the merits of the congressional district method The leadership committee of the Nebraska Republican Party just adopted a resolution requiring all GOP elected officials to favor overturning their congressional district method for awarding electoral votes or lose the party’s support. While in Pennsylvania, Republican legislators are just as strongly arguing that they must change from the winner-take-all method to the congressional district method.

Dividing Pennsylvania’s electoral votes by congressional district would magnify the worst features of the Electoral College system and not reflect the diversity of Pennsylvania.

The district approach would provide less incentive for presidential candidates to campaign in all Pennsylvania districts and would not focus the candidates’ attention to issues of concern to the state as a whole. Candidates would have no reason to campaign in districts where they are comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind.

Due to gerrymandering, in 2008, only 4 Pennsylvania congressional districts were competitive.

In Maine, where they award electoral votes by congressional district, the closely divided 2nd congressional district received campaign events in 2008 (whereas Maine’s 1st reliably Democratic district was ignored).

In Nebraska, which also uses the district method, the 2008 presidential campaigns did not pay the slightest attention to the people of Nebraska’s reliably Republican 1st and 3rd congressional districts because it was a foregone conclusion that McCain would win the most popular votes in both of those districts. The issues relevant to voters of the 2nd district (the Omaha area) mattered, while the (very different) issues relevant to the remaining (mostly rural) 2/3rds of the state were irrelevant.

When votes matter, presidential candidates vigorously solicit those voters. When votes don’t matter, they ignore those areas.

Nationwide, there are only 55 “battleground” districts that are competitive in presidential elections. 88% of the nation’s congressional districts would be ignored if a district-level winner-take-all system were used nationally.

If the district approach were used nationally, it would be less fair and less accurately reflect the will of the people than the current system. In 2004, Bush won 50.7% of the popular vote, but 59% of the districts. Although Bush lost the national popular vote in 2000, he won 55% of the country’s congressional districts.

Awarding electoral votes by congressional district could result in third party candidates winning electoral votes that would deny either major party candidate the necessary majority vote of electors and throw the process into Congress to decide.

Because there are generally more close votes on district levels than states as whole, district elections increase the opportunity for error. The larger the voting base, the less opportunity there is for an especially close vote.

Also, a second-place candidate could still win the White House without winning the national popular vote.

A national popular vote is the way to make every person’s vote equal and guarantee that the candidate who gets the most votes in all 50 states becomes President.


toto September 19, 2011 at 10:34 pm

Any state that enacts the proportional approach on its own would reduce its own influence. This was the most telling argument that caused Colorado voters to agree with Republican Governor Owens and to reject this proposal in November 2004 by a two-to-one margin.

If the proportional approach were implemented by a state, on its own,, it would have to allocate its electoral votes in whole numbers. If a current battleground state were to change its winner-take-all statute to a proportional method for awarding electoral votes, presidential candidates would pay less attention to that state because only one electoral vote would probably be at stake in the state.

The proportional method also could result in third party candidates winning electoral votes that would deny either major party candidate the necessary majority vote of electors and throw the process into Congress to decide.

If the whole-number proportional approach had been in use throughout the country in the nation’s closest recent presidential election (2000), it would not have awarded the most electoral votes to the candidate receiving the most popular votes nationwide. Instead, the result would have been a tie of 269–269 in the electoral vote, even though Al Gore led by 537,179 popular votes across the nation. The presidential election would have been thrown into Congress to decide and resulted in the election of the second-place candidate in terms of the national popular vote.

A system in which electoral votes are divided proportionally by state would not accurately reflect the nationwide popular vote and would not make every vote equal.

It would penalize states, such as Montana, that have only one U.S. Representative even though it has almost three times more population than other small states with one congressman. It would penalize fast-growing states that do not receive any increase in their number of electoral votes until after the next federal census. It would penalize states with high voter turnout (e.g., Utah, Oregon).

Moreover, the fractional proportional allocation approach does not assure election of the winner of the nationwide popular vote. In 2000, for example, it would have resulted in the election of the second-place candidate.

A national popular vote is the way to make every person’s vote equal and guarantee that the candidate who gets the most votes in all 50 states becomes President.


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