Friday, December 02, 2011

Winning By Hook Or By Crook

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Following the 2000 presidential election, "won" by Governor George W. Bush on the strength of a 537 vote (out of 5.9 million cast) margin in the State of Florida, the United States Commission on Civil Rights conducted an investigation of voting irregularities in Governor Jeb Bush's Sunshine State. The Commission found "The most dramatic undercount in the Florida election was the uncast ballots of countless eligible voters who were wrongfully turned away from the polls. Statistical data, reinforced by credible anecdotal evidence, point to the widespread denial of voting rights" (while) " the disenfranchisement of Florida’s voters fell most harshly on the shoulders of black voters."

The Commission noted "poorly designed efforts to eliminate fraud, as well as sloppy and irresponsible implementation of those efforts, disenfranchise legitimate voters and can be a violation of the VRA. Florida’s overzealous efforts to purge voters from the rolls, conducted under the guise of an anti-fraud campaign, resulted in the inexcusable and patently unjust removal of disproportionate numbers of African American voters from Florida’s voter registration rolls for the November 2000 election."

Observing "African American voters were placed on purge lists more often and more erroneously than Hispanic or white voters," the Commission found that the abridgment of voting rights was a result not merely of incompetence, inefficiency, or neglect and found

This overall lack of leadership in protecting voting rights was largely responsible for the broad array of problems in Florida during the 2000 election. Furthermore, state officials ignored the pleas of some supervisors of elections for guidance and help. Especially at the highest levels, officials must take responsibility for leading on matters for which they have authority and, to the extent they do not have sole authority, to take the initiative for working with other key officials.... This was not a responsibility that officials were willing to accept during the 2000 election.

Writing in Rolling Stone in late August, Ari Berman explained

In a systematic campaign orchestrated by the American Legislative Exchange Council – and funded in part by David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers who bankrolled the Tea Party – 38 states introduced legislation this year designed to impede voters at every step of the electoral process.

All told, a dozen states have approved new obstacles to voting. Kansas and Alabama now require would-be voters to provide proof of citizenship before registering. Florida and Texas made it harder for groups like the League of Women Voters to register new voters. Maine repealed Election Day voter registration, which had been on the books since 1973. Five states – Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia – cut short their early voting periods. Florida and Iowa barred all ex-felons from the polls, disenfranchising thousands of previously eligible voters. And six states controlled by Republican governors and legislatures – Alabama, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin – will require voters to produce a government-issued ID before casting ballots. More than 10 percent of U.S. citizens lack such identification, and the numbers are even higher among constituencies that traditionally lean Democratic – including 18 percent of young voters and 25 percent of African-Americans.

Voter suppression is a solution in search of a problem. While Rush Limbaugh and other Republican leaders stoke the fears of the faithful over alleged voter fraud

A major probe by the Justice Department between 2002 and 2007 failed to prosecute a single person for going to the polls and impersonating an eligible voter, which the anti-fraud laws are supposedly designed to stop. Out of the 300 million votes cast in that period, federal prosecutors convicted only 86 people for voter fraud – and many of the cases involved immigrants and former felons who were simply unaware of their ineligibility. A much-hyped investigation in Wisconsin, meanwhile, led to the prosecution of only .0007 percent of the local electorate for alleged voter fraud.

The centrist, pragmatic politics of the Obama Administration notwithstanding, the GOP assault on the right to vote belies the meme of the mainstream media that they're all the same: Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, at each other's throats, coarsening public discourse and obstructing high-minded independents and moderates from solving all the nation's woes. Digby observes

This long term Republican project is a slow, inexorable erosion of the voting franchise, making it as difficult as possible for people of color, the elderly and the young to vote.It is an assault on the democratic process itself, the fundamental method by which we choose our representatives. Now, it's true that we often choose unwisely and that the people are often duped into thinking that their representatives are one thing when they are another. But it's the only method we have for democratic government so if you want to change things, this is one function that must be protected.

Both parties are woefully corrupt and inept, but only one of them is engaged in systematic vote suppression. It doesn't make the other side heroes, but it does show one important distinction between the two.

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