Thursday, November 06, 2008

It's not like they didn't try

We all wondered about it didn't we? Would purged voter lists, easily hacked electronic voting machines, vote caging, phony fraud claims and outright intimidation of voters steal another election?

In the end Obama's win was too substantial to be stopped and the Republican vote suppression strategy was as disorganized and dysfunctional as every other part of their approach to this election.
  • In Indiana, for instance, a Superior Court judge declined to support a GOP bid to shut down early voting centers in Democratic-leaning cities in Lake County, and the state Supreme Court chose not to immediately intervene.
  • In Wisconsin, a suit brought by Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen -- which he later admitted had been requested by the Republican Party -- seeking to force the state election board to re-confirm all newly registered voters was thrown out by a county court.
  • In Michigan, a federal appeals court today blocked the Republican secretary of state, Terri Lynn Land, from throwing 5,500 newly registered voters off the rolls because their registration cards were returned as undeliverable, after voting-rights groups sued.

In other states, Democratic state officials or voting-rights advocates have held the line:

  • In Nevada, Secretary of State Ross Miller denied a request from the state GOP to require voters to cast provisional ballots if they fixed mistakes in their voting information at the polls.
  • In Colorado, a bid by Republican Secretary of State Mike Coffman -- who himself is running for a seat in the U.S. House -- to purge 14,000 voters from the rolls was only partially successful. After voting-rights groups sued, a settlement was reached yesterday allowing the voters to cast provisional ballots. According to the Rocky Mountain News, those ballots would "be presumed to be valid unless state and county officials prove otherwise." A lawyer for the voting-rights groups called the deal "a win-win."

In still other places, it's been a combination of both factors:

  • In Ohio -- perhaps the most high-profile example of voter-suppression this cycle -- the state GOP sued to force Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner to provide local election officials with the names of new voters whose registration information didn't match other government documents. Brunner resisted, arguing, it appears correctly, that the information would be used to challenge large numbers of voters and cause chaos at the polls. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately sided with Brunner. (The Department of Justice deserves some of the credit here, too, for declining a request by the White House to intervene.)

And in some states, the Republicans appear to have done themselves in through the sheer chutzpah of their behavior, and the resulting outcry:

  • In Montana, the state GOP announced plans to challenge 6000 voters in predominantly Democratic counties, based on discrepancies between in their listed addresses. But after even Republicans in the state denounced the ploy, the party backed off, and its executive director resigned.
  • In New Mexico, the state party held a press conference at which it released the names, and some personal information, of ten voters, almost all Hispanic, that it said had voted fraudulently in a Democratic primary in June. It was later established that they were all legitimate voters. The U.S. Department of Justice is now investigating reports by TPMmuckraker and others that a lawyer attached to the party sent a private investigator to the homes of some of these voters to question them about their voting status -- potentially violating federal voting laws.
In many ways the battle against Republican voter suppression in this election cycle was won two years ago. State governments run the elections and Democrats won a majority of statehouses in 2006 - including Ohio where the last Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell seemed determined to deliver victory to his own party by reducing the poor and minority vote any way he could. His replacement Democrat Jennifer Brunner saw off multiple attempts by the Republican Party to drive down the vote.

Additionally the Republicans were hamstrung by the associations their various voter suppression strategies had to the U.S. Attorneys firing scandal - which was all about the White House trying to purge the Justice Department of any employees who pointed out that voter fraud was essentially non-existent.

Obama and the new Democratic majority in the house and Senate should protect voters going forward with a new Voting Rights Act - perhaps even a constitutional amendment. In every country that the US has occupied in the last century they've required a right to vote be enshrined in law. A right that isn't guaranteed in American law.

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