Voter Suppression: GOP Backlash or Ace-in-the-Hole

In May 2011, a poll showed that 80 percent of Minnesotians supported a photo ID law; however, largely due to the efforts of Take Action Minnesota, in the November 6, 2012 election, 52 percent of Minnesotians voted against requiring a photo ID to be able to vote. (1) The fact that photo ID lost so narrowly in what is generally considered to be a blue state, sends a disturbing message about how Democrats are willing to endanger their chances of victory at the polls.

After the 2010 elections, in more than a dozen states, Republicans (primarily) passed voting restrictions, targeted especially at reducing the vote among young voters, African-Americans and Hispanics. The GOP strategy failed in several respects, as black and Latino voters increased their share of the electorate in 2012 compared to 2008. The youth vote rose from 18 to 19 percent and the minority vote, overall, increased from 26 to 28 percent. The black vote rose in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia, while the Latino vote grew in Florida, Colorado and Nevada. (2)

One reason that voter suppression may have failed in states with heavy minority populations is that voters were very angry at efforts to deny them the opportunity to vote. Rev. Jesse Jackson expressed it as “If they try to deny 3,000,000 of us the vote, we’ll send 5,000,000 to the polls.” Nonetheless, unequal treatment at polling places may have discourged untold numbers of people from voting: in Arizona, a day after the election, 600,000 early votes and provisional ballots remained among the uncounted, most of them in heavily Latino Maricopa County; twice as many voters had to cast provisional ballots in Philadelphia as in 2008, because their names were missing from voter rolls: (3) and many Ohio early voters in heavily black areas were handed absentee applications while standing in a line to vote. Late counting of provisional ballots is likely the major reason that Barack Obama’s msrgin over Mitt Romney has continued to grow well after the election itself.

Long waits in line were a common occurence: up to five hours in Maryland, seven hours in Florida and similar waits in Ohio. Hart Research Associates found that black and Latino voters were two to three times more likely to stand in line more than 30 minutes than were white voters.

Pennsylvania had the sharpest drop in voter turnout among the swing states, likely mostly due to confusion over the suspended photo ID law. Since the judge who suspended the law said a photo ID was not necessary in order to vote but poll workers could ask for one, state and county officials could and should have informed the public and poll workers that a photo ID was not necessary to vote and would not be requested at a polling place. Even asking for a photo ID aided the vote suppressors.

Despite the anguish, confusion and theft of voters’ time, voter suppression will likely continue, witnessed by Florida Governor Rick Scott appointing the Secretary of State in charge of determining what went wrong in the November election. The current secretary and secretaries of state going back to at least the year 2000 have been notorious for supporting voter suppression. Governor Scott has earned a special place in the gallery of infamous voter suppressors, signified by angry Florida callers to talk show programs, because Scott, a key figure in a billion dollar or more scam of Medicare, has been instrumental in denying their right to vote. Scott was the CEO of the scamming company and took the Fifth Amendment 78 times while testifying under oath.

Footnotes

(1) Ari Berman, “The Voting Rights Fight, The Nation, December 10, 2012.

(2) Ibid.

(3) Ibid.

(4) Ibid.

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