Voter Suppression Industry Gears Up For Long Hot Summer
Cross-posted at Project Vote's blog, Voting Matters
Weekly Voting Rights News Update
Last week, we wrote about how some reporters have stopped playing into the hands of voter suppression operatives and suddenly acted like journalists by actually investigating partisan claims of voter fraud in relation to voter registration drives. Until the Virginia press corps showed how it should be done, this kind of every-day feat of journalism had been as rare as voter fraud itself. But, if this is August of an election year, then this must be voter suppression season.
And the favorite target of cynical and desperate attacks on voter participation are the large scale voter registration drives carried out among traditionally underrepresented populations like African-Americans, Latinos, low-income populations, and young people. True to form, August has been delivering voter suppression shenanigans in spades and with Election Day just 82 days away, we suspect there will be much, much more to come.
Case in point: This week, the Wall Street Journal reports how the large and sustained efforts to get eligible citizens onto the voter rolls in time for Election Day has become "the new battleground" between those that want to create access to voting and those who want to inhibit it.
According to the Journal, "Republicans are moving to examine surges in voter registration in some states," particularly in Pennsylvania and Virginia, despite the fact that election officials in "Virginia and other states say there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud so far."
In a recent training session held by the National Republican Lawyers Association, Foley & Lardner lawyer Cleta Mitchel "warned about what she regards as a long pattern of abuses in registration by groups such as [Project Vote's partner in the largest non-partisan voter registration effort in U.S. history – ed.] Acorn and their Democratic allies." Both ACORN and Project Vote are non-partisan organizations.
"'We're all for getting people involved in the process...and getting them to the polls,'she said in an interview later. 'What we're not for is registering fake people at fake addresses, and creating barriers to trying to identify voter fraud where it exists, which is everywhere. It's a growing problem, because of the professional vote-fraud denier industry.'" (Note to the Journal, if AttorneyGate showed us anything, it was that this type of scurrilous and hyperbolic attack from partisan operatives is far from being a "new" battleground).
The shift in tactics by voter suppression operatives like Ms. Mitchel to include attacks on the carefully-researched studies by respected academics and on the voting rights organizations who disseminate their results as part of a "professional voter-fraud denier industry" is notable. It shows that groups like the NRLA aren’t so much concerned with the integrity of the electoral system as they are in creating an atmosphere conducive to the suppression of currently eligible voters and amenable to the adoption of public policies (such as voter identification, proof of citizenship, strict regulation of voter registration drives, and voter caging) that disenfranchise large segments of the voting population.
Bob Bauer explains it on his blog More Soft Money Hard Law:
"This is a fresh rhetorical tactic in Republican 'anti-fraud' politics. The attack on 'fraud' has always suffered from a severe shortage of evidence. Mitchell solves this problem, after a fashion, by turning the inquiry from the assertion of fraud 'everywhere,' sorely wanting in factual support, to its 'denial.' If widespread fraud is being "denied," by a professional industry that has formed for this purpose, then it is in the nature of "denial" that what is being denied must be true—indisputably true. And 'denial,' after all, is neither intellectually nor morally respectable, devoted as it is to the mendacious assault on a known truth.
Denial, Mitchell says quite explicitly, is no innocent thing, not mere foolishness. It is complicity in the perpetuation of an evil. For if vote fraud is 'a growing problem,' it is so because it has been denied: 'because of the professional vote-fraud denier industry.'
So there it is:
1. We have scant evidence of fraud.
2. We know, however, that it is "everywhere."
3. We know it because it is being "denied," by a professional
industry committed to denial.
4. This denial is causing the problem of fraud to become even
And, of course, allegations of this "growing problem" can now be tracked at the Republican National Committee’s Web site, according to the Journal. This so-called evidence, based solely on news reports, brings us directly back to last week's blog about reporters lazily running unsubstantiated partisan claims of possible voter fraud based on isolated reports of bad voter registration cards, despite the fact that casting an illegal ballot after falsely registering to vote is difficult to achieve due to the "checks and balances" of voter registration, according to one Virginia election official
"Project Vote's executive director, Michael Slater, acknowledged occasional problems with voter registrations, but said that many are the result of poor record keeping," the Journal reported. "He said a greater risk comes from Republicans' efforts to police rolls."
"'We don't have a real history in the last 10 to 15 years of large-scale voter fraud,'" Slater said. "'What we do have a problem with is getting everyone on the rolls and making sure their votes are counted.'"
A prime example of the kind of problem that will actively disenfranchise potentially hundreds of thousands of eligible voters across the county (as opposed to any problems with any voter registration drive, which have never been shown to result in any fraudulent ballots or voter impersonation cases) is shaping up in Ohio. There, nearly 600,000 eligible voters "are subject to being removed from Ohio's voter registration rolls without notice or a hearing because of the state's vague regulations on vote caging," according to the Advancement Project and Project Vote in a press release Wednesday.
The state's recently implemented law "requires boards of election to send voter information mailings and amends Ohio's challenge statutes," the release said. "It enables a practice called voter caging, wherein voters can be purged from the rolls if they have problems with their mail." However, these "problems" could be the result of a number of database errors, errors in the mailing labels or poor matching criteria, notes Advancement Project staff attorney, Donita Judge.
"In particular, the new law requires that 88 county boards of election mail every single registered voter in their purview a non-forwardable notice letter 60 days before the election. Each board must make a list of any bounced letters that are returned as undeliverable. These lists, in turn, are made available as public records to individuals and groups seeking to use the list as a caging list to challenge voters."
"A single returned piece of mail is not a reliable basis for challenging the right to vote," said Judge.
The groups urge Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner to put a halt to such practices: "Partisan, challengers who have obtained a list of returned letters shouldn't be allowed to strip Ohio voters of their right to update their addresses" said Teresa James, attorney with Project Vote. "It is imperative that Secretary Brunner establish guidelines so that partisan challengers will not be permitted to lodge unfounded challenges that clog the election process, burden poll workers and disenfranchise eligible voters."
"Issues: Voter Caging." Project Vote.
Minnitte, Lorraine. "The Politics of Voter Fraud." Project Vote. Mar. 2007.
James, Teresa. "Caging Democracy: A 50 Year History of Partisan Challenges to Minority Voters." Project Vote. Sept. 2007.
In Other News:
Florida to begin enforcing voter registration law - Associated Press
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida will begin enforcing new restrictions on voter registration drives after the state won a legal challenge.
Instant gratification: Ohio allowing residents to register and vote for president on same day - Associated Press
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Never mind the last days of the presidential campaign. The busiest days for Barack Obama's campaign in this perennial swing state are likely to be a month before Election Day.
NH, Vt against VA elections policy - Associated Press
White River Junction, Vt. -- Some elections officials in Vermont and New Hampshire have joined 19 of their colleagues in other states in seeking to overturn a new Veterans Affairs policy on voter registration activities in VA facilities.