Politics

10.31.12

As Election Nears, Voter Suppression Efforts Kick Into Gear

John Avlon catalogs the efforts to discourage the “wrong” voters from showing up on Tuesday.

’Tis the season for dirty tricks.

Less than one week out from Election Day, we are witnessing a war of attrition, a game of inches. With state polls this close, every vote counts. And so beyond the positive effort to outdo the other party’s ground game and early-voting pushes, there is a negative corollary: voter suppression, confusion, and intimidation.

The ugly efforts to discourage the “wrong” voters from showing up reflect the asymmetrical polarization in Congress: neither party is entirely innocent, but conservatives have appeared to be driving the great bulk of efforts to suppress or misinform voters.

Yesterday, documents posted by Scott Keyes at TPM showed that the Romney campaign in Wisconsin is training poll-watchers to lie at polling stations by registering as “concerned citizens” rather than campaign volunteers; to untruthfully tell voters they are ineligible to vote unless they show proof of residency; and to misleadingly warn voters they are ineligible if they have been convicted of treason or bribery. 

It is all intentionally dishonest, and particularly so because so much of the RNC leadership—including Chairman Reince Priebus—has roots in Wisconsin local leadership.

But this affront to honesty is just the latest in a slow drip drip of voter suppression efforts. Here are just a few prominent examples that have come to light this election cycle.

In Virginia, both parties have gotten caught getting dirty. 

GOP operative Colin Small was busted by BradBlog throwing out hundreds of voter registration forms in Virginia. Small was connected to Strategic Allied Consulting, a company owned by Nathan Sproul, that was contracted to receive more than $3 million from the Romney campaign. On the other side of the ledger, the firm reportedly filed hundreds of faked voter registration forms in Florida this year. Small was arrested in the Virginia case, but the state’s right-wing attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, declined to investigate or prosecute the infraction—a dubious decision that the Justice Department should investigate after the election.

There is a special place in hell or jail for people who dream this crap up.

Another disgusting plot to twist vote counts was disclosed by right-wing entrapment artist James O’Keefe, who in his latest gonzo sting caught the son (and campaign field director) of Congressman Jim Moran discussing ways to evade Virgina’s voter ID law. The video was a smoking gun that even DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said was “indefensible.”

But there have been many other examples, so many that it’s been tough to keep up. For example, in inner-city Cleveland, a series of Clear Channel billboards popped up with the following message: “VOTER FRAUD IS A FELONY!” punishable by up to three and a half years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The funders of the billboards were not initially disclosed, but it was later revealed that it was a foundation funded by Wisconsin-based venture capitalist and Republican donor Stephen Einhorn and his wife.

All this could perhaps be spun as a civic service except that voter ID laws  have been passed by 22 GOP-controlled legislatures in the last two years, despite proponents in big states like Pennsylvania failing to come up with a single example of in-person voter fraud to justify the new standards. Instead, the Pennsylvania GOP legislative leader Mike Turzai was caught saying on tape that the new Voter ID laws would allow Mitt Romney to win the state, making it clear that political advantage was the real aim of the legislation.

Now we are in the last days of the campaign. The misinformation efforts will be fast and furious. Already, we have seen emailed efforts to confuse people about their right to vote. In New York City, the NAACP flagged the following friendly sounding email:

“Dear Friends & Family: Please pass the word along. The rules have changed. If you have not voted since Nov 2008, you must re-register to vote 25 days prior to Nov or you will not be allowed to vote in the upcoming National election. A great deal of people do not know this. Please tell your colleagues, friends, and family to check their voter registration cards and see if you are properly registered. Please check on this before August. A lot of kids in college are not aware who are eligible to vote. They are not broadcasting this all over the NEWS, so it is up to us to Spread the Word About the New Rules. Make sure your registration card is up to date and you have it ready with TO VOTE.”

This is an earnest-sounding lie, aimed at low-information and low-income voters. There is a special place in hell or jail for people who dream this crap up.

In Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Spanish-language Election Day information mailing accidentally told voters to make sure to cast their ballot on Nov. 8—two days after the election.

Past these ballot efforts, at least nine CEOs sent letters to employees telling them that layoffs might well result if President Obama were reelected, an unsubtle way of reminding them of what result would be in their “best interest,” as Florida-based CEO Dave Siegel told his employees.

Here’s what’s clear—it’s in the best interests of an open democracy that every citizen should be encouraged to vote, and the process for doing so should be as simple and straightforward as possible. Anyone trying to make it otherwise is a villain in this high-stakes, real-time morality play.