Michael Tomasky on How the GOP Plans to Block the Black Vote

Throwing up roadblocks to the black vote has now become official Republican Party strategy.

Emmanuel Dunand / AFP-Getty Images

I can’t identify too many threads that connect every single election I’ve ever covered. But one feature has been a constant through every election I’ve seen up close, from New York City Council elections to mayor to governor to senator to president: efforts to suppress the black vote, and, often enough, the Latino vote. I’ve seen the fliers, heard the robocalls, been at the polling places with the mysterious malfunctioning machines. No one ever knows exactly who does these things, and yet everyone generally knows. Republicans. And now we may be getting some proof. Former Florida GOP chairman Jim Greer said for the first time on national television Thursday—to Al Sharpton, no less!—that his party is up to its neck in denying citizens the right to vote.

Greer—and I should say up front he’s under indictment; more on that later—was deposed by lawyers for the state GOP in late May for a civil case that will likely be heard after his criminal trial. He was specific. At a December 2009 meeting, “the political consultants and staff were talking about voter suppression and keeping blacks from voting.” They also discussed—and this is lovely—how “minority-outreach programs were not fit for the Republican Party.” But with Sharpton, he really cut loose: “There’s no doubt that what the Republican-led legislature in Florida and Governor Scott are trying to do is make sure the Republican Party has an advantage in this upcoming election by reducing early voting and putting roadblocks up for potential voters, Latinos, African-Americans to register and then to exercise their right to vote. There’s no doubt. I was in the room. It’s part of the strategy.”

He also shot down the rationale for the new Florida law, this ginned-up “voter fraud” business: “In three and a half years as chairman in Florida, I never had one meeting where voter fraud was discussed as a real issue effecting elections. Never one time...It’s a marketing tool. That’s clearly what it is. There’s no validity to it. We never had issues with it. The main purpose behind it is to make sure that what happened in 2008 never happens again.”

The party’s current leaders, whom for good measure he called “whack-a-doo, right-wing crazies,” say he’s lying, and naturally they note that his credibility is open to question. He’s accused of funneling party money to himself, about $125,000. He’ll stand trial sometime this fall. Obviously, we don’t know whether he’s guilty of that. But we do know that in every single election in this country where the black vote matters, these mysterious things happen in African-American neighborhoods in the run-up to the election and on Election Day itself. We never know exactly who does it, but it’s pretty self-evident that it isn’t Democrats.

Conservative pundits like to whine from time to time about how blacks “reflexively” or “unthinkingly” pull the Democratic lever. Well, what exactly do they expect? Yes, yes, some Republicans in Congress supported the civil-rights and voting-rights acts. Fine. But those Republicans don’t exist anymore. The racists left the Democrats and joined the GOP, and that’s when—in the late 1960s—these voter-suppression efforts began.

The more you wrap your mind around it, the more astonishing the moral deficiency becomes. Think about it. Every election come the warnings that if you haven’t paid your telephone bill yet or what have you, you won’t be permitted to vote. Something that like, which I saw all the time in New York City, can be pulled off by a handful of ne’er-do-wells, and the party leaders themselves can maintain plausible deniability.

But what’s going on around the country this year requires the assent of officialdom. This is a conspiracy of thousands of people, Republican Party operatives in every state in the country (except those where the black vote is small enough not to matter), all of them agreeing that denying the most fundamental civic right to a group of citizens because they vote the wrong way is a good idea—and knowing that they can get away with it because, after all, it’s “just” “those people.” Imagine that Democrats had decided to proceed along these lines in America’s rural precincts. Something tells me that the country’s great law-enforcement agencies and media institutions would have managed to get to the bottom of it then—and that the Democratic Party would have ended up all but destroyed.

Just lately, John Fund and Hans von Spakovsky have been promoting their new book claiming to document vast treachery at the polls. The meme has developed on the right in the last few days that felons elected Al Franken to the Senate. Hennepin County (Minneapolis) Attorney Mike Freeman rebutted their charges this week. I can’t swear that Freeman is correct, but look—that was the most contested and pored-over election recount in the modern history of this country. It took nine months to determine the winner. Does it really seem likely that if massive fraud existed, state election officials (representing both major parties, by the way) weren’t able to ferret it out in nine months?

It’s a sick and sickening situation, and it delegitimizes everything else about the Republican Party. I can understand how someone believes in limited government or low taxes. I can understand how someone could oppose affirmative action. I cannot understand how any individual can be anything other than abjectly ashamed to be associated with a political party so thuggish as to try to rig elections like this and then at its conventions have the gall to invoke Abraham Lincoln and hire lots of black people to sing and dance and smile, to make up for their absence among the attendees. A black mark indeed.