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The Quiet Campaign: Voter Suppression

Posted on Apr 12, 2012

By Richard Reeves

The 2012 presidential election is not only about who votes for Barack Obama and who votes for Mitt Romney. It is also about who votes.

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In a national campaign that does not get much national publicity, at least 41 states have passed laws or are considering new laws making it more difficult to vote in November, or legislation designed to discourage people from even trying to cast ballots, according to a study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

The center reports on a quiet wave of new state legislation sweeping the country that focuses on voting eligibility and estimates that these laws could reduce presidential voting by as many as 5 million votes. To put that number in perspective, in 2008, Obama won the presidency by 9 million votes.

The report, issued two weeks ago, lists five types of laws:

—Photo identification cards. At least 34 states have passed or are considering laws requiring voters to show photo IDs to get to a ballot box or machine. The bills have become law just this past year in Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Mississippi. It seems amazing, but 21 million Americans apparently do not have government-issued identification, including even driver’s licenses.


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—Proof-of-citizenship laws. At least 15 states have passed or are considering laws requiring voters to show birth certificates or passports to vote.

—Making voter registration more difficult. At least 16 states have passed or are considering legislation that would end same-day registration. Three of those states, Florida, Illinois and Texas, have also passed laws restricting voter registration drives.

—Restrictions on early and absentee voting. At least nine states have passed laws or are considering legislation to end early voting days, and four are trying to restrict absentee voting.

—Making it harder to restore voting rights. Two states, Florida and Iowa, have reversed executive action that permitted restoration of voting rights for ex-felons after a given period of time.

I would add at least one more factor in holding down voter turnout: negative advertising. There is some evidence that voters can get so disgusted with massive negative commercials, posters, mail, etc., that they decide not to vote. That could have been a factor in the lower-than-usual turnout in Republican primaries this year. There is no doubt that negative advertising works with many voters, but it may also be creating ex-voters.

Voter suppression is as old as the Republic. After all, only white males who owned property were allowed to vote in a couple of states in our first elections. And the franchise was notoriously denied African-Americans and women for decade after decade.

At the moment, much of the vote suppression is in Republican-controlled jurisdictions. The phrase "voter fraud" is thrown around, but there is no doubt the idea now is designed to discourage poor people, who are usually both less informed about the law and more likely to vote for Democrats.

There are and have been many tricks of this old trade. Men in police uniforms, some real, some not, have stood near voting stations, intimidating possible voters who may have had trouble with the law or are just afraid of cops. Men in suits with clipboards asking questions also have an effect on some possible voters. In fact, that was the way William Rehnquist in Arizona began the political activity that eventually made him chief justice of the United States.

© 2012 Universal Uclick

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By Michael Shaw, April 17, 2012 at 2:16 pm Link to this comment

Sam Caruso is right. As for those who say what is the point to vote at all…well the choices, (though dismal) are obvious. For a slow bleed vote for Obama. For getting your throat cut immediately and handed to you on a plate, vote republican. The next time they win they might abolish the election process entirely. Sounds far fetched doesn’t it. Well don’t believe it for an instant. The GOP is praying for liberals not to show up at the polls. That is why they are attempting to disenfranchise voters, people in fact who have voted for decades but don’t have a copy of their birth certificates. This is why they use thug tactics, like intimidation at polling places. Why they have pushed for electronic voting that enables election fraud without a paper trail and why they are trying to stop early voting or absentee voting to stop people with health problems on set incomes from voting.

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By James M. de Laurier, April 16, 2012 at 7:25 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

For the record,it has already been established who will
be in office during the next term.So,why not eliminate
the pretence of “voting” as a right or privilege.This
will save paper - ballots and unnecessary time being
lost to doing more important things.
Thanking you for this opportunity to comment -
James M. de Laurier   4/16/2012

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By Shenonymous, April 15, 2012 at 10:00 pm Link to this comment

Not everyone in this country is as dismal or pessimistic as those
who are wailing and mewling on this website. If you don’t vote it
won’t really matter, even if there are corruptions that face the voters,
suppression, repression, oppression, and Diebold hacking. There will
be watchers out there, they are being organized as we breathe.  And it
will be those who do vote who will determine who gets into office and
it is those who get into office who will determine the kind of life this
country has, not just for four years but what Congress says, what the
President does, and more importantly what far reaching rulings the
Supreme Court makes. It is not just one man for whom the vote will
be in November, it is yourselves. 

If you’ve nothing better to do, stop whining and complaining join a local
polls watcher group.  Far as candidates go, well go to bat for somebody
that makes you feel good.  There are always choices.

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By Maani, April 15, 2012 at 4:07 pm Link to this comment


Your post bears repeating, since it so concise:

“After you run that gauntlet, you are then likely to be standing face to face with an electronic voting machine that is easy to hack, leaves no paper trail, and often just plain counts your vote incorrectly. Another common occurence is certain usually minority or otherwise left-leaning areas having a conspicuously inadequate number of polling stations.”

And this is just one reason why voters are so apathetic, as GOP-led state legislatures vie for who can create the most disenfranchising voter laws.

Both U.S. parties are beholden to the transnational corps and the lobbyists.  And then we have the most highly partisan-politicized SCOTUS in history, which gives us goodies like Citizens United and its evil offspring, SuperPACs.  Is it any wonder voters aer apathetic?

The U.S. is now closer to an oligarchy or plutocracy than a democracy: we simply have a few more freedoms (and a better overall economy) than, say, the Russians.

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By SAM CARUSO, April 14, 2012 at 6:20 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The probloem with voter ID requirements is that by nature they are restrictive.  A modern version of a poll tax, or other devices used in the past to restrict the vote.  People who push for these restrictions know that a) it hurts the Democrats, and b) the more you can restrict the vote, the more you can target your regressive politics to a narrrow base of voters, giving you a better chance to win, because less voters are voting. Regressive policies are enacted when a narrow band of voters vote; see the 2010 mid-term elections for example.

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By Michael Shaw, April 14, 2012 at 9:22 am Link to this comment

Spartan, it is beyond photo ID, which by the way contains a fee poor people may not be able to afford. It is clearly an attack on the poor, on immigrants and on people of color, all folks who traditionally vote democrat. The list provided by the author should be proof enough as to what this agenda really means. I mean like having to bring your birth certificate. Why are people being forced to jump through hoops simply to vote? Also when you look at incarcerations that have filled our prisons, due for the most part to the so called drug war, blacks are disproportionately jailed even though white youth use illicit drugs around the 40% range while black youths are more around 20%. Even cocaine laws are biased. Do a line in an office avoid arrest, smoke crack and get twice as many years behind bars. There is a great book that expresses an example of this. It is called The Bush Dyslexicon. It mentions how Texas law enforcement and its justice system operated under then governor George W. Bush. Today under Perry it is even worse. Also once a person pays for his crime, why should his voting rights be stripped indefinitely? Today’s justice system is a for profit business that is geared to disenfranchise the poor and minorities and what is now(on steroids) working overtime to privatize the prison system, ignoring laws that protect prisoners from cruel and unusual punishment. Now they have laws on the books that essentially legalize murder, though I have little doubt if the roles were reversed in Sanford, the police would have either locked that kid up or shot him. Probably the latter.

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By bmeisen, April 14, 2012 at 3:21 am Link to this comment

It is a good idea. Citizen registration (also without photo ID) would solve a lot of problems in the US, including chronic insecurity in voter registration (no one in fact knows how many elligible voters there are now), which is exploited by both oligarch parties to suppress voter turnout, and various issues arising from illegal immigration. Citizen registration would require residents to register with a central citizen office when they change their legal address. The information provided would be minimal. Diverse government services including auto registration, voter registration, school registration, etc. could be accessed through one administrative process. The effect would be to make government services more efficient, and that may be why some people don’t wnat it - a lot of Americans apparently don’t want government to work.

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By Tom Edgar, April 14, 2012 at 12:13 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

So come and join Australia and have a truly Democratic vote where everyone votes, or nearly as possible it being compulsory for every person to vote. Yep. Federal, State, and local elections. Some States have selective voting or even proportional voting where even if a Party doesn’t have a sufficient number in an electorate but overall has a sufficient quantity of votes State wide, then they must have a Seat. America in so many ways is far short of being a Democracy, voting is the most glaring.

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By The Spartan, April 13, 2012 at 11:46 pm Link to this comment

Why is it wrong to require photo ID’s?  I can see how the immigrant stuff is whack
profiling but wouldn’t the drivers license or passport cover it? 

I still do not understand why expecting voters to prove who they are via photo ID
is a bad thing.

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By Michael Shaw, April 13, 2012 at 10:29 pm Link to this comment

Can anyone say….ALEC???? How about Koch Brothers??? How about right wing extremist corruption???? I am so happy to see so many major corporations finally dumping ALEC. They are behind all of this stuff and worse! They belong in straight jackets in padded cells, not telling legislators what to do behind closed boardroom doors.

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By SadieR, April 13, 2012 at 1:07 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I think EmileZ hit it right on the head when he said that another (in my opinion, a major) factor in vote suppression is the small number of voting machines set up in left-leaning and/or minority districts, causing long waits in interminable lines.

As for ID cards, hell, you can’t buy certain allergy medicines these days without showing ID.

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By bmeisen, April 13, 2012 at 12:52 pm Link to this comment

As you note, voter suppression is as old as the republic. Photo ID requirements are however not inherently anti-democratic. Currently they may be attractive to groups who want to suppress voter turnout. Enacted as a broad organizational principle for the entire country, a national photo ID card would significantly improve voter turnout and government services in general.

Chronic de-centralization of government services contributes substantially to voter suppression. By requiring all citizens to registrer with their local governments democrats everywhere would win.

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By oddsox, April 13, 2012 at 6:43 am Link to this comment

So get out and vote, already.
I’ve written this often, but it bears repeating:
Voting is more important than who wins.

litlpeep, I believe there are enough people like yourself out there to make a difference in 2012.

Not in who wins the Presidential election.
Not in who wins a particular state.
But in whether the next president is a popular majority winner (over 50%) or wins with a plurality (less than 50% popular vote)

In “safe” states, whether Red or Blue, watch for a defection from disappointed Obama supporters to the likes of Dr. Jill Stein, Rocky Anderson & rogue write-ins for Dennis Kucinich.  And, yes, a small measure for Rosanne Barr.
On the Right, anti-Mitt sentiment will drive voter support for Buddy Roemer, Ron Paul (even if he doesn’t declare 3rd party), Gary Johnson and others.

All tolled, perhaps as much as 5% of total votes cast, certainly no more. 
But enough for the disaffected to claim a qualified victory.

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By litlpeep, April 13, 2012 at 5:29 am Link to this comment

If the election is about who votes for Obama or Romney, then it really doesn’t matter.

But it matters to me, even if this proves to be mere illusion, how many of us refuse to settle for either of those pepsi-coke options.  They’re both recycled piles of dog crap.

Love yourself enough to have the courage to vote for somebody who “doesn’t have a chance,” but, who, at least, by getting your vote, will offer the losing party (that will be all of us if either O or R wins) something to reflect upon and talk about at the water cooler next day.

After all, there is nothing in our character that forces us to accept any false either/or, and both of those characters are falsies.

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By rbe4free, April 13, 2012 at 1:03 am Link to this comment

We never truly had a democracy, the US was a republic once, but that was long ago and long gone.
Now we have a country run by bankers with the facade of a government that simply does whatever the bankers tell them to do, with no regard for human social considerations.

Just keep on voting if you want to keep trying to fix this broken thing called our fiat monetary and socio-economic system. 

An alternative solution is ditch this broken sytem and move to Resource Based Economy under the direction of The Venus Project.  Checkout the FAQ page if you still have questions.

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By EmileZ, April 13, 2012 at 12:36 am Link to this comment

After you run that gauntlet, you are then likely to be standing face to face with an electronic voting machine that is easy to hack, leaves no paper trail, and often just plain counts your vote incorrectly.

Another common occurence is certain usually minority or otherwise left-leaning areas having a conspicuously inadequate number of polling stations.

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By gerard, April 12, 2012 at 11:46 pm Link to this comment

These Draconian methods of discouraging voters ought to be absolutely illegal in a real democracy. Their increase is a sure sign of change for the worse in our city, state and national governments, and everybody knows it.  Why is it tolerated? Because personal power is easier to capture by dominating smaller groups of people, and because larger, more decentralized populations are at present are too diversified or too fragemted to unite and insist on their democratic rights. We may lose our country because of this deliberate effort to shut out some for the imagined benefit of others..
  States should not have the power to undercut the Nation on issues of national scope and impact. States Rights should not mean unending efforts of States to countermand National laws.  This was partly what the Civil War was about. Let that blood and sorrow not be wasted by ongoing jealousies and power wars that tear the arms and legs from the body politic and eventually lay waste to our sense of cooperation and mutuality.
  Together we are a nation striving to maintain unity.  Separated by deadly local quarrels and competitions such as the limitation of voters’ rights disempowers us all.
  It is also dredging up past insularities in spite of the fact that the whole world moves inevitably toward more unified jurisdictions and toward the mutual understanding which modern life requires for the continuation of the human race as one.
  Granted, there are some things local government and local control can provide for local citizens better than federal jurisdictions.  But to attempt to disenfranchize people in order to limit the voting public is anti-democratic in the extreme.
We need to have an inclusive national conversation about which is which.

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