Washington watch: If you can’t beat ‘em, cheat ‘em

Jewish community councils across the country need to get much more involved in an issue with the potential to harm all minorities.

New York City's Chinatown during rushhour traffic. (photo credit: BEN G. FRANK)
New York City's Chinatown during rushhour traffic.
(photo credit: BEN G. FRANK)
The restrictive voting measures passed in Republican-controlled states over the past few years suggest that the GOP fears the only way it can win an election is to keep as many Democrats – especially black, Hispanic and poor ones –away from the polls as possible.
To put it bluntly, this is a widespread campaign to suppress minority voting. Some Republicans openly admit it, others hide behind unsupported charges of widespread voter fraud or equally specious claims of increased efficiency.
Two leading Jewish organizations have condemned the campaign. Claims by the anti-immigration movement of rampant voter fraud by undocumented workers is a “myth” that has been “widely discredited,” according to the Anti-Defamation League. The civil rights organization singled out Kansas, Pennsylvania and Arkansas as particularly problematic.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs said the increased presence of active polling place challengers and watchers is a “threat” that can easily be “abused” by “crossing the line into voter intimidation, discrimination or vote suppression.”
Scheduling of elections and caucuses on Saturdays can preclude voting by Jews, Seventh Day Adventists and others who observe their Sabbath on that day.
Voter suppression has become a core Republican strategy for keeping Democratic-leaning voters away from the voting booth.
Evidence can be seen in the fact that the states with the most restrictive measures also have Republican governors and legislatures: Indiana, Arizona, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas.
Voter suppression measures they’ve employed include reduced early voting time and locations, ending weekend voting, putting new restrictions on absentee ballots and demanding passports, which most Americans do not have, or certified copies of a birth certificate, which can be costly and time consuming to acquire. Some states are eliminating same-day registration, ending preregistration of high school students, banning straight-ticket party voting.
Many are rejecting student and faculty ID in order to exclude the college communities. Poll workers are often instructed to be sticklers for details, so if your voter roll lists your middle name but your driver’s license only has your middle initial, you can be rejected.
Despite their claims, the evidence suggests Republicans are simply afraid of losing a fair fight in an increasingly diverse democracy. Black voters were critical to President Barack Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012 and could be again this year and in 2016 for Democrats. Key Senate races are being held this year in seven of the 15 states with the largest black populations and could determine which party controls the Senate in the 114th Congress.
Voting numbers drop off in non-presidential years, particularly among minorities, making efforts to stanch turnout this year even more critical. Which explains why the president has been going around the country trying to encourage voter turnout.
The GOP strategy of keeping people from the polls is “a sign of weakness” that is not only bad politics but “ultimately it is bad for the country,” Obama said. “So let’s be clear, the real voter fraud is the people who try to deny our rights by making bogus arguments about voter fraud.”
“Almost every reputable study shows that such measures disproportionately affect black and Hispanic voters, college students and people with disabilities – groups that vote overwhelmingly Democratic. Advocates for the restrictions have a difficult time documenting real voter fraud,” reported Al Hunt of Bloomberg News.
Conservative doyenne Phyllis Schlafly has said early votes are “illegal” because they “violate the spirit of the Constitution” and “cancel out the votes of honest Americans.”
Don Yelton, a Republican official in North Carolina, recently said on The Daily Show that if his state’s restrictive new voter-ID law “hurts a bunch of lazy blacks,” then so be it. The real purpose of the law, he explained, was to “kick the Democrats in the butt.”
Florida GOP chairman Jim Greer told The Palm Beach Post that “The Republican Party, the strategists, the consultants, they firmly believe that early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates.”
The courts have repeatedly ruled against these restrictions. A federal judge found no evidence of a “significant problem” of non-citizens registering to vote in Kansas or Arizona. Another said voter ID laws are “now widely regarded as a means of voter suppression rather than of fraud prevention.”
Federal Judge Lynn Adelman said Wisconsin could not “point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past,” and its new requirements “will prevent more legitimate votes from being cast than fraudulent votes.” Isn’t that what the backers intended?
The Wichita Eagle editorialized, “Kansas actually has made it harder to register and to vote by treating constitutionally eligible voters like cheaters.” The state’s new proof-of-citizenship requirement risks dramatically “suppressing voter participation,” it added.
In several states seeking to restrict voting – Wisconsin, Ohio, Texas and Indiana –Republican governors are flirting with running for president in 2016. Democrats have been understandably outspoken in their criticism of such measures, but only a few Republicans have begun wondering why those minorities don’t vote GOP. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), a presidential wannabe, is one. He admitted his party’s obsession with voter ID laws could backfire.
“Everybody’s gone completely crazy on this voter ID thing,” he told The New York Times. “I think it’s wrong for Republicans to go too crazy on this issue because it’s offending people.”
The courts are steadily knocking down many of these restrictive new laws. Meanwhile Republicans may succeed in keeping minority, poor and disabled voters away from the polls this year and even in 2016, but in the long run the party that claims to be a Big Tent is really a Big White Boys Tent and is alienating growing numbers of voters who will remain in the Democratic column for years to come.
While the ADL and JCPA have taken strong stands against the suppression campaign, Jewish community councils across the country need to get much more involved in an issue with the potential to harm all minorities – the Democratic-leaning Jewish community included.