Washington Watch: GOP and the Phantom Menace

If they’re smart, the Democrats will invest a big part of their treasury in ramping up turnout among minorities, the poor, students, the disabled and others who tend to vote to the left.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio (photo credit: REUTERS)
Florida Senator Marco Rubio
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Six Republican governors running for president this year have sought to limit the number of minority voters in their states in the name of fighting a virtually non-existent crime, voter fraud. The real purpose of such measures is to keep minorities, the poor, students and the disabled and other groups who tend to vote Democratic away from the polls.
That may help explain why Democrats Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have made voting rights a top issue in their campaigns. And why, if they’re smart, the Democrats will invest a big part of their treasury in ramping up turnout among these groups.
The nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, a leading authority on the subject, reported “most allegations of fraud turn out to be baseless” and “amount to a great deal of smoke without much fire.”
Since 2011, 21 states have adopted new laws restricting voter access, according to the Brennan Center, and nearly all have Republican governors or legislatures.
These laws are clearly intended to prevent voting, not fraud, despite the claims of their advocates. Vote cheating is so rare that the measures adopted in mostly Red states have been compared to using a nuclear bomb to kill a flea.
Some of the obstacles adopted recently include requiring government-issued photo IDs and making it difficult to get them, proof of citizenship at the polls, cutbacks in early voting hours and dates, eliminating Election Day registration, restrictions on voter registration drives, impeding voting for people with criminal records and limiting location and hours of polling places in order to create long lines and discourage voting in minority and working class neighborhoods.
A Bush 43 Justice Department investigation of voter fraud between 2002 and 2007, during which time 300 million votes were cast, convicted only 86 people, reported Rolling Stone. Some crime wave.
In eight states where early voting by minorities was successful, Republican governors have cut back on early voting hours and days, including Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
The rationale behind the assault is simple math: Democratic turnout tends to be high during presidential elections and falls off during off-year voting, which benefits Republicans.
The 2000 vote in Florida under the administration of Gov. Jeb Bush was one of the most egregious cases of manipulating voting procedures. The US Civil Rights Commission accused Bush and his secretary of state, Katherine Harris, of “gross dereliction” of duty and responsibility for the “injustice, ineptitude and inefficiency” of the state’s electoral system.
Then-governor Bush purged voter rolls, disenfranchising thousands of African-Americans who had voted all their lives, helping pave the way for his brother’s 537- vote margin of victory in 2000.
The adoption of new voting restrictions picked up dramatically after the 2010 elections, boosted by Republican control of statehouses.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he vetoed legislation that would have expanded early voting and same-day registration because “I don’t think that people should be automatically registered to vote.”
Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed laws limiting early voting, same-day registration, applications for absentee ballots, early voting times and the number of voting machines. The Cleveland Plain Dealer called his legislation “a breathtaking bid to suppress voting despite constitutional guarantees of voting rights.”
Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, an early presidential dropout, has enacted a number of restrictive voting measures, some of which are currently being challenged in the federal courts.
Texas, under Gov. Rick Perry, another dropout, and his successor, Greg Abbot, adopted a number of restrictive voting measures, including one making a hunting license valid ID for voting but not student IDs from state universities. And why not? Hunters are more likely to vote Republican than college students.
The other governor to quit early, Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, was accused by the NAACP of maintaining policies that prevented many low-income minorities from registering to vote.
These moves are certain to come up next year when the GOP nominee courts black and Hispanic voters.
“Voting rights are under attack in America,” said Rep. John Lewis, a veteran of civil rights and voting rights movement, on the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. “There’s a deliberate and systematic attempt to prevent millions of elderly voters, young voters, students, minority and low-income voters from exercising their constitutional right to engage in the democratic process.”
Several other GOP presidential wannabes also want to restrict voting. Sen. Ted Cruz says voters should be required to present “proof of citizenship” every time they vote; Sen. Marco Rubio, as a member of the Florida legislature, voted for Bush’s restrictive legislation. Former Sen. Rick Santorum said, “I hate” early voting and voter ID laws are “crucial electoral reforms.”
The Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs have been critical of efforts to restrict voting. JCPA warned against “crossing the line into voter intimidation, discrimination or vote suppression” and called for updating the VRA.
That legislation, however, including a provision fixing a section tossed by the Supreme Court, is stalled in the Republican-led Congress, while 21 states have enacted new restrictions on voting, according to the Brennan Center.
Sanders and Clinton have called for moving on the VRA before the 2016 election. They also want states to automatically register all eligible voters when they turn 18. Both measures also have the strong backing of civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King III and Andrew Young.
Sanders called Republicans pressing voting restrictions “un-American” and “political cowards,” saying “if they can’t face a free election they should get another job.”
Christie’s veto of a bill to make registering and voting easier in New Jersey prompted Clinton to say, “Yet another Republican refuses to make it easier to vote.
What part of democracy are they so afraid of?” The real fraud isn’t the rare abuses by double voters and people with phony IDs, it is the campaign to use a non-existent crime as an excuse to disenfranchise millions of Americans by preventing them from exercising their constitutional right because they might vote for the wrong party.
President Barack Obama, marking the 50th anniversary of the VRA, said, “There are almost no instances of people going to vote in somebody else’s name.” “The only reason” some states are enacting restrictive laws “is to make it harder for folks to vote.”
The disenfranchisement campaign is an admission that the GOP is a minority party, and the only way it can win in national election is to erect obstacles to voting.