Commentary: Republicans Making Sure Every American Vote Isn’t Counted

US Politics Today has published an excellent op-ed by national political strategist and editor Joe Rothstein in which he examines the widespread suppression of American voters’ right to participate in the presidential election this November 4th.

Despite all of the public interest in and enthusiasm for the 2008 campaign, despite all the new voter registrations, on November 4 the number of votes cast may be considerably fewer than 120 million votes counted for Bush and Kerry in 2004. Maybe as much as 10% fewer.

Why?

Start with the fact that 39 states already have purged 13 million voters off the voters’ rolls since 2004.

Yes, you heard that right. At least 13 million voters have been purged from the rolls since 2004. That’s 10% of the 120 million votes cast in 2004 and twice as many voters than have just been added through massive registration drives.

In many states, the number of names dropped from the voters’ lists has been breathtaking: 17% in Colorado, 15% in Washington State, 14% in New York, 13% in Nevada, 10% in Missouri.

These purges are the cynical byproduct of 2000’s voting debacle. After 2000 the public demanded election reform. What the Republican Congress enacted in response was legalized vote suppression. Their idea of election reform was to set up a system that required states to match voter registrations against other computerized files such as drivers’ license and to disenfranchise those whose files don’t match—even if the mismatch is the result of a simple clerical recording error, or because of a missing middle initial or the absence of a Jr. or Sr.

Wisconsin refused to play along with this game when a test run showed one in four voters would have been eliminated because of typos and other minor problems.

In Ohio, 200,000 newly registered voters fell into the mismatch trap, and the Republicans are waging a ferocious legal battle to get their hands on those names so they can challenge them when they vote. Even a unanimous rejection by the U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t stopped the Republicans from continuing this fight. They know that the state’s electoral votes may hang in the balance.

In the first few days of early voting in Florida this week, 5,000 voters already had been rejected, mostly because of typos and variations in the spelling of peoples’ names.

The “matching” requirement is a highly effective legacy of Republican voter “reform.” Voter ID is another.

In 7 states, voters won’t be permitted to vote without valid picture ID cards. This requirement alone may change the outcome of elections in Indiana, Florida and Michigan by essentially disenfranchising those without driver’s licenses or employment ID cards.

In 17 other states some form of ID will be required to get a ballot. Just having your name on the official voter roll will not be enough.

The Republicans are also mounting their most ambitious effort ever to challenge ballots in predominantly Democratic voting precincts over any pretext. More than 1.5 million votes were thrown out in 2004 after they were classified as “spoiled” because of such minor errors as blank spaces, stray marks or tears. The losses hit hardest among minorities in low-income precincts, who are often forced to vote on antiquated machines. In 2004, the number of spoiled ballots in New Mexico—19,000—was three times George Bush’s margin of victory there.

Reporter Greg Palast and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. have an article in the current Rolling Stone magazine that outlines many of ways Republicans are trying to suppress the 2008 vote. Ever heard of “vote caging?” Here’s how Palast and Kennedy say it works:

“Many voters are given provisional ballots under an insidious tactic known as “vote caging,” which uses targeted mailings to disenfranchise black voters whose addresses have changed. In 2004, despite a federal consent order forbidding Republicans from engaging in the practice, the GOP sent out tens of thousands of letters to “confirm” the addresses of voters in minority precincts. If a letter was returned (unopened) for any reason–because the voter was away at school or serving in the military–the GOP challenged the voter for giving a false address.”

Bill Moyers interviewed professor Mark Crispin Miller about all this on last week’s Bill Moyers Journal and got an earful about vote suppression tactics. Crispin details them in his new book, Loser Take All: Election Fraud and the Subversion of Democracy 2000-2008. For anyone who wants more detail, check out Moyers’ web site http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/ or read Miller’s book.

….Or, just pay attention to all of the mischief occurring in these last days before November 4. It’s hard to find, since the mainstream media seems to have an aversion to touching vote suppression as a real and important factor in this election.

But many bloggers are paying attention to the mysterious absentee ballots that are showing up in Democrats’ mailboxes in Nevada, trying to lure Democratic voters into sending their absentee votes to an erroneous address. Others have pointed toward the anonymous pamphlets in Philadelphia’s black precincts, warning people that police will be watching the polls to catch those delinquent in paying parking tickets. And so on.

According to the public opinion surveys, if the usual 55-60% of registered voters turn out November 4, Barack Obama will be elected President and Democrats will claim a sweeping victory in both houses of Congress. But given how close some contests are, a change of just a few percentage points can make a world a difference.

Below the surface of the daily photo ops, the TV spots and the regular news coverage, there’s a subterranean campaign in progress to discourage voting in Democratic areas, to challenge Democratic voters and ballots, and to reduce the Democratic vote count. If it works, even by a little, its impact could be literally world changing.

Making Sure Every Vote Isn’t Counted

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