Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Voter Suppression: The Real Problem: I. Purging Voter Rolls

Now we come to the REAL problem with voting fraud-- voter suppression.

Voter suppression is an attempt to influence an election (or many elections!) by discouraging or preventing people from voting. It differs from political campaigning, which is an attempt to influence voters' choices.

Why disenfranchise voters? Well, obviously you target the voters you think most likely to vote against you!

God only knows how long voter suppression has gone on-- almost certainly as long as there has been a vote, but such barriers certainly harken back to the days of Jim Crow, when Black voters weren't allowed to vote. In the early days of the Civil Rights struggle, when Southern states were required by the Federal government to allow Blacks to register, they were often prevented by arbitrary measures; for instance, they might be required to show they could read and write and, if they could, pass a test before being allowed to register-- when, that is, their attempts to register weren't met with violence.
From 1868 to 1888, the principal techniques the states used to suppress the African American vote were violence and massive election fraud.From 1888 to 1908, Southern states legalized disenfranchisement by enacting Jim Crow laws; several states amended their state constitutions and passed legislation to impose literacy tests, poll taxes, property ownership qualifications, "good character" tests, requirements that voter registration applicants "interpret" a particular document, and grandfather clauses that allowed otherwise disqualified voters to vote if their grandfathers voted (excluding many African Americans whose grandfathers had been slaves). Many of these provisions initially were upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States in early litigation from 1875 (United States v. Cruikshank) through 1904. During the early 20th century, the Supreme Court began to find such provisions unconstitutional in litigation of cases brought by African Americans and poor whites. States reacted rapidly in devising new legislation to continue disfranchisement of most blacks and many poor whites. Although there were numerous court cases brought to the Supreme Court, through the 1960s, Southern states effectively disfranchised most African Americans.(Wikipedia, Voting Rights Act of 1965). 
In these postmodern times voter suppression is less likely to be about physical intimidation and more about organized efforts to disenfranchise large numbers of voters-- and it takes many forms.
Purging of Voter Records

People die or relocate, so there's a legitimate reason for governments to periodically review voting rolls and remove those no longer present or who have lost their right to vote-- but such purges have proved to be a potent political tool in the hands of Republicans. We most likely would have have had a second-term George W. Bush Presidency had Florida not aggressively purged thousands of voters (the list contained 173,000 names!) judged likely to vote Democratic in the Presidential election.

 Florida, whose governor at the time was Jed Bush, W.'s brother, contracted with a company called ChoicePoint, which marked law-abiding citizens without criminal records as felons and took great liberties with names-- if your name was even remotely similar to a felon, you were toast. No surprise, ChoicePoint was run by an assortment of high-donating Republican stars.
But if some counties refused to use the list altogether, others seemed to embrace it all too enthusiastically. Etta Rosado, spokeswoman for the Volusia County Department of Elections, said the county essentially accepted the file at face value, did nothing to confirm the accuracy of it and doesn’t inform citizens ahead of time that they have been dropped from the voter rolls.

“When we get the con felon list, we automatically start going through our rolls on the computer. If there’s a name that says John Smith was convicted of a felony, then we enter a notation on our computer that says convicted felon — we mark an “f” for felon — and the date that we received it,” Rosado said. “They’re still on our computer, but they’re on purge status,” meaning they have been marked ineligible to vote.

“I don’t think that it’s up to us to tell them they’re a convicted felon,” Rosado said. “If he’s on our rolls, we make a notation on there. If they show up at a polling place, we’ll say, ‘Wait a minute, you’re a convicted felon, you can’t vote. Nine out of 10 times when we repeat that to the person, they say ‘Thank you’ and walk away. They don’t put up arguments.” Rosado doesn’t know how many people in Volusia were dropped from the list as a result of being identified as felons. (Palast, 2000).
Officials in the various draw upon a wide latitude of methods, with no oversight:
Wendy Weiser, an elections expert with New York University's Brennan Center for Justice, said, "What most people don't know is that every year, elections officials strike millions of names from the voter rolls using processes that are secret, prone to error and vulnerable to manipulation. (Wikipedia: Voter Suppression).
Democrats, minorities, and especially Black Americans were disproportionally affected by Florida's voter suppression. A report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has this to say:
Disenfranchised voters are individuals who are entitled to vote, want to vote, or attempt to vote, but who are deprived from either voting or having their votes counted. The most dramatic undercount in the Florida election was the uncast ballots of countless eligible voters who were wrongfully turned away from the polls. Statistical data, reinforced by credible anecdotal evidence, point to the widespread denial of voting rights. It is impossible to determine the extent of the disenfranchisement or to provide an adequate remedy to the persons whose voices were silenced by injustice, ineptitude, and inefficiency. However, careful analysis and some reasonable projections illustrate what happened in Florida. 
The disenfranchisement of Florida’s voters fell most harshly on the shoulders of black voters. The magnitude of the impact can be seen from any of several perspectives:
  • Statewide, based upon county-level statistical estimates, black voters were nearly 10 times more likely than nonblack voters to have their ballots rejected.
  • Estimates indicate that approximately 14.4 percent of Florida’s black voters cast ballots that were rejected. This compares with approximately 1.6 percent of nonblack Florida voters who did not have their presidential votes counted.
  • Statistical analysis shows that the disparity in ballot spoilage rates—i.e., ballots cast but not counted—between black and nonblack voters is not the result of education or literacy differences. This conclusion is supported by Governor Jeb Bush’s Select Task Force on Election Procedures, Standards and Technology, which found that error rates stemming from uneducated, uninformed, or disinterested voters account for less than 1 percent of the problems.
  • Approximately 11 percent of Florida voters were African American; however, African Americans cast about 54 percent of the 180,000 spoiled ballots in Florida during the November 2000 election based on estimates derived from county-level data. These statewide estimates were corroborated by the results in several counties based on actual precinct data.
Poor counties, particularly those with large minority populations, were more likely to possess voting systems with higher spoilage rates than the more affluent counties with significant white populations. There is a high correlation between counties and precincts with a high percentage of African American voters and the percentage of spoiled ballots.
Here are some illustrations from the same report:

  • One potential voter waited hours at the polls because of a registration mix-up as poll workers attempted to call the office of the supervisor of elections. The call never got through and the individual was not allowed to vote. A former poll worker herself, she testified that she never saw anything like it during her 18 years as a poll worker.
  • A poll worker in Miami-Dade County with 15 years of experience testified, “By far this was the worst election I have ever experienced. After that election, I decided I didn’t want to work as a clerk anymore.”
  • A poll worker in Palm Beach County testified that she had to use her personal cell phone to attempt to contact the election supervisor’s office. Despite trying all day, she only got through two or three times over the course of 12 hours.
  • A Broward County poll worker testified that in past elections it took about 10 minutes to get through to the elections supervisor. During the course of the November 2000 election, she turned away approximately 40–50 potential voters because she could not access the supervisor of elections.
  • A Boynton Beach poll worker explained how his precinct workers turned away about 30–50 potential voters because they could not get through to the supervisor of elections. He was successful only once during an eight-hour period.
Sadly, voter suppression continues in Florida-- and surprisingly, Republicans have admitted its purpose is to disenfranchise Democratic voters!
Floridians endured election chaos and marathon voting lines this year, largely thanks to reduced early voting hours, voter purges, and voter registration restrictions pushed by Republican legislators. In an exclusive report by the Palm Beach Post, several prominent Florida Republicans are now admitting that these election law changes were geared toward suppressing minority and Democratic votes. 
Former governor Charlie Crist (R-FL) and former GOP chairman Jim Greer (R-FL), as well as several current GOP members, told the Post that Republican consultants pushed the new measures as a way to suppress Democratic voters. Crist expanded early voting hours in 2008 despite party pressure, but Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) targeted early voting almost immediately when he took office in 2011. Scott’s administration claimed the new laws were meant to curb in-person voter fraud, despite the fact that an individual in Florida is more likely to be struck by lightning than commit voter fraud. (Shen, 2012, citing The Palm Beach Post).
Florida isn't the only state in which this type of voter suppression is occurring:
In 2008, more than 98,000 registered Georgia voters were removed from the roll of eligible voters because of a computer mismatch in their personal identification information, leading registrars to conclude that they were no longer eligible Georgia voters at their registered addresses. At least 4,500 of those people must prove their citizenship to regain their right to vote, but opponents say that could be an impossible burden to meet. For example, the state of Georgia gave college senior Kyla Berry one week to prove her citizenship in a letter dated October 2, 2008. Unfortunately, the letter was postmarked October 9, 2008. However, Berry is a U.S. citizen, born in Boston, Massachusetts with a passport and a birth certificate to prove it. (WIkipedia: Voter Suppression).
When one party is eager to register voters and other other does its best to stop people from voting, what does that say about the second party?



Kam, Dara, & Lantigua, John. (2012, 25 November). Former Florida GOP leaders say voter suppression was reason they pushed new election law. The Palm Beach Post.

Palast, Gregory. (2000, 4 December). Florida's flawed "voter-cleansing program". Salon. 

Shen, Aviva. (2012, 26 November). Florida Republicans admit voter-suppression was the goal of new election laws. ThinkProgress.

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. (2000). Voting irregularities in Florida during the 2000 Presidential Election.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are Turned off For This Blog

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.