Proving Vote Suppression
I see that Nate Silver has published a reassuring piece on Voter ID laws indicating that we needn't worry too much about it affecting the outcome. I'm sure this will make all the serious people feel much better about the voting issues. It's a tough problems to solve and it would be nice if we didn't have to.
But Ed Kilgore reminds us that it isn't just a matter of demanding photo IDs:
But before expressing any relief, it’s important to remember that what we are all calling (in a term mostly popularized by Ari Berman in his reporting on the subject in The Rolling Stone and The Nation) “the war on voting” has many, many elements, some of which won’t be apparent until just before or even on and after Election Day. There are ex-felon disenfranchisement initiatives, which have already gone into effect in Florida and Iowa. For one thing, voter ID requirements already in place before the 2008-2012 window that Nate is looking at may have a much greater impact under Republican administration. There are restrictions on various forms of “convenience voting,” such as early voting opportunities. As we get closer to Election Day, we will almost certainly see, in jurisdictions controlled by Republicans, shadowy purges of voting rolls to get rid of people whose addresses have changed, and late and poorly advertised alterations in (or restrictions of) traditional polling places. And on Election Day itself, we always see voter intimidation efforts, and my personal favorite, poorly staffed and incompetent balloting administration producing long lines and discouraged voters, with all this chicanery concentrated on areas likely to produce large Democratic votes (i.e., minority neighborhood and college towns). And then there are the vote-counting irregularities Florida made famous in 2000.
And even where these maneuverings don’t affect the presidential contest, they could well change the outcome of down-ballot contests, and also create precedents affecting future elections. On top of everything else, conservative activists will spend Election Day in some locales trying to generate “voter fraud” and pro-Democratic “voter intimidation” stories that will serve as the justification for future assaults on voting rights.
I would just add that when people think they are being targeted by hostile Republicans, many just figure it's the better part of valor to avoid the confrontation. This would apply to someone who's had brushes with the law (not convicted felons) and don't want to call attention to themselves. But also citizens of foreign birth who might just figure it's not worth it to endure the hostility and suspicion they'd have to go through. I realize they should all tough it out for the good of God and country, but you can't really blame them for not thinking it's worth it.
I've been writing about this since I started blogging and it's not a new phenomenon, by a long shot. We all know about the Jim Crow laws that spurred the Voting Rights Act in the first place. I hope people also remember that these laws didn't just outright deny the vote to African Americans. It just made it impossible for them to exercise their right to do it, through onerous tests and taxes. And once the Act was passed, the people who wanted to deny them their rights didn't just stop doing it. They came up with subtler methods of getting the job done.
They have been particularly worried about voter registration, which started in the wake of the Jesse Jackson campaign in the 80s:
Democratic activist Donna Brazile, a Jackson worker and Albert Gore’s campaign manager in 2000, said “There were all sorts of groups out there doing voter registration. Some time after the ’86 election, massive purging started taking place. It was a wicked practice that took place all over the country, especially in the deep South. Democrats retook the Senate in 1986, and [Republican] groups went on a rampage on the premise they were cleaning up the rolls. The campaign then was targeted toward African-Americans.” As in the past, Republicans justified the purges in the name of preventing the unregistered from voting. But Democrats charged vote suppression.It didn't end in the 80s. The most recent victory in that regard was the destruction of ACORN (with the inexplicable help of the Democrats!)
It will be hard to muster the empirical evidence that vote suppression turned an election so very serious political observers will dismiss it as being an hysterical overreaction on the part of the losers. And in a big sweep election it obviously would be. However, we are living in a polarized political world in which some elections are going to be very close. When that happens, these vague (and not so vague) pressures on the franchise could very well make the difference. But we won't be able to prove it. And that's the beauty of it.