Guest blogged by Ernest A. Canning
"I don’t want everybody to vote," Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the billionaire-funded Heritage Foundation and the Moral Majority, said while addressing a right-wing Christian audience in 1980. "[O]ur leverage in the elections goes up as the voting populace goes down," he added after he denigrated those who seek "good government" through maximum, informed voter participation as people who suffer from the "goo goo syndrome."
Voter suppression has long been a staple of American politics, but the tsunami of new restrictions on the polling place now being rammed through by newly-elected Republican majorities in state after state is unprecedented, certainly since the era of Jim Crow was supposed to have been ended by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
While most Americans may think of the poll tax and literacy tests as forms of voter suppression associated the Jim Crow South, the confirmation hearings of the late U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Renquist included sworn testimony from former U.S. Attorney James Brosnahan and others reflecting that, as an early 60's GOP activist, Renquist intimidated African-American and Hispanic voters in AZ by challenging their ability to read.
1965's Voting Rights Act outlawed both the poll tax and literacy tests. In more recent times, pursuant to a 1987 federal court consent decree, and a subsequent provision of the National Voting Rights Act of 1993, another GOP suppression tactic, "caging lists," was banned, though as documented by the BBC's Greg Palast, the Bush administration-led Plutocrats didn't let a little matter like illegality get in the way of their use.
21st Century voter suppression operates under cover. Or it had, until the new wave of legislation being passed by GOP legislatures across the country began hitting its stride. Until FL's then-governor Charlie Crist overturned it, for example, the state banned convicted felons from voting even years after they'd been released from prison. In Armed Madhouse, Palast asserts that prior to the 2000 Presidential election, FL's then Sec. of State Katherine Harris, appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush, the brother of candidate George W. Bush, purged 94,000 "felons" from the state's computerized voter rolls, though the only "crime" at least 91,000 were guilty of was "being Black, Democrat or both."
Over much of the past decade, voter suppression efforts have been bolstered by bogus "voter fraud" claims leveled at groups like ACORN, who aided in the registration of those who might be likely to vote against the GOP (minorities and the working class); "non-partisan" GOP astroturf groups like the phony American Center for Voting Rights (ACVR) created after the 2004 election solely to create and spread false propaganda about a Democratic "voter fraud" epidemic; laws meant to increase the legal risk to real non-partisan organizations for assisting in registration; draconian polling place "photo ID" restriction laws, and in a reduction of opportunities for early voting.
With the tide of GOP victories at the ballot box last November, those efforts have now been ramped up and are now front and center in some 30 state legislatures across the country...
Why GOP Plutocrats Suppress the Vote
If we are to understand our present circumstance, we must shed the ambiguous descriptor, "Republican," in favor of the more accurate "Plutocrat," when discussing the 21st Century GOP.
The word "Republic" is so ambiguous that James Madison, in Federalist Paper No. 10, referred to it as a "representative democracy" while Montesquieu broadened the term to include oligarchy, which is the antithesis of democracy.
The so-called 'Tea Party' is a shell game --- the modern equivalent to "the three minutes of hate" in George Orwell's 1984. The manufactured "birther" controversy, the incessant dehumanizing, and often racist, propaganda about perceived "enemies" (Muslims, immigrants, terrorists, atheists, secularists, communists, liberals) and the myriad of wedge issues, as well as the deception of The Great American Jobs Scam, are all part of a divide-and-conquer strategy designed to mask the core goals of the Plutocrat Party, the bulk of which are immensely unpopular.
But deception has its limits, especially when the GOP unmasked its true agenda in the wake of their 2010 electoral success. That agenda is a devotion to inequality which has produced the greatest wealth disparity since the stock market crash of 1929.
While the accuracy of Michael Moore’s assertion that “the richest one percent have more financial wealth than the bottom 95% combined” has been questioned, there is no doubt but that large numbers of Americans are experiencing economic hardships not seen since the Great Depression --- 46.3 million Americans now live in poverty; 50.9 million have no health insurance; one in six Americans go hungry.
Compare that to the 400 wealthiest Americans who have recently experienced an 8% net worth increase, "to $1.37 trillion." In 2009, one hedge fund manager, David Tepper, received the equivalent of the annual salary of the President of the United States every 14 minutes. His $4 billion in earnings works out to $2 million/hour. All as corporations registered their highest profits ever in 2010!
Six out of every ten Americans are opposed to Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) effort to destroy Social Security, public education and Medicare --- an agenda so radical that even Newt Gingrich described it as "right-wing social engineering." 61% oppose the union-busting agenda led by WI Gov. Scott Walker (R).
Given their immensely unpopular agenda, the Plutocrat Party can cling to power only by four means: (1) Massive, paid-for propaganda courtesy of Citizens United; (2) wholesale electoral theft, which, as documented by numerous academic studies and two GAO reports, can be carried out by a minimum number of insiders with access to our e-voting systems; (3) a broad-based, voter suppression effort through photo ID laws, caging, severe restrictions on organizations who seek to assist registration and fraudulent mailers that advise citizens to vote on the wrong day or at the wrong polling place, and (4) narrowing the window of time citizens have to vote either by reducing the number of days of early voting, by providing an inadequate number of voting machines in Democratic districts or by e-system malfunctions on Election Day.
Using the 'Voter Fraud' Canard as the 'Big Lie'
"We have right now a real danger of people that are illegally in the country being rounded up, herded into the polls. We've seen that in California, voting illegally."-Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), GOP Presidential candidate, 2007
"We are not aware of any documented cases in which individual noncitizens have either intentionally registered to vote or voted while knowing that they were ineligible." - "The Truth About Voter Fraud," Brennan Center for Justice, NYU Law School, 2007
As noted via Wikipedia, in Mein Kampf (1925), Adolf Hitler used the phrase, "the Big Lie" to describe "a lie so 'colossal' that no one would believe that someone 'could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.'"
The fact-free Plutocrats use the "voter fraud" canard so often that it should perhaps qualify as a "Big Lie." That "Big Lie" not only gave rise to the infamous U.S. Attorney firing scandal but an effort to conceal and alter a federal report which exposed "fears of voter fraud" to be "overblown and exaggerated."
Consider, as but a single example, newly-elected Kansas Sec. of State Kris Kobach (R).
On Nov. 19, 2010 Brad Friedman observed that "Kobach's campaign was almost entirely built on the promise of putting a stop to the state's out-of-control...'voter fraud' epidemic." Friedman added, after noting that there has been no evidence put forward to support Kobach's assertion about such an epidemic:
KS then passed a law which will require KS residents to present photo IDs at the polls in 2012 and will require those who seek to become registered voters in 2013 to present proof of U.S. citizenship, though the KS state Senate rejected Kobach's last-minute effort to move the date for proof of citizenship up to 2012 (in time for the upcoming Presidential election).
Ned Valentine of The Dispatch observed [emphasis added]:
Twenty questionable votes cast a year out of millions of votes cast over a decade cannot affect any outcome or rob anyone of our share of say in the political process. Those are Kobach's own figures."
While it is unclear just who cast the "twenty questionable votes," what makes them "questionable" and if they were actually illegally cast, we are aware of cases of "voter fraud" in which individuals do illegally cast ballots in districts where they did not reside. Polling place Photo ID restrictions apparently did not deter Charlie While (R) the newly-elected Sec. of State of Indiana, a state with some of the most restrictive Photo ID restrictions in the nation, from facing three felony charges relating to "voter fraud." Utah's former Gov. and possible Presidential aspirant John Huntsman, Jr. (R) may have committed a similar offense. And, of course, The BRAD BLOG has spent years documenting beyond a shadow of a doubt that Ann Coulter committed felony voter fraud in Palm Beach, FL and most likely in the state of Connecticut as well.
The next GOP politician who calls for Coulter's prosecution will be the first.
Multi-State Voter Suppression Now Underway
The TX Plutocrats recently approved Photo ID restrictions long opposed by Project Vote and scores of other non-partisan democracy advocacy organizations. Another TX bill would prohibit anyone who is not a TX voter to register someone to vote in TX.
Faced with multiple upcoming state Senate recall elections in the wake of their union-busting legislation, the WI Plutocrat Party not only moved swiftly to cram through new polling place photo ID laws, closing the vote within minutes, before most Democrats were even able to cast their vote (watch the video, it's remarkable). They also added an amendment to insure that the bill would take effect before the upcoming July recall elections which might otherwise result in Democrats taking over the majority in the Senate. The alacrity of the legislation prompted Rep. Jennifer Shilling (D-LaCrosse) to note that it felt like the rules were being "changed...in the middle of the game."
Ed Note: The video of WI Republicans jamming through their Photo ID restrictions last week, in a vote that was closed within minutes, was so remarkable, it needs to be embedded here so you can watch what happened. No, the guy in the sunglasses, banging the gavel and running the vote is not a mafia don, he's WI's GOP Senate President Mike Ellis...
RI was recently added to the list of photo ID states, and ME House Speaker Bob Nutting (R-Oakland) is pressing forward with legislation that will not only require photo ID but "ban absentee voting during the two business days before Election Day...and eliminate registration for most voters during the same period and on Election Day."
In a May 23, 2011 editorial, Robert Brandon of Philly.com observed:
…In 2008, more than six million Pennsylvanians went to the polls for the presidential election, and only four were charged with misrepresentation.
So why did the House State Government Committee recently approve a bill to require photo ID of Pennsylvania voters, a program that would cost more than $11 million to initiate and millions more to run each year?
Brandon then provided the answer:
In NC, a state where 60% of the ballots cast in the 2008 general election were cast before Election Day, the period for early voting was shortened from 18 to 11 days.
What is mind boggling is why the SC and GA Plutocrats even bothered to pass voter suppression laws. Both states use 100% unverifiable, Direct Voting Electronic (DRE, usually touch-screen) voting systems.
Last year, SC's ES&S touch screens provided the "it's the machines, stupid!" moment when the DREs announced that the unemployed and completely unknown Alvin Greene handily defeated the respected circuit judge and former state legislator Vic Rawl in the Democratic primary U.S. Senate race.
Rawl had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars; appeared at 80 campaign events; had hundreds of volunteers. Greene had no campaign website, no volunteers, no campaign literature. He didn't even own a computer or a phone.
In Lancaster County, Rawl won paper-based absentee ballots over Greene by a staggering 84 percent to 16 percent margin; but Greene easily led among unverifiable Election Day e-votes by 17 percentage points, according to the machines.
Despite testimony from voters who said they saw their votes flipped from Rawl to Greene on the touch-screens and computer and political scientists who testified that only a problem with the voting machines could have led to the announced result, the SC Democratic Party Executive Board rejected Rawl's challenge. Neither they nor most of the mainstream media could see or hear a thunderous e-voting system train wreck even as it crashed into democracy's front door. Or they just did not want to.
In FL, the same Plutocrat Party that gave us the 2000 fiasco rammed bills through the legislature that would cut early voting from two weeks to one, force registered voters who move from one county to another to use provisional ballots if they wish to update their name or address at the polling place, and imposed restrictions on registration activity that include financial and civil penalties that were severe enough to cause the League of Women Voters, which had registered voters over the past 91 years to "immediately stop voter registration efforts across the state." Lydia Galton, Pres. of the League of Women Voters of Collier County described the bill as a declaration of "war on voters."
The new laws in TX, NC, SC, FL and GA are all subject to U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) review under the Voting Rights Act. At the request of Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), the DOJ agreed to "carefully consider" Florida's new voter suppression laws. We'll see if they do, and if they "carefully consider" them elsewhere as well. In states which do not require preclearance of voting laws under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, however, democracy is likely to take a big hit in 2012, thanks to the very folks who pretend to care about it the most --- as long as its politically advantageous to do so, in any case.
CORRECTION: We originally reported the WI Senate's bill on photo ID restrictions was rammed through the body at 11pm at night. In fact, it was rammed through at 11am and was passed within minutes before many of the Democrats had time to vote, as the article above has been edited to correctly reflect.
UPDATE 05/25/11: In the body of this post, we noted that IN Sec. of State Charlie White (R) faces three felony charges relating to voter fraud.
As reported by The Indiana Lawyer, in addition to the criminal charges, the IN Democratic Party filed a legal action seeking to compel the state's "Recount Commission to rule on whether White...was eligible for office because he registered using a false home address during his campaign."
Both the commission and White, who is still in office, appealed a circuit court order compelling the commissioners to hear the challenge. "White argued that putting the recount matter first could jeopardize the felony case if he decides to defend himself."
The IN Supreme Court has now rejected White's request for a stay. The commissioners must rule on the Democratic Party challenge.
While the commission "could...remove White if it determines he wasn't legally registered and able to be included on the ballot in the first place," Indiana's law and order Attorney General Greg Zoeller (R) asserts the statute only requires that "someone must be 'registered,' not that he or she must be 'legally registered,'" The Indiana Lawyer reports.
I guess what Zoeller really means is IOKIYAR!
Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968).