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Opinion

Opinion

Initiatives create own voting mischief

October 18, 2011

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That there is a nationwide effort under way to move the goalposts for the 2012 presidential election is undeniable. The various initiatives have one thing in common: Each would hinder President Obama’s re-election. Coincidence? I think not.

Pursuant to new rules, several states will now require photo IDs or proof of citizenship from voters (and in some cases, from those registering to vote). Some are making it more difficult to carry out voter-registration drives. Others will reduce popular early or absentee voting opportunities.

In Pennsylvania, pending legislation would convert the presidential election process from a winner-take-all approach to a proportional one. If the proposed system had been in place in 2008, Obama would have had a net gain of just one electoral vote, as opposed to the 21 he did earn.

I recently interviewed the president and asked him about the contemplated change here and the other efforts across the country.

“With respect to Pennsylvania, the people of Pennsylvania will ultimately decide how they want to allocate their electoral votes, and I’ll leave that to them,” he said.

“I will say that my big priority is making sure that as many people are participating in our democracy as possible. Some of these moves in some of the other states that we’ve seen — trying to make it tougher to vote, restricting ballot access, making it hard on seniors, making it hard on young people — I think that’s a big mistake.”

The nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law has calculated how big that mistake could be. In a report issued last month, the center found that in states that have chosen to require IDs or proof of citizenship, restricted voter-registration efforts and reduced early voting will account for 171 electoral votes — 63 percent of the total 270 needed to win the White House.

Taken together, the center has estimated that more than 5 million voters could be affected. How significant is that? In 2000, the popular-vote margin between George W. Bush and Al Gore was 543,895, while Bush won over John Kerry by 3,012,166 votes four years later.

These moves are largely unprecedented, according to Michael Waldman, the Brennan Center’s executive director. “At the very least, they mark the most significant step backward on voting in several decades,” he said. “Throughout the past century, we have steadily increased access to the ballot. This is the first time I’m aware of during that time that states have moved decisively to make it harder for many people to vote.”

Who stands to suffer most? According to the report, young people, minorities, and low-income voters — essentially the constituencies most responsible for the president’s election — will be most affected.

Consider the impact on minority voters in just one swing state, Florida, where the report notes that African Americans and Hispanics “are more than twice as likely to register to vote through community-based voter registration drives as white voters.” A quarter of the Sunshine State’s African-American voters, meanwhile, don’t have a valid photo ID that they would need to cast a ballot.

The report continued: “New restrictions on early voting will also have their biggest impact on people of color. Florida ended early voting on the last Sunday before Election Day. In the 2008 general election in Florida, 33.2 percent of those who voted early on the last Sunday before Election Day were African-American and 23.6 percent were Hispanic, whereas African-Americans constituted just 13.4 percent of all early voters for all early voting days, and Hispanics just 11.6 percent.”

Some will argue that shenanigans on Election Day do indeed take place and warrant rule changes. “Vote early and vote often” is more than a joking refrain in certain neighborhoods. Still, the question is whether these changes are truly contemplated to rein in misbehavior, or to bank on a few, sporadic reports of misconduct to mask an effort to suppress the president’s vote.

I can’t help but think of the now-infamous Election Day 2008 incident outside the old Richard Allen Homes in Philadelphia.

Recall that two members of the New Black Panther Party stationed themselves in front of the polling place there, which is in the fourth voting division of the 14th Ward. That they were up to no good I have no doubt. But was it their intention to suppress the votes of those who would support John McCain? I seriously doubt it. This seemed more like a stunt to get a reality-TV show. Consider that these two men selected a voting division in which 84 of the 1,535 voters registered were Republicans.

Not exactly a locale where an African-American running for president would seem to need their help.

I think the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department should have reviewed and prosecuted that case. But these sorts of one-offs are hardly worth the conspiracy theories that have relentlessly bounded across the Internet since November 2008.

Nor are they grounds for the scope of electoral changes being implemented across the country.

“It all comes at a time when there should be consensus, commonsense steps to make it easier for people to vote and have their ballots accurately counted,” Brennan noted.

— Michael Smerconish writes a weekly column for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Readers may contact him via www.smerconish.com.

Comments

Flap Doodle 3 years ago

The "a little voter fraud never hurt anyone" movement continues to roll.

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cato_the_elder 3 years ago

"The nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law...."

That's a hoot. The Brennan Center is about as nonpartisan as The Philadelphia Inquirer is a Republican newspaper.

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cato_the_elder 3 years ago

"Believe the way it's expressed is 'Don't confuse me with facts, my mind's made up'."

Congratulations. That describes the Brennan Center very well.

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years ago

Why, yes, we all know that only Fox News is "fair and balanced," and Rush Limbaugh is the only non-partisan now living.

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cato_the_elder 3 years ago

Both Fox News and Rush Limbaugh are partisan, as is the Brennan Center.

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years ago

Yea, Brennan is biased towards things like a respect for facts and a sense of fairness.

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cato_the_elder 3 years ago

No, it's been blatantly biased in favor of left-wing causes since its inception. It was begun by former law clerks for late Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, a notorious judicial liberal. It pushes an agenda of a "living Constitution," and is run by a former Clinton speechwriter.

Get with it, Bozo.

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years ago

In your view, any organization that is biased towards a respect for facts and a sense of fairness has a "left-wing bias."

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cato_the_elder 3 years ago

That's complete BS. There are biased groups on both sides, and the Brennan center is a left-wing cabal.

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Getaroom 3 years ago

It is all about defeating Obama, no question about that. It is however, in a lager context, about diminishing the Democratic vote as well and they go hand in hand this time around. It is interesting to note that the idealogues of the GOP get more frantic with each passing day knowing they have weak presidential hopefuls. Makes them lie and cheat ever more. Not much of the politics of the day has anything to do with actually caring about citizens of this country and their welfare, it has everything to do grabbing power, empowering friends in the form of large corporations who then control the inner workings of government. If the GOP truly had the Peoples best interest in mind and heart they would be taking care of the business of bringing back jobs and opportunity rather than defeating the President they love to hate and want to defeat. Look up Oligarcy for yourselves and see if that matches up more realistically with what we have. Democracy was an experiment and most still hold onto that structure as the pinnacle of government form and it would be great if only allowed to flourish. That form of governance has been slipping away in substance for years and over taken. The voters of this country need to awaken to this fact and act accordingly instead of believing the lies spewed out by opportunists who see wealth and profit taking to be more important that a strong populace.

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somedude20 3 years ago

"Some will argue that shenanigans on Election Day do indeed take place and warrant rule changes." No, the shenanigans were in the court system as well as Florida election staff(Katherine Harris)!

Hey, at least we know that the Repubs know that they are full of it as they do not try to make the country better, rather they just try to stop the American people from voting for whom they want. If they really cared, the Repubs would put the time and energy that they are spending on this junk and allocate those resources into making this country better. They say they have great ideas, show us and get votes that way rather then creating laws to stop your critics from voting for your opponents!

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Flap Doodle 3 years ago

File under: "Democrats doing what Democrats do" "An Indiana Democratic county chairman accused of submitting petitions with hundreds of faked signatures for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primary resigned Monday, according to reports..." Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1011/66227.html#ixzz1bATr21Ev (from a source)

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jafs 3 years ago

The most important word in your post is "accused".

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