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3 Ways the GOP Has Already Disenfranchised Thousands of Swing-State Voters

Some of the GOP's tactics can be reversed. But not all of them.

The Republican Party’s war on Democratic voting blocks is like a game of three-dimensional chess in which their strategies are intended to remain dormant until Election Day, and in the following days when votes are officially counted.

But their game plan is simple. They want to discourage voters by complicating every step for new and existing voters from specific blue cohorts, such as students, poor people and minorities. They’ve adopted new laws or rules that target pathways surrounding polling place voting, while keeping voting by mail—a longtime GOP strategy—free from similar rules. And they are spreading fears that there will be vastly more policing of the process to scare away voters, when in reality that’s not likely to be the case.

While most of the GOP’s voter suppression strategies are designed to erupt in November, it is now possible to identify at least three major areas where hundreds of thousands of likely Democratic votes have already been thwarted—and where steps to reverse that process, if possible, must be taken soon before fall voter registration deadlines kick in.

As Michelle Obama told the Latino Caucus at the Democratic Convention on Wednesday morning, “In the end this election could come down to those last few thousand votes in some of those key battleground states like Ohio.” She offered more specifics, pointing to Florida’s margins in 2008. “We won Florida by 236,000 votes. And while that might sound like a lot, that’s just 26 votes per precinct… And if you think that’s close, don’t forget that we won North Carolina by just 14,000 votes. That’s just five votes per precinct—five!”

What follows are three ways Republicans have already impacted voting in 2012—even though most of their political chess moves are not intended to kick in until Election Day.     

1. Criminalize Voter Registration Drives

This strategy can best be seen in—surprise—Florida. According to a new report by Project Vote, at least 23 states have new rules for groups that conduct voter registration drives. The strictest of these require volunteers to undergo state trainings, set tight timetables for turning in registration applications and ban paying field workers based on the number of registrations filed. These kinds of new rules target groups like Project Vote, which once assisted low-income advocates such as ACORN in its drives.

Florida’s voter registration restrictions, which went into effect July 2011 and stayed in effect until this June (when they were thrown out by a federal court) also had big fines for any mistakes made with registration forms. A recent New York Times report noted that groups that previously registered voters in Florida, such as the League of Women Voters, Rock the Vote and Florida Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), stopped while the law was in effect. Compared to this period a year before the 2008 election, Florida has 250,000 fewer new Democratic registrants, the Times said.

A just-released paper by Dartmouth College’s Michael Herron and the University of Florida’s Daniel Smith traces the disproportionate impact of Florida’s suppression laws on likely Democrats. It noted that Rock the Vote registered 140,000 people in 2008, “primarily college students,” but did not resume registering voters once the new law took effect in July 2011. It found there were 79,000 fewer new voter registration applications between 2007 and 2011, of which 15,000 fewer applications were from people under 21. While Florida’s 2011 election law reforms affected voters across all ethnic groups, the political scientists found it was “more pronounced for Democratic registrants.”

While voter registration groups have been busy in Florida since early June’s federal court ruling, they still lost a year—thanks to the GOP. Floridians who are eligible to vote must register 29 days before the November election, so there is still time left. But the GOP didn’t stop there. If you moved from one county to another in Florida since the last election, you have to file a change of address form, or else you will be given a provisional ballot on Election Day.