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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.

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Academics expect Florida will issue 300,000 provisional ballots on Election Day, a large number that will slow down polling place voting. Moreover, Florida’s November ballot will be the longest ever—also because of legislative changes—and that too will mean polling place delays. None of these complicating steps needed to happen. They were adopted by Republicans who want to erect barriers.

In Wisconsin, the GOP-controlled Legislature passed a law that requires anyone registering voters to be certified by the local election office where that new voter is a resident. Before the law, those working on registration drives could get a statewide certification. This new local requirement "is a real pain," said Andrea Kaminski of the Wisconsin's League of Women Voters, because the state has 1,750 local election jurisdictions. "I can't tell you the numbers, but I can tell you it has hurt our efforts."

2. Disenfranchise Felons—Again

Florida’s shady reputation extends to its shameful treatment of former felons, of whom an estimated 200,000 lost their right to vote in 2012 because the state’s GOP Tea Party Governor Rick Scott and legislature reversed a voting rights reform from the previous governor, moderate Republican Charlie Crist. In 2011, Scott and the GOP passed a law that requires nonviolent offenders who have completed their sentence to wait five years before applying for a clemency board hearing to regain voting rights. All other former offenders must wait seven years.

According to the Sentencing Project’s latest numbers, as of 2010 there were 1.3 million ex-felons living in Florida—almost one out of every 10 voting-age adults. A recent report in the  Nation estimated that 200,000 former felons would have been eligible to vote this fall were it not for the state’s new disenfranchisement policy. “Blacks are 13 percent of registered voters in Florida, but 23 percent of disenfranchised felons,” it said.

Florida is not alone in its treatment of former felons when it comes to voting rights. In Virginia, another 2012 swing state, there are about 350,000 ex-felons who have not regained their voting rights. And in Iowa, another swing state, there are at least 12,000 parolees and federal probationers, according to the Sentencing Project, many of whom just lost their voting rights. Last year, Iowa’s new Republican Governor, Terry Branstad, rescinded an executive order that had returned voting rights to ex-felons.

Nationally, there are 5.85 million disenfranchised felons, the Sentencing Project reports, with three-quarters living outside prisons and jails. Curiously, ex-felons are not a monolithic Democratic voting block, said Michael McDonald of George Mason University, a nationally known expert on voter turnout. Many who regain their voting rights are white-collar criminals who support Republicans. However, in states such as Florida, a disproportionate number come from communities of color where voting histories typically are pro-Democrat.

3. Spread Propaganda That Voters Will Be Policed

Every war has a propaganda component and the GOP’s war on Democratic voters is no exception. In Florida, Colorado, Michigan, Kansas and New Mexico, top state election officials have decried the alleged presence of tens of thousands of non-citizens on their voting rolls, which would be illegal. (The reality is the numbers are very small.) They have said the state must take steps to police the rolls and polls. This deliberate posturing has already had a negative impact on voters, according to Florida’s Ion Sancho, who is the supervisor of elections in Leon County, where the state capital is located.

In Florida, Scott and his handpicked secretary of state this summer claimed that there were more than 180,000 non-citizens on voter rolls and a massive purge was needed. They later took back that assertion, walking back from the poised purge and saying they’d study the issue after November. But the Florida GOP knew exactly what it was doing by making the false claims and preying on people’s fears. Sancho said his office keeps getting calls from would-be voters who think they lack the proper identifying documents to get a ballot in November.