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5 Ways GOP Tried to Subvert Democracy in 2012 -- And They'll Try Again

The 2012 election saw the biggest challenges to voting rights and campaign finance law in a generation.
 
 
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Creating barriers to voting, demonizing communities of color, attacking voting rights laws and their defenders, unleashing billionaires who financed candidates like an extreme sport, and hiding corporate donors behind opaque front groups—these were the chapters in the Republican Party’s electoral playbook in the 2012 election cycle.

While Democrats copied but did not quite match the GOP on the campaign finance abuse side of this depressing ledger, the 2012 campaign cycle arguably was the worst for democracy issues in years. And the GOP’s prospects for changing course are dim.

The nation’s most comprehensive 2012 Election Day survey of voter attitudes found that upwards of one-fifth of Republicans believed the GOP’s voter fraud propagandists. That cadre claimed that non-citizens voting, people impersonating others, voting more than once, and tampering with ballots and results occurred in their counties.

Meanwhile, top GOP officials in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are hoping to change the way their states allocate Electoral College votes to dilute future Democratic victories.

To be fair, the Democrats are no angels when it comes to using the same campaign finance tactics as the GOP—although the GOP was first to pioneer and exploit 2012’s newest and biggest loopholes. But on voting rights, the GOP clearly is a party that does not want everyone to vote, whereas Democrats believe in expanding the franchise.

1. Voting Barriers     

The bad news was that between January 2011 and October 2012, 19 states (all but one with GOP majorities) adopted 25 new laws and two executive actions that created barriers at varying stages of the voting process, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School. These new laws weren’t just newly restrictive voter ID requirements, but also curbs on registration drives and early voting options.

The good news was liberal voting rights groups and the U.S. Department of Justice (after doing little in 2011) reversed or weakened new laws in 14 states, according to Brennan’s count. But in some of the most contested fights, such as Pennsylvania’s new photo ID law, the Court only postponed the law from taking effect until after 2012.

2. Voter Intimidation

The GOP’s propoganda machine went into overdrive in 2012, with a handful of Tea Party governors and secretaries of state—led by Florida Gov. Rick Scott—falsely claiming that hundreds of thousands of non-citizens were on voter rolls. Scott’s claims of 180,000-plus illegals led to hundreds of legal voters, including World War II vets, being incorrectly purged. He retracted that figure, but the initial publicity did its dirty work: intimidating new voters from communities of color, according to Florida election officials like Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho. And as Election Day neared, Republican activists paid for billboards in several swing state cities with big minority populations that cited penalties for illegal voting, another voter suppression tactic.   

The good news was that in Florida, election supervisors from both parties rebelled against Scott’s false claims. But rightwing media trumpeted these and other fabrications. On Election Day, a nationwide survey by CalTech/MIT of 10,200 voters found that 35 percent of Republicans believed non-citizen voting was a problem in their county. (This is the nation’s largest survey of voter attitudes and experiences.)

Twenty-two percent of Republicans said there was voting by people pretending to be someone else in their county, CalTech/MIT found. The same number said there was voting by people more than once; 17 percent said people tampered with ballots; and another 16 percent said election officials tampered with the count. In contrast, only 9 percent or less of Democrats believed these issues were real problems.