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10 Dirty Tricks to Keep Americans from Voting and Swing an Election

Here are the most common legal and illegal paths to keeping Americans from the ballot box.

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Voter Purges

States are supposed to keep the voter rolls current, but sometimes removals of dead or no longer valid voter registrations is undertaken in a reckless or partisan manner that can end up disenfranchising eligible voters. Just this year Florida  tried to purge its rolls of alleged "noncitizens" on the rolls, only it turned out that many of them were  perfectly eligible to vote. Colorado tried to do the same thing, with  similar results. Concidentally, flawed voter purges frequently seem to end up  disenfranchising voters of color

The Menacing Billboard 

Republicans, convinced that Democrats only win elections through voter fraud,  have taken to setting up billboards warning that "voter fraud is a felony" in swing states this year. Naturally, these billboards only seem to pop up in minority neighborhoods. It's unclear how effective the billboards are at intimidating people out of voting, but there's no mistaking who they're aimed at. "They use a lot of threatening language to associate voting with a crime, that may just make people want to stay away," says the Brennan Center's Larry Norden. Norden says the billboards leave the impression that "if you go to the polls there might be somebody there to take you to jail or fine you."

Poll Watchers

Republicans have developed an extensive network of poll watchers who think of themselves as protecting the integrity of the ballot box, but they're really there to prevent people they think are Democrats from engaging in "voter fraud." As Brentin Mock  noted in his report on the conservative group True the Vote, the group's national elections coordinator said that he wanted voters to feel like they are "driving and seeing the police following you." These poll watchers can be misinformed about what's required to be able to cast a ballot, which means eligible voters can be prevented from voting. "When these folks show up at the polling places," Hair says, "our view is that it's to scare people away just by being there."

Messing with Early Voting

Early voting can cut down on long lines on election day and allow Americans who might not be able to get to the polls—maybe because they have jobs—cast a ballot. That sounds like a good thing, right? Well not to the governments of Ohio, Florida, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Georgia, all of which cut down on early voting for 2012. Except for West Virginia, all of these states have GOP governors, and as Ari Berman noted in  a piece for Rolling Stone, Ohio and Florida specifically "banned voting on the Sunday before the election – a day when black churches historically mobilize their constituents."

Making voter registration more difficult 

After Republicans chalked up Barack Obama's 2008 win to voter fraud engineered by the now-defunct community organizing group ACORN, GOP governors in Texas and Florida sought to cut down on registration drives by third-party groups. Florida's restrictions were ultimately struck down in court, but the law had done its job:  According to the Florida Times-Union, "the number of new Democrats registering in Florida has all but disappeared." The irony? Last month, Florida announced it was investigating a long-time GOP activist  for voter registration fraud. And if you can't ban third-party voter registration groups,  you can always destroy the voter registration forms of the opposite party, as one GOP activist is suspected of doing in Virginia. 

In-Person Voter Fraud

Just kidding! As my  colleague Kevin Drum has written,  in-person voter fraud is  so rare that eight years of the Bush administration ended in  only a handful of prosecutions* and no evidence of an organized conspiracy to steal elections through in-person voter fraud, despite the fact that such conspiracies comprise the beginning and end of Republicans' interest in voting rights matters.  Absentee ballot fraud is more common, but voter ID laws wouldn't stop it. Also, many Republicans vote absentee, and they're not really interested in disenfranchising their own.

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