The Rights of Voters Got a Lot of Attention in '12 -- Here Are 10 Things We learned
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3. The need for early voting was evident.
Among the 2012 election’s legacies will be photos of long lines at polling locations across the nation, like a reprised version of “Eyes on the Prize.” It didn’t need to be that way. Proper targeting of resources and voting machines could have streamlined voting. In Tampa, the lines held up because there were 11 constitutional amendments on the ballots, some of which voters said were indecipherable. Long lines ruled the day in Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland as well. Our community journalist Hermelinda Cortes reported about how the lack of early and absentee voting opportunities hurt Virginia. Wrote Cortes: “The state doesn’t make it easy to vote early. Unlike other states, Virginia demands that early voters meet one of more than a dozen qualifications and sign a sworn statement.”
In Florida, election law expert Dan Smith studied the early voting cutbacks from this year and concluded, “It appears that fewer days of early voting—especially the elimination of the final Sunday prior to Election Day—have led to fewer opportunities for some voters to turn out to vote. Moreover, it is certainly arguable based on the evidence presented here that the reduction of early voting days caused by House Bill 1355 has had a differential effect on racial and ethnic minorities in Florida, specifically blacks.”
4. Right wing poll watchers played themselves.
Our Voting Rights Watch project sounded the alarm early on about the plans of poll-watching groups like True the Vote. Earlier this year, True the Vote said it would have an army of a million people to make voters feel like they were “driving and seeing the police follow” them. The Republican Party also launched efforts to marshal a massive poll watcher showing. But most of these efforts were deflated, mainly because media outlets and voting rights advocates put them on blast and thus drew close scrutiny. But they were also undone through their own incompetence.
Our reporter Aura Bogado, for instance, caught one poll watcher in Colorado reporting “high concentrations of people of color” in a voting location, as if that was against the law. In Ohio, poll watchers from True the Vote were banned from one county’s precincts because they didn’t register properly. In general, True the Vote aligned itself with so many right wing extremists and racists that their non-partisan claims were rendered pure folly. Meanwhile, poll watcher manuals from both True the Vote and the Republican Party showed false information. All of this significantly undermined their relationships with election officials and their credibility in the eyes of the news media.
5. Election Protection works.
Some people are saying that pre-election voter suppression threats were overhyped. Maybe. Or maybe there was enough of a counter-movement through Election Protection lawyers who were on the scene in such bulk that their presence thwarted voter harassment, or fended it off when it appeared. I personally saw Election Protection lawyers intervene when poll watchers got rambunctious, while also helping older people get through long lines and mitigate voter confusion, which was prevalent. Our community journalist Hillary Abe wrote about how one team not only helped deflect voter suppression efforts targeting Native Americans, but also how they mobilized this year to expand their political power, fighting off voter ID proposals in the process.
6. Grassroots organizers can turn out voters on shoestring budgets—but that’s not a good thing.
In Orlando, Miami and Tampa, I spent time with get-out-the-vote advocates who were working on the flimsiest of budgets, if they had budgets at all. Many of the organizers were themselves unemployed and doing volunteer work. I learned that this was also true elsewhere. In Minnesota, Hana Worku tells us that “organizers in communities of color were scrambling just to find materials, translation, and funding to pay for their work, even part-time.” In Pittsburgh, organizer Celeste Taylor was somewhat positive about it, telling me, “It is so important to understand that the success of nonprofits, nonpartisan and effective community based organizing work is that they utilize a lot of volunteers, which includes folks like myself who were being paid for part-time work and worked nearly all the time—many 12-to-18 hour days! It was a huge sacrifice to earn so little and work so much, but the payoff was seeing how the people in our communities appreciated the information and turned out to vote!” True, but there’s no reason why putting in 60-plus hours of work shouldn’t be adequately compensated. If it’s bad for Wal-Mart, it’s bad for voter work.