Bankrupting the Vote: Voter Suppression Through Budget Cuts?
It's well known that Republicans all over the country are doing what comes naturally by seeking to restrict the franchise, most notably through voter ID laws that will disproportionately affect poor and minority voters, restrictions on voter registration drives, and cutbacks on "convenience voting." It's even been called "the war on voting" in Ari Berman's phrase.
But a less well-known phenonmenon might be called "bankrupting the vote," as states and localities (particular cities with heavily Democratic electorates) struggling with fiscal crises simply can't afford to adequately staff and administer elections.
Patricia Zengerle of Reuters has a must-read report on this phenomenon:
In Detroit, the city clerk warned last week that the Rust Belt city would have trouble holding the November 6 presidential election under a slimmed-down budget the mayor proposed to address years of deep financial problems.
In Jefferson County, Alabama, the local government was so short of cash for elections that it used road repair crews to staff the state's Republican presidential primary last month.
And in South Carolina, a $500,000 shortfall after the state's Republican primary in January led elections officials to consider a sponsorship deal with comedian Stephen Colbert, who plays a mock conservative pundit on his late-night TV show.
With cities and counties across the United States in dire financial straits, many local officials are struggling to come up with the millions of dollars they will need to hold the November 6 elections. That is likely to mean fewer election workers and long lines for voters, which could reduce turnout.
It is a problem that could affect candidates and political parties in November but particularly President Barack Obama and fellow Democrats, who are relying on support from big cities such as Detroit.
Worse yet, the "war on voting" can immensely increase the financial pressures on local voting administration, enhancing the suppressive effect.
New, stricter voter registration laws in some states such as Florida could exacerbate the problem by raising the need for more elections workers to verify voters' eligibility.
Local governments across the nation are planning to shift costs - putting off road repairs for a few days while transit crews work on elections, or borrowing workers from other departments to help count votes.
But they also are laying off staff who would have helped with voter questions, and cutting back the hours that polls are open.
Besides raising constitutional questions about whether some people will have enough opportunity to vote, the situation could have an impact on close elections, analysts say.
No kidding. I try not to be a broken record on this, but this country's failure to do anything after 2000 to significantly reduce state and local disparities in how elections are conducted invites another Florida disaster. Indeed, with Rick Scott's Florida at the center of the "war on voting," Florida could well produce another Florida.
But it's particularly interesting to watch Republicans simultaneously promote austerity policies for state and local governments and new restrictions on voting. Many conservatives favor the former as an end in itself, but are receiving a sort of bonus as competent election administration becomes one of those luxuries many jurisdictions can't quite afford.