Voter Suppression Tactics Backfire on GOP, Galvanizing Voters' Resolve

Election '16

In his symphony of a victory speech, President Barack Obama bounded out of the gate putting his opponents on notice that he hadn’t missed all the tricks they tried to keep his voters from casting their votes.

“I want to thank every American who participated in this election,” Obama said, “whether you voted for the very first time, or waited in line for a very long time — by the way, we have to fix that.”

For all of the efforts that Republicans put into suppressing Democratic votes in the presidential election of 2012, the result may prove to be the greatest turnout of African American voters ever. Exit polls show that the black vote in this election appears to have exceeded the record high turnout of 2008, despite the fact that this year even more people had to wait on lines for hours, endured confusion at polling places, were told to produce IDs that the law does not require, and made to cast provisional ballots because of snafus at election sites.

“Funny thing about black folks -- just try to tell us we can’t do something,” said Dr. Ron Daniels, former third-party presidential candidate and former executive director of the Rainbow Coalition, on the election-night special hosted by Mark Thompson on SiriusXM radio.

A panel of experts on the show -- that also included NAACP President Ben Jealous, Manhattanville College President Emeritus Richard Berman, Brennan Center for Justice Senior Counsel Keesha Gaskins and writer Zerlina Maxwell -- concurred that, if anything, the actions of Republican officials and legislators who sought to limit the vote, especially in areas populated by African Americans and Latinos, may have galvanized the resolve of the very people they hoped to keep from the polls.

In Ohio, lines for early voting snaked around buildings as early voting hours were cut, and one lawsuit about secret voting machine software was only decided on election day. (See AlterNet’s Steven Rosenfeld’s report.) This evening, the Columbus Dispatch ran a front-page headline on its Web site: “Many in Columbus, Cleveland told to vote provisionally.”

The New Yorker's Jane Mayer, reporting on the right-wing cottage industry of alleging voter fraud where there is none, told the story of Teresa Sharp, an African-American woman whose vote was challenged by a group affiliated with True the Vote. The woman had to appear before an election board to defend her right to vote in a precinct in a Cincinnati suburb where she had lived for 30 years. 

Mayer blogged about a follow-up interview Sharp gave to ABC News on election day, when she explained:

“I thought to myself that there’s somebody out here trying to scare people into not voting.” She added, “Voting to me is, like, sacred, like my children.”

In Florida, epic shenanigans were played with early voting and voter-roll purges at the instruction of Gov. Rick Scott, but voters seemed unwilling to relent, some of them standing on line for four or five hours. At one early voting site, when poll workers closed the doors, voters staged a protest. 

Slate's David Weigel, reporting from Miami last month, was perhaps the only national reporter who saw an electoral backlash in the making.

Meanwhile, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that voters in Virginia's most populous cities waited on line for as long as five hours to cast their ballots on Tuesday, delaying the commonwealth's vote tally.

Wisconsin saw its own share of trickery, with right-wing groups providing misleading information to poll-watchers, and a right-wing foundation, which had tried to keep its role secret, funding threatening billboards in Milwaukee's African-American neighborhoods warning that voter fraud is a crime that carries a jail sentence. (With confusing information floating about what kind of ID was required of voters, the strategy seemed to be to try to frighten them from taking the risk of presenting the wrong documents.)

Note that all were battleground states, among the nine that ultimately decided the outcome of the presidential election.

Yet, because of the sustained and vociferous actions of Republicans in trying to tamp down voter turnout through ID laws and attempts to limit early voting (especially on Sundays, when African-Americans were known to carpool to voting locations after church), voter protection groups were on the ground early, organizing in communities of color, and teaching people how to respond if their right to vote was challenged. On Mark Thompson's SiriusLeft show, Make It Plain, listeners were given a toll-free number for the Election Protection Coalition.

It all added up, said Jealous and Gaskins, to a profound determination on the part of people of color not to be deprived of their right to vote -- a right won with the blood of those who went not too long before them. In some parts of the U.S., it’s easy to forget, black people have only had access to the polls for less than 50 years.

Speaking on CurrentTV, former vice president Al Gore compared the current voting crisis fomented by Republican officials to the bad old days of segregation. Gore said, as reported by Mediaite:

“It is a strategy, and it is a strategy that is a direct descendant of the racist Jim Crow tactics that were used in the wake of the Civil War to prevent black people from voting, It’s more sophisticated now, it’s dressed up in different types of language – but it is un-American, it is wrong, it is a disgrace to this country, and there ought to be a bipartisan movement to say enough of this."

Meanwhile, the harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric of Republicans may have helped push up the turnout of Latinos who, for the first time, made up 10 percent of the electorate -- up one point from 2008, according to Richard Dunham of the San Francisco Chronicle.

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