For more than two years Republicans have campaigned and legislated against the right of certain groups of people to vote. On Election Day, Republicans suffered the consequences. The very groups the GOP targeted -- among them African Americans, Latinos, and young people -- turned out in record numbers, propelling to victory the president and Democrats across the country. The Republicans' strategy failed because it awakened the most powerful force in a democracy: the determination of the voters themselves.
Republican lawmakers and conservative activists undertook a concerted effort to keep minorities, students and those with lower or fixed incomes (including many of our seniors) from voting. One GOP official in Ohio said early voting cuts were necessary to check the power of "the urban -- read African-American -- voter-turnout machine." A leader of the Tea Party group "True the Vote" said he wanted to make the experience of voting "like driving and seeing the police following you." The Republican House speaker in New Hampshire said restrictions on college students voting were needed because "voting as a liberal ... that's what kids do."
To reduce turnout among these groups, Republican officials deployed a variety of tactics. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted and Florida Governor Rick Scott slashed the amount of time available for early voting, which is disproportionately utilized by minority and low-income voters. GOP legislators in Pennsylvania enacted a photo ID law, and then failed to establish adequate procedures for allowing more than 700,000 Pennsylvanians who lacked photo ID to obtain one. Voter purges attempted by Gov. Scott and Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler targeted thousands of lawfully registered voters. "True the Vote" -- surely a leading candidate for the Newspeak Award -- challenged minority voter registrations on an unprecedented scale.
The Obama campaign, the Democratic National Committee, and other voting rights advocates responded by challenging many of these restrictions in court. The courts blocked many of the worst measures, including Pennsylvania's photo ID law and the bulk of Florida's voter purge. The Obama campaign and the DNC successfully litigated to restore the final three days of early voting for all Ohioans, and defended this right all the way to the Supreme Court.
Yet the untold story of the 2012 election is not the efforts of lawyers or activists, but the unyielding determination of everyday ordinary citizens determined to cast their ballots. They won on Tuesday. Here's why.
When Secretary Husted tried to change election rules last year, Ohioans responded by gathering 300,000 signatures toward a referendum that successfully suspended the law. After we successfully restored access for the last three days of early voting, the African-American community participated in record numbers, aided by a massive turnout for Souls to the Polls on the Sunday before Election Day. Overall, the African-American share of the Ohio electorate was more than one-third higher than in 2008.
In Florida, 150 black pastors organized "Operation Lemonade" -- named for the "lemon" they were handed when Gov. Scott cut early voting. Although the state reduced the number of early voting days from 14 to eight, and eliminated voting on the Sunday before Election Day, nearly as many voters -- 2.4 million in all -- voted early as in 2008.
On Election Day, voters stood with determination in unconscionably long lines, some that stretched for up to seven hours. Though some voters were elderly, frail, missing work, or simply exhausted, theyrefused to leave, undeterred by the line and in fact galvanized by the bad intent. Voters and activists used social media to stand in solidarity as the hashtag #StayInLine quickly began trending on Twitter. People were so determined to vote that many polling places ran out of provisional ballots.
When the dust settled, the very groups targeted for suppression and intimidation had voted in record numbers. Compared to 2008, African Americans, Hispanics, and people under age 29 all represented a greater share of the national electorate.
In September, Georgia congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis told the Democratic National Convention:
I've seen this before. I lived this before. Too many people struggled, suffered, and died to make it possible for every American to exercise their right to vote. And we have come too far together to ever turn back... [W]e must not be silent. We must stand up, speak up, and speak out. We must march to the polls like never, ever before.
On Election Day, we marched to the polls, and persevered lines (Twitter hash tag #stayinline) as long as necessary to cast our ballots. We marched and stood for many reasons--not least among them, the refusal to let others trample on our hard-won rights. Those seeking to do so would be wise to heed this lesson in the years to come.
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