The NAACP's Fight Against GOP-led Voter Suppression

12/08/2011 12:06 pm ET | Updated Feb 07, 2012

A few years ago, I attended a baseball game with an elderly Federal Appeals Court judge who happened to be the father of a friend.

The judge, nominated to the bench by President Eisenhower, was one of a vanishing breed -- a moderate Republican with wisdom, common sense and a pleasant personality.

He knew I was a liberal Democrat but he enjoyed bantering about politics. "So," he asked me, "what's your prediction for the election?"

I gave a safe answer, predicting a large turnout.

The judge nodded his head and frowned.

"That's what I'm afraid of," he said.

We both knew that a "large turnout" tends to favor Democrats over Republicans, labor over management, poor over rich. That's one reason Barack Obama was elected president in 2008.

That judge is dead now, God rest his soul, but Obama is running for reelection in 2012 and voter turnout again will be crucial. I wonder what the judge would say (or how he would rule) regarding the current aggression by Republicans to limit Democratic voter turnout?

The scheme was the subject of Monday's 67-page "Defending Democracy: Confronting Modern Barriers to Voting Rights in America" report released by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

After seizing much statehouse power in the 2010 tea party elections, right-wing legislatures and governors are trying to hold back the 2012 vote by making it difficult to register, demanding photo identification and limiting absentee and early voting.

The pushback picked up momentum Tuesday when a Baltimore jury convicted a political aide to former Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich of conspiring to suppress black voter turnout in the 2010 gubernatorial election.

According to The Daily Kos, Paul Schurick was convicted on four counts including conspiracy to violate state election laws through fraud. On Election Day, 2010, more than 100,000 robocalls to black precincts told voters they did not need to vote.

"[Current Maryland] Governor O'Malley and President Obama have been successful," the recorded message said. "... We're OK. Relax. The only thing left is to watch it on TV tonight."

But even this is unlikely to discourage most Republican efforts.

In their sanctimonious way, they insist it is to prevent "voter fraud," that old bogeyman of the reactionaries. In truth, their new laws are targeted at minorities and the poor who tend to vote liberal and Democratic.

"There are far more reported UFO sighting than reports of impersonation at the polls," the NAACP report said, "with a grand total of nine suspected fraudulent votes that could have been prevented by restrictive photo ID laws since 2000 -- a period in which over 400 million votes were cast in general elections alone."

"With in-person electoral fraud occurring at the rate of 0.000002 percent, an individual is more likely to be struck by lightning than to impersonate another voter at the polls."

The report cited a new law in Florida, the state that helped steal the 2000 election for George Bush from Al Gore at a time when Bush's brother was the governor.

One part of Florida's new law eliminated early voting on the last Sunday before Election Day.

Traditionally, that was the day called "Soul to the Polls" in some counties in which African-American churches would transport worshippers after services to the election booths.

It was a good thing because working poor often have inflexible schedules and limited transportation. They can't always vote easily on a Tuesday. They don't have limo drivers to transport them from Wall Street skyscrapers to the polling places while they conduct business in the back seat on their cell phones.

Florida's law remains subject to review under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, a provision put in place to prevent states in the Confederate region from discriminating against civil rights with attitudes from the Civil War.

As we observe the 150th anniversary of that conflict, it is sad to see how some of the same issues are still being battled over with ballots instead of with bullets. But in some ways, some states are going retro.

You thought the Jim Crow era was over? State demands for birth certificates or other forms of identification create a burden on time and cost that falls most harshly on the poor and minority population.

A New York Times editorial this year noted: "The Advancement Project, an advocacy group of civil rights lawyers, correctly describes the push as the 'largest legislative effort to scale back voting rights in a century.'"

And what are other democracies from different cultures to think of us? Consider Egypt and Russia, which had their own elections in recent days. Democracy, it is often said, is a terribly flawed system but it is still better than all the others.

In Egypt, in the first parliamentary vote since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, the somewhat moderate Muslim Brotherhood took about 37 percent of the vote while the ultraconservative Salafis might finish with 24 percent. Should we be afraid?

In Russia, the United Russia party of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin appears to have about 50 percent of the vote, far less than expected, and may have to form a coalition government with opposition parties. Should we be happy?

Perhaps we should invite observers from these nations to the U.S. next year to monitor our elections. In the last Bush era, with cocksure bellicosity, we ordered everyone to adopt "democracy" and to do things our way.

It would sure be a shame if other nations suspected our own voting in 2012 was rigged by rich, powerful and corrupt politicians to screw those citizens they deem to be beneath them and who threaten their control.

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