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Tom D'Antoni

Tom D'Antoni

Posted: September 18, 2008 02:14 PM

Can Obama's Ground Game Beat GOP Vote-Robbing?

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As the race tightens, despite the economy's free-fall, Democrats and progressives are looking to Obama's "ground game" to be the under-the-radar factor that leads to his victory.
As political analyst Ian Fried points out:

The Obama campaign is not merely putting paid staff on the ground in almost every state, they are doing it in numbers and depth that the McCain campaign not only can't match, but wouldn't know how to implement. David Plouffe and David Axelrod of the Obama campaign seem to be convinced that the McCain campaign is far behind when it comes to ground operations, something that does not show up in polling.

In a series of posts, I will outline just what the polls are missing in terms of the political ground game that Obama and other groups are developing to make sure that on November 4th, many more Obama voters get to the polls than have ever voted for any presidential candidate

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But there's another side to the story: GOP-driven vote suppression that could lead to voters purged from registration rolls, vote-caging schemes to challenge voters at the polls, and malfunctioning voting machines leading to long lines and, potentially, stolen votes. The Obama campaign plans to challenge a vote-caging scheme in Michigan -- which uses unreturned mail to challenge the right to vote of mostly black voters -- but it's not fully prepared to overcome the wide variety of schemes.

All these schemes are being reported on daily by Brad Friedman, whose Brad Blog, has become the one-stop-shopping news site for election integrity advocates. He points out:

Barack Obama and the Democratic Party pushed back against an alleged voter suppression scheme in Michigan, after a GOP chair had discussed plans to challenge voters at the polls based on home foreclosure lists. But the Dems still don't seem to fully appreciate the breadth of the 'Republican War on Democracy' that they are up against.

Last week, he told the radio show I co-host the highlights of the wide-ranging effort to suppress the vote in key swing states that's part of the longstanding "Republican War on Democracy." Some disturbing highlights of the schemes underway, as reported by Brad Friedman, Harvey Wasserman, Bob Fitrakis, Steve Rosenfeld of Alternet and others:

MASSIVE RESIDUAL ELIMINATION OF REGISTERED VOTERS:

In the run-up to the 2004 elections, GOP-controlled Boards of Elections in Ohio eliminated some 308,000 registered voters from the rolls used at the polls to determine whether or not citizens are eligible to vote. The purges were conducted in heavily Democratic districts in Cuyahoga (Cleveland), Lucas (Toledo) and Hamilton (Cincinnati) Counties. The numbers of voters eliminated represented more than 5% of the 5.4 million Ohioans who voted in 2004. The GOP also challenged the right of some 35,000 registered voters to cast ballots, based largely on letters the Republicans sent to voters which then came back undelivered, thus allowing them to claim the lack of a valid address. Challenges were also issued to prevent thousands of ex-felons from voting, even though there is no state law disenfranchising them.

Overall, the removals far exceeded Bush's official victory margin of less than 119,000 votes. After the 2004 election, another 170,000 voters were eliminated in Franklin (Columbus) County, also now heavily Democratic.

Despite massive grassroots voter registration drives, those voters have never been restored to the registration lists. None were notified when they were eliminated, and no public accounting has been made of exactly who was disenfranchised. Parallel purges were used in Florida 2000, and throughout the US in 2004. There is every reason to believe the GOP will repeat them in 2008 wherever possible.

RENEWED ATTEMPTS TO ELIMINATE ADDITIONAL REGISTERED VOTERS:

Throughout Ohio's 88 counties, GOP-controlled Boards of Elections have continued "caging" registered voters by sending them notices requiring that the post office return those that cannot be delivered. A loophole in Ohio law allows partisan challengers to then demand that the names of those whose forms come back be eliminated from the voter rolls. This practice has been used by the GOP throughout the nation to purge voter rolls in inner city precincts. In many cases those removed are soldiers currently serving in Iraq.

The Advancement Project has notified Brunner that it will challenge any mass purges in Ohio 2008. For her part, Brunner has ruled that returned notices cannot be used as a basis for eliminating voters from the registration rolls. She has further attempted to counter-act the purges by requiring that any registered voter fingered for removal be issued notice and given a pubic hearing by the purging BOE. But the process remains intimidating for prospective voters---especially the heavily-targeted list of those voting for the first time. With sixty days left to election day, the on-going impact remains unclear.
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Steven Rosenfeld sums up the challenges, leading with the missing registered voters in New Jersey:

The chaos of the 2008 election has begun -- suggesting voting in November will be messy in many ways, in many states.

Across the country in recent days, newspapers, broadcasters and blogs have reported a dizzying array of potential problems that likely will complicate voting, if not confound voters, in the upcoming presidential election. The problems contain elements of the three major categories of ills affecting U.S. elections: bad management, bad technology and partisan treachery. Just how or if these issues are resolved remains to be seen.

Consider the following examples:

In New Jersey, state officials told 300,000 people that they were not registered to vote. However, new reports say an unknown number of those contacted were properly registered voters.

The problem is not confined to New Jersey. Under federal election reforms passed in 2002, every state is supposed to create statewide databases of its registered voters. The problem is not just that these new mega-lists contain errors but rather, as is the case in New Jersey and a handful of other states, what election officials do with the data.

In New Jersey, officials apparently compared the voter lists to other state databases, such as motor vehicle records, to see if voters had moved and therefore should be removed from voter rolls. That practice, which also has been done in Louisiana, Michigan and Kansas in 2008, is illegal, according to voting rights lawyers who say it does not follow the federal rules laid out in the National Voter Registration Act for purging voters.

What are the recipients of New Jersey's 300,000 letters to do?

The best solution for activists, regular voters and Obama backers right now is to make sure there's big enough turnout and registration drives to ensure a big enough margin for a fair vote. So the "Ground Game" will be essential to Obama's victory, but not enough to win.

The single best election resource for fair elections is Election Protection, and call: 1-866-OUR-VOTE. That website provides registration and voting information for each state, because without registration and aggressive follow-up to make sure those voters are on the rolls, no election victory is possible. And Project Vote , which manages massive voting registration drives, provides essential information and resources for voting rights activists.

And Obama and his supporters can't count on victory, though, with so many obstacles to fair voting still standing in their way.

 

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