If you’re aware of the GOP’s unprecedented effort to stop eligible voters from casting a ballot this November, you should probably thank Ari Berman, contributing writer at The Nation and the author of Herding Donkeys:The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics.
For more than a year, Berman has been waging a one-man war on the GOP’s voter suppression efforts. In this Q and A with The National Memo, he explains how this coordinated effort to deny the vote to core members of Obama’s winning coalition from 2008 could still swing the 2012 election, despite some recent victories in federal court.
Even if the laws aren’t particularly effective in stopping voting, could they still affect turnout?
Nate Silver has found that voter ID laws can reduce turnout by two to three percent among registered voters, which is certainly more than enough to swing a close election. He projects that Pennsylvania’s voter ID law, for example, will reduce voter turnout by 2.4 percent and provide a net 1.2 swing to a Republican candidate. That may not be enough to shift the presidential election, given Obama’s 8-point lead in the state, but it could influence the outcome in other races, particularly down-ballot. The scary thing is that we won’t know the impact of these laws until after the election — at which point it will be too late to do anything about it. At the very least, we’re looking at a lot of confusion and possible chaos on Election Day in important battleground states.
Is there any sign these efforts will let up if they fail in 2012?
No chance. Until Republicans recruit candidates who can win over a younger and more diverse electorate, they will continue to pass laws to shape an electorate in their favor. Six Republican Attorneys General are also attempting to challenge the Constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, a very important provision that forces parts or all of 16 states with a history of discrimination to clear voting changes with the federal government or a federal court in Washington, before the Supreme Court. If Republicans succeed in overturning or significantly weakening Section 5, it will be a huge setback for voting rights — equivalent, in some ways, to what the Citizens United decision did to campaign-finance reform. Hopefully the Supreme Court won’t let that happen. In lieu of the laws passed since 2010, we should be strengthening the Voting Rights Act, not weakening it.
Since 2010, Republicans have changed the voting rules by demanding proof of citizenship to register to vote, restricting voter registration drives, curtailing early voting days, passing government-issued photo ID laws, disenfranchising ex-felons and purging the voter rolls. All of these steps reduce voter turnout.
It’s tough to pick the most egregious law, because there are so many, but the most disturbing tactic, to me, is disenfranchising ex-felons. Florida and Iowa did this following the 2010 election, essentially telling a specific group of people that after they served their time and paid their debt to society, they still cannot get their voting rights back unless they wait seven years (in Florida) or specifically petition the governor (in Iowa). That’s un-American to me.
The voter purges are also very alarming, because once you’re removed from the voting rolls your only option would be to cast a provisional ballot, which there’s no guarantee will be counted. In Florida in 2000, 12,000 registered voters — 41 percent of them African-American — were wrongly identified as felons and kicked off the voting rolls. That voter purge could have very well cost Al Gore the election.