Voter suppression in the United States
Voter suppression in the United States includes various techniques, legal and non-legal, used to deny residents the right to vote. Voter suppression varies by state, local government, precinct, and election.
- 1 Types
- 2 Examples
- 2.1 2002 New Hampshire Senate election phone jamming scandal
- 2.2 2004 presidential election
- 2.3 2006 Virginia Senate election
- 2.4 2008 presidential election
- 2.5 2010 Maryland gubernatorial election
- 2.6 2012 Florida
- 3 References
Impediments to voter registration
Laws or administrative practices have made it more difficult for people to register to vote. In the United States, Florida imposed a short deadline for the submission of voter registration forms in 2011, with stiff penalties for late filing. The bill led to the end of voter registration work by one organization, the League of Women Voters, whose spokesperson said, "Despite the fact that the League of Women Voters is one of the nation’s most respected civic organizations, with a 91-year history of registering and educating voters, we will be unable to comply with the egregious provisions contained in [this bill]."
Photo ID laws
In the United States, supporters of photo ID laws contend that the photographic IDs (such as driver's licenses or student IDs (in some states) from state schools) are nearly universal, and that presenting them is a minor inconvenience when weighed against the possibility of ineligible voters affecting elections. Opponents argue that photo ID requirements disproportionately affect minority, handicapped and elderly voters who do not normally maintain driver's licenses, and therefore that requiring such groups to obtain and keep track of photo IDs that are otherwise unneeded is a suppression tactic aimed at those groups.
Indiana's photo ID law barred twelve retired nuns in South Bend, Indiana from voting in that state's 2008 Democratic primary election. The women lacked the photo IDs required under a state law that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in April 2008. John Borkowski, a South Bend lawyer volunteering as an election watchdog for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said, "This law was passed supposedly to prevent and deter voter fraud, even though there was no real record of serious voter fraud in Indiana."
Proponents of a similar law proposed for Texas in March 2009 also argued that photo identification was necessary to prevent widespread voter fraud. Opponents respond that there is no evidence of such voter fraud in Texas, so no remedy is required, especially if such a remedy would decrease voting by senior citizens, the disabled, and lower-income residents. Opponents cited a study stating that 1 million of the state's 13.5 million registered voters do not have a photo ID.
State Sen. Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay) said, "Voter fraud not only is alive and well in the U.S., but also alive and well in Texas. The danger of voter fraud threatens the integrity of the entire electoral process." Democratic Caucus Chairwoman Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) said the proposed law "is not about voter fraud. There is no voter fraud. This is about voter suppression." Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) spent $1.4 million investigating voter fraud and from 2002 - 2012 brought 311 accusations of voter fraud to the attorney general's office. 57 cases have been resolved, and among these convictions were two cases of voter impersonation - arguably the type of fraud that photo ID laws would prevent. More than 8,000,000 votes were cast in Texas in the most recent presidential election.
In 2011, more than 100 Democratic members of Congress urged the Department of Justice to oppose such legislation, arguing that it "has the potential to block millions of eligible American voters, and thus suppress the right to vote."
Purging voter rolls
In 2008, more than 98,000 registered Georgia voters were removed from the roll of eligible voters because of a computer mismatch in their personal identification information, leading registrars to conclude that they were no longer eligible Georgia voters at their registered addresses. At least 4,500 of those people must prove their citizenship to regain their right to vote, but opponents say that could be an impossible burden to meet. For example, the state of Georgia gave college senior Kyla Berry one week to prove her citizenship in a letter dated October 2, 2008, but the letter was postmarked October 9, 2008. However, Berry is a U.S. citizen, born in Boston, Massachusetts with a passport and a birth certificate to prove it. Commenting on Berry's case and those like it, Wendy Weiser, an elections expert with New York University's Brennan Center for Justice, said, "What most people don't know is that every year, elections officials strike millions of names from the voter rolls using processes that are secret, prone to error and vulnerable to manipulation."
In 2004, 5.3 million Americans were denied the right to vote because of previous felony convictions. Thirteen states permanently disenfranchise convicted felons; eighteen states restore voting rights after completion of prison, parole, and probation; four states re-enfranchise felons after they have been released from prison and have completed parole; thirteen allow felons who have been released from prison to vote, and two states do not disenfranchise felons at all. Some states require felons to complete a process to restore voting rights, but offender advocates say such processes can be very difficult.
The United States is the only democracy in the world that regularly bans large numbers of felons from voting after they have discharged their sentences. Many countries including Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Kenya, Norway, Peru, Sweden, and Zimbabwe allow prisoners to vote (unless convicted of crimes against the electoral system). Some countries, notably the U.K., disenfranchise people for only as long as they are in prison.
This form of vote suppression in the United States disproportionately affects minorities including African-Americans and Latinos . Disenfranchisement of felons is opposed by some as a form of the medieval practice of civil death.
Disinformation about voting procedures
Voters may be given false information about when and how to vote, leading them to fail to cast valid ballots. For example, in recall elections for the Wisconsin State Senate in 2011, Americans for Prosperity (a conservative organization that was supporting Republican candidates) sent many Democratic voters a mailing that gave an incorrect deadline for absentee ballots. Voters who relied on the deadline in the mailing would have sent in their ballots too late for them to be counted. The organization said that the mistake was a typographical error.
Inequality in Election Day resources
Elections in the United States are funded at the local level, often unequally. In the 2004 elections, Wyoming spent $2.15 per voter while California spent $3.99 per voter. In contrast, Canada spends $9.51 per voter. Underfunded election areas can result in long lines at polling places, requiring some voters either to wait hours to cast a ballot or to forgo their right to vote in that election. Voters who cannot wait the required amount of time are therefore disenfranchised, while voters in well-funded areas with sufficient voting capacity may face minimal or no waiting time.
Caging lists have been used by political parties to eliminate potential voters registered with other political parties. A political party sends registered mail to addresses of registered voters. If the mail is returned as undeliverable, the mailing organization uses that fact to challenge the registration, arguing that because the voter could not be reached at the address, the registration is fraudulent.
Partisan election administration
While the majority of the world's democracies use independent agents to manage elections, 33 of 50 state election directors in the United States are themselves elected partisans. Those party affiliations can create conflicts of interest, or at least the appearance thereof, while directing elections. Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris served as state co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign during the 2000 presidential election, and Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell served as his state's Bush-Cheney co-chair during the 2004 presidential election.
Jim Crow laws
In the United States, voter suppression was used extensively in most Southern states until the Voting Rights Act (1965) made most disenfranchisement and voting qualifications illegal. Traditional voter suppression tactics included the institution of poll taxes and literacy tests, aimed at suppressing the votes of African Americans and working class white voters.
2002 New Hampshire Senate election phone jamming scandal
In the 2002 New Hampshire Senate election phone jamming scandal, Republican officials attempted to reduce the number of Democratic voters by paying professional telemarketers in Idaho to make repeated hang-up calls to the telephone numbers used by the Democratic Party's ride-to-the-polls phone lines on election day. By tying up the lines, voters seeking rides from the Democratic Party would have more difficulty reaching the party to ask for transportation to and from their polling places.
2004 presidential election
Allegations surfaced in several states that the group called Voters Outreach of America had collected and submitted Republican voter registration forms while inappropriately discarding voter registration forms where the new voter had chosen to register with the Democratic Party. Such people would believe they had registered to vote, and would only discover on election day that they were not registered and could not cast a ballot.
Michigan Republican state legislator John Pappageorge was quoted as saying, "If we do not suppress the Detroit vote, we're going to have a tough time in this election.".
In 2006, four employees of the John Kerry campaign were convicted of slashing the tires of 25 vans rented by the Wisconsin state Republican Party which were to be used for driving Republican voters and monitors to the polls. At the campaign workers' sentencing, Judge Michael B. Brennan told the defendants, "Voter suppression has no place in our country. Your crime took away that right to vote for some citizens."
2006 Virginia Senate election
During the United States Senate election in Virginia, 2006, Secretary of the Virginia State Board of Elections Jean Jensen concluded that incidents of voter suppression appeared widespread and deliberate. Documented incidents of voter suppression include:
- Democratic voters receiving calls incorrectly informing them voting will lead to arrest.
- Widespread calls fraudulently claiming to be "[Democratic Senate candidate Jim] Webb Volunteers," falsely telling voters their voting location had changed.
- Fliers paid for by the Republican Party, stating "SKIP THIS ELECTION" that allegedly attempted to suppress African-American turnout.
2008 presidential election
A dispute between the Social Security Administration commissioner and the National Association of Secretaries of State about the use of the Social Security database to test the validity of voters led to the shutdown of the database over the Columbus Day holiday weekend.
Prior to the 2008 United States Presidential Election, on September 16, 2008, Obama legal counsel announced that they would be seeking an injunction to stop an alleged caging scheme in Michigan wherein the state Republican party would use home foreclosure lists to challenge voters still using their foreclosed home as a primary address at the polls. Michigan GOP officials called the suit "desperate". A Federal Appeals court ordered the reinstatement of 5,500 voters wrongly purged from the voter rolls by the state.
The conservative nonprofit Minnesota Majority has been reported as making phone calls claiming that the Minnesota Secretary of State had concerns about the validity of the voters registration. Their actions have been referred to the Ramsey County attorney's office and the U.S. Attorney are looking into Johnson's complaint. 
On October 5, 2008, the Republican Lt. Governor of Montana, John Bohlinger, accused the Montana Republican Party of vote caging to purge 6,000 voters from three counties which trend Democratic. These purges included decorated war veterans and active duty soldiers.
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The Republican Party attempted to have all 60,000 voters in the heavily Democratic city of Milwaukee who had registered since January 1, 2006, deleted from the voter rolls. The requests were rejected by the Milwaukee Election Commission, although Republican commissioner Bob Spindell voted in favor of deletion.
2010 Maryland gubernatorial election
In the Maryland gubernatorial election in 2010, the campaign of Republican candidate Bob Ehrlich hired a consultant who advised that "the first and most desired outcome is voter suppression", in the form of having "African-American voters stay home." To that end, the Republicans placed thousands of Election Day robocalls to Democratic voters, telling them that the Democratic candidate, Martin O'Malley, had won, although in fact the polls were still open for some two more hours. The Republicans' call, worded to seem as if it came from Democrats, told the voters, "Relax. Everything's fine. The only thing left is to watch it on TV tonight." The calls reached 112,000 voters in majority-African American areas. In 2011, Ehrlich's campaign manager, Paul Schurick, was convicted of fraud and other charges because of the calls. In 2012, he was sentenced to 30 days of home detention, a one-year suspended jail sentence, and 500 hours of community service over the four years of his probation, with no fine or jail time. The Democratic candidate won by a margin of more than 10 percent.
A Florida law passed in 2011 by the Florida legislature which reduced the days available for early voting, barred voter-registration activities of groups like the League of Women Voters, and made it more difficult to vote for voters who since the last election had moved to a different county within the state. Jim Greer, the main source cited in the Palm Beach Post article sentence to 18 months for embezzling from the Florida Republican Party. A majority of early voting ballots cast in 2008 were cast by Democratic voters, and minority voters are more likely to move. The reason given by Republican politicians for the law was to reduce cost and to deter voter fraud, however the former senior Republican officials revealed that the true drivers of the law were GOP political consultants who were seeking ways to suppress the Democratic vote.
Several factors, including the reduction in early voting, reductions in the number of polling places, and an unusually lengthy ballot that included 11 detailed constitutional amendments, all combined to produce long lines on election day, with waits of several hours. By one estimate, the result was that at least 201,000 likely voters did not vote, either leaving the line in frustration or not even getting on line when they saw how long it would take.
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- Palm Beach Post, 25 Nov. 2012, "Former Florida GOP Leaders Say Voter Suppression Was Reason They Pushed New Election Law Regardless of the source,a quote given as fact should state the name of the individual, Republican or Democrat, who made said remark, and they should be given the opportunity to confirm or deny. Please keep Wikipedia politically neutral, and non-biased.)
- Powers, Scott; David Damron (January 29, 2013). "Analysis: 201,000 in Florida didn't vote because of long lines". Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Florida). Retrieved 2013-02-18.