By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 10. 2012
On Election Day 2004, long lines and widespread electoral dysfunctional marred the results of the presidential election in Ohio, whose electoral votes ended up handing George W. Bush a second term. “The misallocation of voting machines led to unprecedented long lines that disenfranchised scores, if not hundreds of thousands, of predominantly minority and Democratic voters,” found a post-election report by Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee. According to one survey, 174,000 Ohioans, 3 percent of the electorate, left their polling place without voting because of the interminable wait. (Bush won the state by only 118,000 votes).
After 2004, Ohio reformed its electoral process by adding thirty-five days of early voting before Election Day, which led to a much smoother voting experience in 2008. The Obama campaign used this extra time to successfully mobilize its supporters, building a massive lead among early voters than John McCain could not overcome on Election Day.
In response to the 2008 election results, Ohio Republicans drastically curtailed the early voting period in 2012 from thirty-five to eleven days, with no voting on the Sunday before the election, when African-American churches historically rally their congregants to go to the polls. (Ohio was one of five states to cut back on early voting since 2010.) Voting rights activists subsequently gathered enough signatures to block the new voting restrictions and force a referendum on Election Day. In reaction, Ohio Republicans repealed their own bill in the state legislature, but kept a ban on early voting three days before Election Day (a period when 93,000 Ohioans voted in 2008), adding an exception for active duty members of the military, who tend to lean Republican. (The Obama campaign is now challenging the law in court, seeking to expand early voting for all Ohioans).
The Romney campaign has recently captured headlines with its absurd and untrue claim that the Obama campaign is trying to suppress the rights of military voters. The real story from Ohio is how cutbacks to early voting will disproportionately disenfranchise African-American voters in Ohio’s most populous counties. African-Americans, who supported Obama over McCain by 95 points in Ohio, comprise 28 percent of the population of Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County but accounted for 56 percent of early voters in 2008, according to research done by Norman Robbins of the Northeast Ohio Voter Advocates and Mark Salling of Cleveland State University. In Columbus’s Franklin County, African-Americans comprise 20 percent of the population but made up 34 percent of early voters.
Now, in heavily Democratic cities like Cleveland, Columbus, Akron and Toledo, early voting hours will be limited to 8 am until 5 pm on weekdays beginning on October 1, with no voting at night or during the weekend, when it’s most convenient for working people to vote. Republican election commissioners have blocked Democratic efforts to expand early voting hours in these counties, where the board of elections are split equally between Democratic and Republican members. Ohio Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted has broken the tie by intervening on behalf of his fellow Republicans. (According to the Board of Elections, 82% of early voters in Franklin County voted early on nights or weekends, which Republicans have curtailed. The number who voted on nights or weekends was nearly 50% in Cuyahoga County.)
“I cannot create unequal access from one county board to another, and I must also keep in mind resources available to each county,” Husted said in explaining his decision to deny expanded early voting hours in heavily Democratic counties. Yet in solidly Republican counties like Warren and Butler, GOP election commissioners have approved expanded early voting hours on nights and weekends. Noted the Cincinnati Enquirer: “The counties where Husted has joined other Republicans to deny expanded early voting strongly backed then-candidate Barack Obama in 2008, while most of those where the extra hours will stand heavily supported GOP nominee John McCain.” Moreover, budget constraints have not stopped Republican legislators from passing costly voter ID laws across the map since 2010.
The cutbacks in early voting in Ohio are part of a broader push by Republicans to restrict the right to vote for millions of Americans, particularly those who voted for Obama. “The Republicans remember those long lines outside board of elections last time in the evenings and on weekends,” Tim Burke, Democratic Party chairman in Cincinnati’s Hamilton County, told the Enquirer. “The lines were overwhelmingly African-American, and it’s pretty obvious that the people were predominately—very predominately Obama voters. The Republicans don’t want that to happen again. It’s that simple.”
Ohio in 2012 is at risk of heading back to the dark days of 2004. “Voting—America’s most precious right and the foundation for all others—is a fragile civic exercise for many Ohioans,” the Enquirer wrote recently.
By: Ari Berman, The Nation, August 8, 2012
Barack Obama’s former right-hand man accused Republicans of passing laws to shut out Democrats from voting in the next presidential election. “There’s no doubt that Republican legislatures and governors across this country have made an attempt to try to win the elections in 2012 and 2011 by passing laws that are restrictive, that are meant to discourage participation, particularly by key constituencies that have voted Democratic in the past,” said David Axelrod, former White House official and current senior advisor to the Obama campaign.
The comments were made in an online Q&A following the premiere of “The Road We Traveled,” a 17-minute film directed by David Guggenheim and produced by the Obama campaign. Questions were submitted over Twitter, and the topics ranged from how the president will handle Iran to whether Axelrod ever got in arguments with fellow senior advisor David Plouffe. The final question posed to Axelrod was about the string of laws Republican state legislatures have passed over the past year that will restrict access to the ballot in the name of combating voter fraud.
“The bottom line is we’re going to have to fight this in every state,” he said, “with every set of rules through organization, through commitment on the part of the campaign but also on individuals to find out exactly what the rules are in their state.” Axelrod and fellow Obama staffer Mitch Stewart then touted GottaRegister, a website started by the Democratic National Committee that helps voters register and navigate their local voting laws.
Seven states have passed strict voter ID laws since the 2010 midterm elections, though some of those have been held up after objections from the Department of Justice.
Immediately after taking power, newly elected Republican majorities in state legislatures rushed to combat voter fraud, a constant fear among the conservative base. But research has shown that these laws—and other restrictive voting measures such as repealing same-day registration or cutbacks on early voting—will make it incredibly difficult for certain groups of citizens to cast a ballot: senior citizens, racial minorities, the poor, and the young.
Republicans claim that it is just a coincidence that these groups targeted by the bill happen to vote consistently for Democrats. But Axelrod didn’t mince words about Republicans’ intentions. “We’re going to thwart this cynical attempt to depress voter turnout,” he said in the video. “The difference between our party and their party is we’d be comfortable if every single American who was qualified to vote did vote. We think that’d be a great thing for this country.”
By: Patrick Caldwell, The American Prospect, March 16, 2012
Connecticut has taken the lead in proposing measures to increase voter turnout by—get this—making it easier to vote.
Voter ID laws have been all the rage around the country, with conservative lawmakers pushing to make it harder to vote, often by requiring some form of government-issued photo identification. The goal, at least according to rhetoric, is to keep the process safe from fraud—despite there being no real evidence of in-person voter fraud, the only kind such laws would actually prevent. In the meantime, states struggle with low-turnout rates and sometimes low registration rates. In Texas, which recently passed one of the more stringent ID requirements, residents vote at among the lowest rates in the country.
All of which makes Connecticut’s current voting debate somewhat shocking by comparison. The secretary of state has taken the lead in proposing measures to increase voter turnout by—get this—making it easier to vote. Two proposals make it easier to register by offering same-day registration for those who show up on Election Day and creating an online voter registration system so people can do it from home. Another measure would increase penalties for voter intimidation. According to officials, the efforts are much-needed to increase turnout. As the Hartford Courant reports:
“It’s long past time that we move our elections into the 21st century in Connecticut,” Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said during a press briefing Friday prior to a legislative hearing on the proposals. “We are not on the cutting edge and our system is old, costly and inconvenient.”
As a result, Merrill said, one out of three state residents who are eligible to vote aren’t even registered.
Voting, most of us can all agree, is a good thing to do. But legislation around voting has become largely about partisan advantage—voter ID laws are seen to give Republicans an advantage because the impact would be particularly felt in poor and minority communities, both largely Democratic constituencies. Not shockingly, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that the American Legislative Exchange Council, a meeting place for corporate interests and conservative lawmakers, has helped bolster the efforts to pass voter ID laws around the country—presumably because ALEC hopes to see more conservatives get into office. Meanwhile Democrats argue voter ID laws decrease access and function like a poll tax, as a way of making it harder for certain communities to vote.
The Courant article shows the same cynicism comes at efforts to increase voting—since those efforts will likely benefit Democrats. One Republican asks why there’s a need for these laws and worries about devaluing the ballot box if access is too easy. Politicians are rarely angels, and it’s likely both sides take an interest at least in part because they hope for political gain.
But that’s largely beside the point. American citizens, regardless of political affiliation, have the right to vote. Increasing access to that right is important; in the secular religion of democracy, voting is practically a holy act. While the efforts to increase turnout in Connecticut may benefit Democrats, that doesn’t change that it benefits the democratic process as well.
By: Abby Rapoport, The American Prospect, March 6, 2012
“How many of you,” Scott Rasmussen asked the crowd at this week’s Conservative Political Action Conference, “have ever mocked or made fun of the president’s call for hope and change? Raise your hands.”
Most people in the Marriott Wardman Park hotel ballroom raised their hands. There were cheers and whoops.
“With all due respect,” the conservative pollster and commentator told them, “I’d like to say that’s really stupid.”
This time, there was uncomfortable laughter. “Voters are looking for hope and change as much today as they were in 2008,” Rasmussen explained, and “you ought to be encouraging Republican candidates, people you support, to offer that positive step forward.”
Rasmussen had put his finger on a major problem for Republicans in 2012, and conservatives in particular: At a time when the national mood has begun to improve, they remain nattering nabobs of negativism. At CPAC, any hint of a “positive step” was buried in vitriol.
This worked well for Republicans in 2010, because it matched the sour mood of the electorate. But now, with optimism and confidence finally on the rise, Republicans are left with an anger management problem. They risk leaving the impression that they are rooting against an economic recovery.
Take, for example, the speech to CPAC by Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader. Among his criticisms of the Obama administration: It “made an art form out of the orchestrated attack”; it will “go after anybody or any organization they think is standing in their way”; it releases “the liberal thugs” on opponents; it “used the resources of the government itself to intimidate or silence those who question or oppose it”; it engages in “attacking private citizens or groups for the supposed crime of turning a profit”; it takes it on itself to “dig through other people’s tax returns”; and it has no higher priority “than picking on Fox News.”
“The president seems to have forgotten . . . that he was elected to be president of the United States, not the Occupy Wall Street fan club,” McConnell lectured, spitting out the words.
The unrelenting anger in the ballroom was an extension of what’s been happening on the campaign trail. In the week preceding the Florida Republican primary, 92 percent of the political ads were negative, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group. There was only one positive ad for Mitt Romney — and it was in Spanish.
The Republican candidates for president visited CPAC on Friday to deliver more of the same: “We’re going to win by making Barack Obama and his failed policies the issue in this race” (Rick Santorum); “History will record the Obama presidency as the last gasp of liberalism’s great failure” (Romney); and “My goal, with your help, is that by the time President Obama lands in Chicago, we will have repudiated at least 40 percent of his government on the opening day” (Newt Gingrich).
The dour message has contributed to low voter turnout and an enthusiasm gap among GOP voters — a worrisome development that the Washington Times’ Ralph Hallow tried to warn the CPAC participants about. “None of these things I see are particularly good,” he said during one of the conference panels. “Intensity and enthusiasm about voting is now with the Democrats.”
On the same CPAC panel, conservative activist Ralph Reed argued that “it isn’t going to be enough to be anti-Obama. . . . We have to have a forward-leaning, positive conservative reform agenda.”
But at the moment, the message remains backward-looking and negative. At CPAC, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) used his speech to decry a “totalitarian state that’s descending upon us” and to assert the existence of the administration’s “Stasi troops” — a reference to the East German secret police.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) claimed, “Our country has never been in as much trouble as we’re in today, and I’m not exaggerating.” Speaker John Boehner recalled his defiant stand against Obamacare on the House floor: “Hell no, you can’t!” And former presidential candidate Herman Cain argued that “stupid people are ruining America.”
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) even dismissed the significance of the death of Osama bin Laden, the fall of Moammar Gaddafi and the birth of the Arab Spring. They are “tactical successes” that pale against the “mess that Barack Obama has created,” she said.
On another CPAC panel, conservative commentators were asked to respond to conservative columnist David Brooks’s argument that Romney needs “to actually have some big policies” rather than “cruising on a bad economy.”
Radio host Roger Hedgecock disagreed. “We know that this economy is not recovering,” he said.
McConnell was similarly grim. “Last week’s jobs report happened in spite of the president’s policies, not because of them,” he told the gathering. “It’s the Obama economy now. And we’re not going to let people forget it.”
Such nattering is exactly what Obama needs.
So Mitt Romney, writes Thomas Edsall in The New York Times, wants to make the election about entitlements vs. opportunity. He warns darkly against a government that “provides every citizen the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort and willingness to innovate, pioneer or take risk.” This is the sort of thing that used to scare the bejesus out of Democrats and still does frighten some of them, but it needn’t. Romney’s error in this framing is one Republicans often make—assuming that they are the “real Americans,” and Democrats are in some way fake Americans, and therefore all of middle America must agree with them.
Romney’s approach is clever up to a point. It does successfully blend more traditional Republicanism with Tea Party resentment (reflecting, perhaps, the way in which this supposedly “new” Tea Party is really just the same old anger at poor people and nonwhite people, outfitted anew in culottes). He uses the lie Republicans have used for many, many elections, that liberals and Democrats insist not on equality of opportunity but equality of result. And he invokes “government dependency”—a well-turned locution I must confess, those being two pretty unappealing words to most people. If he becomes the nominee, and if he can get most Americans to see the election as a choice between the candidate who wants Big Daddy government to look after every aspect of your life and the candidate who insists on your freedom to pursue wealth and liberate yourself from any obligation to those below you, then he’ll be in pretty good shape.
But there exist mountains of evidence that most Americans don’t think the way Republicans want them to. As Edsall notes: “The American public is highly conflicted on the subject of providing aid to people in need. While strongly opposed to ‘welfare,’ decisive majorities support more spending in key public policy areas. Polls conducted since 1972 by the General Social Survey show that by margins of two to one, voters consistently say too little is spent on the poor, on education, on health care, on drug treatment—the list is long.”
And that’s just spending on the poor. Spending on the middle class enjoys far greater support. “Welfare” as we once knew it being largely off the table as a divisive political issue, the Republicans really don’t have much material to work with here. In one sense, the entire GOP approach on these issues since Ronald Reagan’s time has been to hide the actual agenda because Republicans know most people don’t agree with them. A famous memo from Paul O’Neill’s Treasury Department in early 2001 to the Bush White House told the new president and others to be careful about juxtaposing tax cuts with spending because “the public prefers spending on things like health and education over cutting taxes.”
So Republicans know that Americans like much of the spending that government does. And yet, like the true believers that they are, they really end up spending more of their time persuading themselves that the public agrees with them. And they do this because they genuinely believe that on some basic level they are real and good and patriotic Americans while liberals and Democrats are fake and bad and weak Americans. This is a core conviction, and it has a corollary: that we (the Republicans) represent and speak to middle America, while the Democrats represent and speak to Cambridge and Berkeley, and surely what we have to say about these matters resonates deeply in flyover country.
It’s just not nearly as true as Republicans persuade themselves it is. Middle-of-the-road voters in Iowa aren’t any more right wing than they are left wing. A tautological sentence, perhaps, but one that nevertheless needs to be repeated and understood. Republicans always assume America is behind them: on removing the reprobate Bill Clinton from office, on wanting to dismantle Medicare and Social Security, on sharing various paranoid and absurd convictions about who Barack Obama is, Republicans enter the fray certain that Middle America will agree with them. But then Middle America does not. They really liked Clinton and recognized what was going in 1998 as a time-wasting witch hunt, they love their Social Security and Medicare, and they elected Obama over a genuine war hero by (for such an evenly divided country) a pretty massive margin.
So back we come to Romney. His chosen words are pretty good. But this isn’t the mid-1980s. Majorities of average Americans no longer think the Democratic Party is in essence stealing from them. And majorities of average Americans pretty much like Obama personally. If they didn’t, his approval rating would have dipped down into the 30s when unemployment was north of 10 percent. It never did. Most Americans are pulling for the guy. Another fact that drives wingers nuts, and that I chuckle about at least four or five times a week.
Romney has been drinking tea-infused water for months now, trying to appease those to his right. I’m sure he thinks that at the same time, he’s talking sense to the rest of America. But the rest of America isn’t as intoxicated by those hairy-chested nostrums about self-reliance as conservatives think they are.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, December 27, 2011