VOICES: GOP steps up bogus war on voter fraud

By Earl Ofari Hutchinson, New America Media

A defiant Florida GOP governor Rick Scott essentially told the Justice Department where it could go when it demanded that Florida stop its loudly trumpeted campaign to purge tens of thousands of voters who the state claims are not eligible to vote. Despite Scott's bellicose rant against the Justice Department mandate, election officials in all Florida counties halted their efforts, at least for now. GOP state officials almost certainly will try to figure out a way around the order.

There is, of course, absolutely no proof of any widespread voter fraud in Florida, a claim that looked even more suspect when Miami-Dade County election officials sent out more than 1,500 warning letters and found a grand total of 13 people that said they were not citizens. Out of that gargantuan number they found an even more stunning total of two persons who were not citizens when they cast votes in the 1996 and 2000 and 2004 elections. The underwhelming number of voter fraud cases found in Florida should come as no surprise. Other studies that have examined voter fraud in Ohio and Wisconsin in the 2002 and 2004 elections found only a handful of actual cases, out of more than nine million votes that were cast in the two states in both elections.

But the GOP's bogus war on voter fraud is not about insuring clean and fair elections, nabbing lawbreakers, or upholding constitutional precepts. It's about winning elections on the cheap. It can only do that by tipping the vote number balance toward having more likely GOP voters and fewer likely Democratic voters. It's hardly coincidence that the majority of those targeted for voter purges are black and Hispanic. And it's even less of coincidence that the bogus vote purge campaigns are zeroed in on the key battleground states of Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Colorado and New Mexico where election officials are also mounting similar purge campaigns.

The GOP re-learned a lesson from the 2000, 2004, and 2008 presidential elections. And that was that numbers do count in close elections. And in the must-win states that determine who wins or loses the race to the White House, the smallest reduction in the number of Democratic voters can have a huge impact in determining the outcome of a close race. The numbers equation worked for the GOP in 2000 and 2004, and worked against it in 2008, when Ohio, Colorado Wisconsin, and Florida switched party hands to the Democrats and did much to put President Obama in the White House. The GOP, with a generous helping hand from the Supreme Court -- the court upheld Indiana's stringent photo ID requirement -- then swung its voter fraud campaign into high gear.

This includes making sure there is an absence of polling places in minority neighborhoods, ballot and vote machine irregularities, using lists of foreclosed homes to challenge voter's residences, rigid time lines for filing voter applications, the lack of information, misinformation or deliberate disinformation about voter registration forms and materials, and eliminating weekend voting, or sharply narrowing down the hours when polling places are open. Estimates put the number at more than 20 million possibly eligible voters that could be affected if the new requirements are fully enforced.

Obama also got a huge election shot in the arm from students and other youthful voters in 2008. To counter that, a number of states now prohibit the use of student IDs as voter eligible proof. In Wisconsin, students now must have a new student ID with a two-year expiration date to be eligible. In Virginia, the Republican-controlled State Board of Elections proposed tightening rules that make it easier for election officials to disqualify absentee ballots for even the most trivial mistake such as a misspelling on a signature.

GOP officials have not totally scrapped the old tried and true methods of voter suppression. They include: district gerrymandering, tightening felon bans, skimping on the number of polling places and machines in mostly black and Latino neighborhoods, stationing police at the polls, and challenging citizenship papers where they can get away with it. There is even some GOP congressional talk about attempting to scrap the 1965 Voting Rights Act entirely or reduce it to a toothless measure long before its 25-year renewal expiration date in 2032.

The GOP's bogus war on alleged voter fraud has been a stunning PR success in that it has convinced legions of Americans that massive numbers of mostly blacks and Hispanics with the connivance of Democrats are knowingly breaking the law to vote against the GOP -- when in reality it's just the opposite. The Democrats have screamed foul at these thinly disguised suppression ploys, and have mounted court and Justice Department challenges. Once again the 2012 presidential election hangs in the balance in the fight against the GOP scheme.