Could a vast network of voter challenges (here's help), especially toward young, newly registered and African-American voters (purges of voter rolls, craven voter challenges and other tough-to-prove but disruptive tactics) reduce votes for Barack Obama and endanger a fair election? Despite their efforts to tar Obama-related registration efforts, it appears that the truly dangerous activities -- and those most likely to tip this election away from what appears to be the public will -- are emerging from Republican operations. For example, on Super Tuesday in Las Vegas, "nearly 20% of the county's voters were absent from the rolls." As one voting rights expert declared:
I don't think the Democrats get it," says John Boyd, a voting-rights attorney in Albuquerque who has taken on the Republican Party for impeding access to the ballot. "All these new rules and games are turning voting into an obstacle course that could flip the vote to the GOP in half a dozen states.
There are several "games" and they're tough to control because they come from so many different points of origin. Robert Kennedy Jr. and Greg Palast, in the most recent issue of Rolling Stone, describe in horrifying detail (and no this is not hyperbole... it really is horrifying), how these vulnerabilities could play out. You can check on violations in your state here. Their account of the basics from across the U.S.:
- Obstructing voter registration drives: stringent and unreasonable state laws have intimidated many registration efforts, including those of the non-partisan League of Women Voters. Oh - and in Florida they've ignored the law that food stamp recipients be offered registration opportunities when they apply for benefits. Those registrations, 120,000 during Clinton, are just 10,000 today.
- "Perfect matches" Suppose I signed my voter registration form "Cynthia K. Samuels" and my driver's license "Cynthia Samuels." That's not a perfect match and in some states I could be disqualified.
- Purging legitimate voters from the rolls: "All told, states reported scrubbing at least 10 million voters from their rolls on questionable grounds between 2004 and 2006. Colorado holds the record: Donetta Davidson, the Republican secretary of state, and her GOP successor oversaw the elimination of nearly one of every six of their state's voters." The toughest thing about this one is that you don't find out you've been purged until you get to the polling place, and then it's tough to get help. It is wise for voters to check their status with their local election officials in advance of election day,
- Requiring "unnecessary" voter IDs: Young and minority voters (more often Obama voters), according to Kennedy and Palast, often do not have either driver's licenses or state-issued IDs. Without them, their legitimacy is often questioned.
- "Spoiled" ballots: Blank spaces, tears that make the ballot tough for voting machines to count, or weird little extra marks can disqualify a voter. Since minority and less-affluent neighborhoods get the crumbiest, oldest voting machines, they are disproportionately affected by this factor.
- Problems with provisional ballots: If our voter gets to the polls, and is challenged, federal law requires that, rather than being turned away, the challenged voter be given a "provisional" ballot - one that is supposed to be counted once the voter has been determined to be legitimate. HOWEVER there's no way to track them - or to be sure they ever entered the vote count. In 2004, according to Rolling Stone, a third of all provisional ballots - maybe as many as a million - were thrown out.
In addition to the Rolling Stone piece, take a look at Salon's review of hot spots. For example:
Voter suppression can be difficult to prove. Suppression tactics -- anything from purging voter rolls under suspicious circumstances to using various justifications to question the eligibility of potential voters -- are often the product of legal gray areas being exploited at the hands of local partisan officials. To date, no one has presented evidence of any nationally organized effort by the Republican Party to suppress Democratic votes. But there is little doubt that at local and regional levels -- in some potentially critical states on the electoral map -- there has been dubious activity that could result in the disenfranchisement of voters who would likely punch the ballot for Barack Obama.
This has happened before - and in many ways the Federal law passed in response to the 2000 election debacle makes it easier. Despite the new commitment in both the young and minority communities, local officials can challenge and prevent election day votes that may never be recovered. The young, the black and the poor are most likely to be affected - and that, of course, means, largely, potential Democratic voters, usually challenged in ways very difficult to recover. There is, however, a group called Election Protection providing resources all over the country. Not much we civilians can do - but if you are an attorney or law student or paralegal, please sign up to help . Your help on election day could count at least as much as -- and in battleground states maybe more than -- your vote.