Voting Rights Under Attack

In an incendiary new report, “Rig the Vote: How a National Effort to Attack Voting Rights Landed in Wisconsin”, the Center for Media and Democracy and Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund show how Republicans and rightwing groups across the country are working to undermine elections and ensure a Republican lock on electoral college votes in states that have historically voted Democratic.

A 2011 voting rights protest led by the NAACP. (Photo: Michael Fleshman via Flickr)Among the nefarious vote-rigging efforts explored in the report: Republicans hope to take their gerrymandered redistricting plans nationwide–changing the rules so that electoral votes in swing states are awarded based on Congressional districts, not popular vote totals.

This could guarantee that Republican candidates like Mitt Romney, even as they lose the popular vote, get enough electoral votes to become President against the will of the majority of American voters.

In 2010, Republican legislatures were able to redraw Congressional districts to heavily favor Republican candidates in states where the popular vote historically goes to Democrats.

Now, in Wisconsin, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, and Florida, all of which went for Obama in 2012, Republican-controlled state legislatures are pushing forward plans to change the system to award electoral votes by Congressional district.

Had those plans been in place in 2012, the report finds, “Mitt Romney would have won the Presidency.”

In case there is any doubt about why Republicans are pursuing this scheme, the report quotes Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus, who “stated explicitly that the plan is only intended for ‘states that have been consistently blue that are fully controlled red.'”

In red states like Texas, where the same strategy might yield a few electoral votes for Democrats, the legislature is not pursuing it.

The report focuses specifically on Wisconsin–but the vote-rigging schemes it outlines are the same across the country.

That’s because they are the product of a coordinated strategy by national rightwing groups–not homegrown politics.

Most of the bills discussed in the report were written by the American Legislative Exchange Council, which pushes rightwing and corporate interests in all the states.

ALEC drafted voter I.D. legislation, which has come up in state after state, “shortly after the highest general election turnout in nearly 60 years swept America’s first black president into office with strong support from college students and people of color.”

In the guise of preventing election fraud, voter I.D.bills, along with bills to end same-day registration, aim to suppress the vote by these same groups.

The state of Wisconsin had both the second-highest voter turnout in the nation in 2008, and some of the best election practices in the United States for 2008 and 2010, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts which praised Wisconsin for the integrity, accuracy, and accessibility of its elections systems.

Yet Republican state officials are currently busy trying to change all that.

Governor Scott Walker has announced his intention to end same-day registration in the state, justifying it on the grounds that it would make life easier for elections clerks.

But, the report notes, municipal clerks throughout the state as well as the state’s chief elections officer have made clear that ending same-day registration would create a “bureaucratic morass.”

Voters would have to go to the DMV and social service agencies for provisional ballots, and return for a second visit with proof of eligibility.

This system, in addition to burdening voters and elections officials, would make Wisconsin more like the states that scored the lowest in the Pew measure of best election practices–with tens of thousands of provisional ballots delaying results, unresolved elections, and poor turnout.

The same issues arise with the new voter I.D. laws.

In-person voter fraud is practically nil. Yet voter I.D. laws continue to be a priority for state legislatures.

Two Wisconsin judges struck down voter I.D. in the state as an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote since, as the report notes “disenfranchising 300,000 people would not be outweighed by the ‘benefits’ of stopping a problem that is statistically insignificant.”

“The people’s fundamental right of suffrage preceded and gave birth to our Constitution,” Dane County District Judge Richard Niess wrote in his March decision striking down Wisconsin’s voter ID law. “Not the other way around.”

The same principle could be applied to all of the Republicans’ nefarious vote rigging schemes.

© 2013 The Progressive Magazine