In the history of American politics, a broad scale of underhand methods has been used by political parties to frighten or illegitamise voters traditionally supportive of the opposition. The intention has always been the same: to employ legal and illegal means to affect voter turnout in an election – a plot to leech independence and power, or at least discourage targeted segments of the American electorate.
The following is a list of some of the tactics and excuses used in an attempt to manipulate the outcome of the elections;
- Purging – the deed of removing citizens from voter rolls. The majority of purging is done through computerised matches that distinguish legitimate voters as dead, felons, legally insane or doubly registered. Alas, purging is not the only method used to obliterate voter validity.
- Spoiling – If a ballot is seemingly unreadable then it is spoiled. For example, in the presidential race in Florida 2000, one county’s ballot asked you to “fill out the name of your candidate”. Copious amounts of voters filled in the name ‘Al Gore’ and also ticked the box beside his name. Their votes were disqualified. Katherine Harris, Secretary of State, claimed all the votes were spoiled because she could not determine the intent of the voter or who the preferred candidate was for those who wrote ‘Al Gore’.
- Caging – this is the act of mailing registered voters who are unlikely to be at their registered home address (for example soldiers, students and homeless people) and challenging their registrations and absentee ballots.
- Rejecting – ‘Mail-in’ ballots; before the 2012 presidential election it was estimated that roughly 26 million absentee ballots would be mailed into partisan election supervisors, and that nearly 2 million would be thrown out for being folded wrong, wrong postage, wrong envelope and having a bubble marked with an ‘X’ instead of a dot.
- Stuffing – Exactly what it sounds like; election officials stuff ballot boxes with ballots they’ve filled out.
- Tossing – If a voter discovers that their name has been wrongly purged from the voting rolls, they are entitled to a provisional ballot. Once the voter has left the polling stations most of these ballots are thrown out.
- Prestidigitizing – The action of making votes vanish into thin air by employing DRE’s (direct recording devices – paperless computers) [i]
American democracy is being attacked. Millions of potential voters in the US are victims of voter intimidation and suppression (a spineless and antiquated crime against civil rights). In the 2012 Presidential Elections (Obama V Romney), Republican Campaign tactics reared their heads and terrified millions of black, Asian, Jewish, Hispanic, student and lower/working class voters into not voting.
All over America, profusions of potential voters either did not go out and exercise their right to vote or else they bit the bullet, cast their ballots and had their perfectly legitimate vote discounted and thrown away. It is this suppression that gives Republicans the upper hand in campaigning and in opinion polls. Voter suppression is any action or behavior intended to deter an individual or group from voting[ii].
Section 11 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 states;
“…No person… shall intimidate, threaten, or coerce, or attempt to intimidate, threaten, or coerce any person for voting or attempting to vote, or intimidate, threaten, or coerce, or attempt to intimidate, threaten, or coerce any person for urging or aiding any person to vote or attempt to vote, or intimidate, threaten, or coerce any person for exercising any powers or duties …”
Section 12 states;
“…Whoever… destroys, defaces, mutilates, or otherwise alters the marking of a paper ballot which has been cast in such election, or alters any official record of voting in such election tabulated from a voting machine or otherwise, shall be fined not more than $5,000, or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.”
Targeting the aforementioned groups is first and foremost racist, but it is also against the Voting Rights Act. In fact, it is actively reversing the hard-earned accomplishments of the Act, as when it was first signed it had an instantaneous impact. By the end of 1965, 250,000 new black voters had been registered. By the time 1966 was drawing to a close, only 4 out of 13 southern states had less than 50% of African Americans registered to vote.[iii]
Taking an ostensibly innocent form, the query “May I see your ID?” could be the decider of many future elections. Right on time for the 2012 presidential election, voter identification laws came into force all over the United States that meant registered voters had to show a specially issued government identification card in order to cast their vote. Using a formula from the Brennan Centre for Justice at New York University Law School, it has been calculated that roughly 97,850 Wisconsin voters below the age of twenty-nine lost their voting rights due to the new ID laws.[iv] In total, 4.3 million votes were never counted and an additional 4.8 million citizens were prevented from registering to vote or voting.[v]
It is of course important to note that the blame cannot fall on Republicans alone for the act of voter suppression, and that there are Democrat campaigners who engage in the same behaviour, trying to defeat Republican votes in some way, shape or form. However, after numerous follow-up emails and faxes, Senators Reid, Lautenberg, Gillibrand, Johnson, Akaka, Kerry and Carper refused to comment when asked to remark on voter suppression in general.
Donita Judge is the Staff Attorney in Columbia and New Jersey and has been an attorney in the Advancement Project’s Power and Democracy Project since 2004. She has challenged barriers to the ballot in every Ohio election since 2004 and has provided extensive testimony on voter suppression tactics during Ohio’s elections, including the state’s overuse and rejection of provisional ballots. I asked Donita what sort of issues she faced in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election;-
“Billboards went up literally everywhere overnight saying how voter fraud was a felony and people would be sent to prison. This is threatening to people; it makes them nervous about voting in the election. It’s a scare tactic.”
Judge went on to say how she came across a number of “red-herrings” during campaign time, where voters were told there was a problem with their registration when no such problems actually existed.
I asked Donita if she noted that it was mostly Democratic supporters who were being intimidated compared to the number of Republican supporters she would come across;
“We saw that the people who stood in line tended to be from lower income backgrounds and were people of colour. The only people who were taking a stand [against the suppression] were [Democrats]. These people were the most disenfranchised.”
To correct this widespread problem, what is needed is a system of ‘range voting’. This is where the voters rate the candidates in order of their preference on a scale of zero to the numerical range specified. The candidate with the highest average of ratings wins the election.[vi] If the system of range voting were to be put in place, voter suppression would be reduced considerably, as the candidates would need the contribution of both left and right voters’ preferences to do well. Range voting would please both the left and the right, and it would also contribute to overall voter satisfaction.
But hope is not lost. There is fire in the bellies of those suppressed. I asked Donita what the reactions were of the suppressed people she had met during the 2012 Presidential elections;
“The suppression backfired on the people who were imposing it; people got angry. They were not about to have their votes suppressed if they could help it. I came across people who were suppressed or who had attempts of suppression thrown at them, and they all were very engaged with the elections and seemed determined to have their say.”
And when I asked Ms. Judge; “What of the future of voting?” she said;
“The world is changing. Only being allowed to vote on one day does not make sense. In keeping up with the times, we are going to have to figure out a way to make sure all eligible voters get the chance to cast their vote – all the working class people who are unable to take time off work to cast their vote on one day need to be accommodated. I spoke to Obama about this issue, and he said to me ‘We need to fix this’. The future is bright.”
There are steps that eligible voters in the US can take to make their votes more secure;
- Do not post your ballot – it may not arrive on time, it could be rejected under a number of spurious headings.
- Vote Early – just in case your name is not on the list or you have the wrong ID; at least if you have gone to vote early, you can sort out such problems before the final day of elections.
- Double-check you’ve registered, and then check again. Check online with the Secretary of State’s office or call the County Board of Elections – just to be extra sure.
- Vote Unconditionally – in other words, stay away from provisional ballots, especially if your skin is darker than ivory or you’re under 25 years of age.
[i] Greg Palast “Billionaires and Ballot Bandits” Chapters 3, 15, 22, 25
[ii] “How Stuff Works”: http://people.howstuffworks.com/voter-suppression.htm
[iii] “Our Documents”: http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=100
[iv] Greg Palast: “Billionaires and Ballot Bandits” Chapter 3 page 33
[vi] William Poundstone “Gaming the Vote – Why Elections Aren’t Fair and What We Can Do About It” pages 170 and 232