Why Voter Suppression Is Mostly a Republican Tactic

a | A

By Francis Wilkinson

The Washington Post’s David Beard is maintaining a “roundup of vote irregularities." If you had no other information about U.S. politics but Beard’s list, you would know quite a lot about the state of the nation’s two major political parties in 2012.

Here is Beard’s entry for Sunday’s fiasco in South Florida:

Nov. 4 -- FLORIDA -- ‘Let us vote!’ The state Democratic Party filed a lawsuit to extend voting in four counties and voters waited for hours to try to vote Sunday in Miami-Dade County. Mayor Carlos Gimenez told the Miami Herald the county headquarters had temporarily shut down, prompting a protest by voters screaming ‘Let us vote!,’ because he hadn’t authorized the additional hours. Gimenez relented, allowing hundreds more to vote. Florida traditionally has permitted Sunday voting, but the GOP-controlled state Legislature eliminated it last year.

When one party is trying to restrict the franchise and the other is trying to expand it, you have a contest of past vs. future. The age of white dominance is coming to an end. A multiracial future beckons. Regardless of how race colors their personal views, more than a few Republican officials and operatives are seeking to stem this demographic tide, hoping to squeeze another victory, perhaps the last, out of a monoracial coalition.

Almost all of the entries on Beard’s list -- which I suspect will grow to absurd lengths over the next 36 hours -- involve efforts by Republicans to make voting more difficult or, in one case, to destroy registration forms. But there are a couple contributions from the Democratic Party. The most interesting:

Oct. 24 -- FLORIDA -- FBI brought in to investigate bogus voter purge letters. The effort targeted prominent Republicans in 28 Florida counties, a group alleges. The letter asserted it had received information from the state “bringing into question your eligibility as a registered voter.” It directs the recipient to “please stop by our main office with any original documentation that demonstrates U.S. citizenship” and says vote fraud is a felony.

It’s quite a curious tale. The Tampa Bay Times reported that the targets included Republicans such as Jacksonville City Council President Bill Bishop and President George W. Bush's ambassador to the Bahamas John Rood: high-profile Republicans with sophisticated political radar and ready access to the news media. These are not letters you would send if you wanted to suppress voting. They are, however, precisely the sort of letter you would send if you were eager to create an “everybody does it” narrative in the political media. (Headline in the Tampa Bay Times: “Bogus letters target Florida Republican voters.” Mission accomplished.)

In the past, vote suppression tactics percolated in both parties. But with Republicans seeking to turn back the demographic tide rather than accommodate it, voter suppression is gaining a distinctly Republican signature. The long-term risks to the party are enormous. It’s not clear how many voters in 2012 will be seriously inconvenienced or even thwarted altogether by suppression tactics. You can make a pretty good guess, however, about how long their outrage -- over what happened and who was responsible -- will last.

(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.

Read more breaking commentary from Bloomberg View at the Ticker.

-0- Nov/05/2012 18:58 GMT