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Unfinished Business: Documenting Voter Supression in the Election

The Nation's Ari Berman has done a great job of monitoring voter suppression in the election, and he continues to report as new evidence comes in the days and weeks afterward and also notes the successful resistance effort, as well as the continuing threat. As his post on "The GOP's Voter Suppression Strategy" explains:

In a little-noticed yet significant development on election day, Minnesota voters defeated a constitutional amendment that would have required them to present a government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot. It was the first time voters had rejected a voter ID ballot initiative in any state.

In May 2011, a poll showed that 80 percent of Minnesotans supported a photo ID law. "Nearly everyone in the state believed a photo ID was the most common-sense solution to the problem of voter fraud," says Dan McGrath, executive director of Take Action Minnesota, a progressive coalition that led the campaign against the amendment. "We needed to reframe the issue. We decided to never say the word 'fraud.' Instead we would only talk about the cost, complications and consequences of the amendment." According to the coalition, the photo ID law would have disenfranchised eligible voters (including members of the military and seniors) dumped an unfunded mandate on counties and imperiled same-day voter registration. On election day, 52 percent of Minnesotans opposed the amendment.

The amendment's surprising defeat has ramifications beyond Minnesota. "There's been an assumption of political will for restricting the right to vote," says McGrath. "No, there's not." The amendment backfired on the GOP. "Voter ID did not drive the conservative base to turn out in the way that Republicans thought it would," adds McGrath. "Instead, it actually inspired progressive voters, who felt under siege, to fight stronger and turn out in higher numbers." The minority vote nearly doubled in the state, compared with 2008. Minnesota was a microcosm of the national failure of the GOP's voter suppression strategy.

Berman adds further,

Ten major restrictive voting laws were blocked in court over the past year, and turnout among young, black and Latino voters increased as a share of the electorate in 2012 compared with 2008. The youth vote rose from 18 to 19 percent, and the minority vote increased from 26 to 28 percent; both went heavily for Obama.

...The black vote rose in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia, while the Latino vote grew in Florida, Colorado and Nevada. "There were huge organizing efforts in the black, Hispanic and Asian communities, more than there would've been, as a direct result of the voter suppression efforts," says Matt Barreto, co-founder of Latino Decisions, a Latino polling and research firm.

n late September, Project New America, a Denver center-left research group, tested more than thirty messages on "sporadic, less likely voters who lean Democratic" (which included young, black and Hispanic voters) to see what would motivate them to vote. "One of the most powerful messages across many different demographics was reminding people that their votes were important to counter the extremists who are kicking people off of voter rolls," the group wrote in a post-election memo.

Berman points out that these successful resistance campaigns don't mean that all voter suppression efforts failed. On the contrary,

A flood of horror stories poured in during early voting and on election day: voters waiting in line for seven hours in Florida, wrongly turned away for lack of photo ID in Pennsylvania, improperly forced to cast provisional ballots in Ohio. The day after the election, 600,000 early votes and provisional ballots remained uncounted in Arizona, most of them in heavily Latino Maricopa County. According to Hart Research Associates, black and Hispanic voters were two to three times more likely than whites to wait more than thirty minutes to cast their ballot.

In-person early voting declined in Florida because of fewer early voting hours, compared with 2008. Florida voter registration dropped by 14 percent because of the twelve months in 2011-12 when the state shut down voter registration drives. The 1-866-Our-Vote hotline received more than 9,000 calls from Pennsylvanians on election day, many from voters wrongly told by poll workers that a photo ID was required in order to vote. Twice as many voters in Philadelphia as in 2008 had to cast provisional ballots because their names were missing from voter rolls. Of all the swing states, Pennsylvania had the sharpest drop in voter turnout, down by more than 7 percent from 2008, which could be attributable to confusion over its suspended voter ID law.

Berman notes that various legislative reforms have been proposed, but adds that "Before Congress tries to pass sweeping election reform, it should take the baby step of getting an election commission back up and running." Then there is the very real threat that section 5 'pre-clearance' provision of the Voting Rights Act will be overturned by the Supreme Court. Yet the 2012 election proved that the law is still urgently needed. As Berman concludes, "If anything, Section 5 should be expanded to include states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. Losing Section 5 would greenlight the very kind of voter suppression that proved so unpopular in 2012."