Bruce Murphy
The Chatter

The Voter Suppression Game

Both parties are devising strategies to discourage voting. But Republicans are using government power.

By - Jul 25th, 2012 12:53 pm
Sign-up for the Urban Milwaukee daily email
President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama

The modern theory of democracy has been that a vibrant democracy needs as many people — women and men, minorities and whites — as possible to vote. Indeed, in an estimated 23 countries, voting is compulsory.

The post-modern theory, as practiced by the Republican and Democratic parties, is that you don’t want certain kinds of people to vote — particularly in a swing state like Wisconsin.

The Obama campaign has targeted white men without college degrees, as a New York Times column by journalism professor Thomas B. Edsall has noted. The reason is simple: polls show Romney beating Obama by an almost two-to-one margin among these voters. For every voter in this group you discourage from voting (with negative ads about Romney killing jobs in his days at Bain Capital), two of every three represent a lost vote for Romney.

Romney is running just as high a percentage of negative ads as Obama, but the Republican voter suppression strategy depends more on passing photo ID laws to suppress voting. Mike Turzai, the House majority leader in Pennsylvania, was caught in a naked moment speaking to the Republican State Committee. He listed number of achievements by the GOP-led legislature, including “Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”

The Pennsylvania Transportation Department has estimated that 9 percent of registered voters, or 758,000 people, lack a photo ID. In 2004, President Bush carried the state by less than 150,000 votes, of 5.7 million votes cast.  Given abundant evidence that minority voters (who vote heavily for Democrats) are more likely to lack photo IDs, this is a brilliant voter suppression strategy. In essence, urban areas that have traditionally been Democratic powerhouses will see their turnout reduced.

To date, 11 states have photo ID laws in place (while some states, like Wisconsin, have passed laws that are still tied up in the courts). Five states — Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, South Dakota, Idaho — have the strictest laws, according to an analysis by the National Conference of State Legislatures, which will not count a vote by someone without photo ID, but will allow a provisional ballot that could count if the voter returns within a certain number of days with valid identification.

Another six states — Pennsylvania, Indiana, Tennessee, Georgia, Kansas and Hawaii — have less strict photo ID, according to NCSL, which allows those lacking a photo ID to vote if they sign an affidavit of identity or if poll workers know and can identify the person.

The NCSL aside, it appears Pennsylvania is a “strict” state as it will not count the vote of someone without photo ID unless he/she affirms within six days — either in person or by sending the County Board of Elections an electronic, faxed or paper copy of an affirmation – that you are the same person who appeared at the polls.

It’s a lot of hoop jumping that makes it more burdensome to vote. It also sows confusion. As a story in the Journal Sentinel noted, there is evidence that changes in voting laws in Wisconsin are depressing turnout.

Nate Silver, arguably the best electoral prognosticator in the nation, has predicted there could be ten “tipping point” states that decide the presidential election. That includes Florida, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, who have photo ID laws in place, and New Hampshire and Wisconsin, which have passed laws which are still being legally disputed. Silver has four of the five states (all but Florida) leaning Democratic; will photo ID change the results?

The New Carpetbaggers

Another trend that is undermining the Democratic process is the explosion of out-of-state campaign dollars. Increasingly, candidates don’t even need donations from voters in their district. As Craig Gilbert of the Journal Sentinel has reported, 60 percent of the donations to Republican congressman Paul Ryan have come from out-of-state. That’s nothing compared to his Democratic opponent Rob Zerban, who has gotten 90 percent of his donations from out-of-state. And it’s a cinch that many of the donations to both candidates from Wisconsin voters were still from folks outside the district. Voters in the district increasingly have little impact on the spending and thus the strategy of election campaigns.

Hovde in Hot Water 

Wall Street Journal columnist Allysia Findley has claimed Democrats and their candidate Tammy Baldwin don’t want to face Tommy Thompson in the race for U.S. Senate. I’m not so sure about that: Republican Eric Hovde has until recently looked like Ron Johnson redux, a businessman with no record to attack and unlimited money to spend.

The money is still there, but a record for Hovde is beginning to emerge, as the media — and Republicans — dig for dirt. Dan Bice exposed the fact that Hovde voted in only two of 11 elections as a citizen living in Washington D.C. And news reports have also showed that Hovde’s real estate company received federal subsidies.

Hovde’s response was to say he knew nothing about the subsidies. It’s a lame excuse, but if we’re to believe he didn’t know the details of how his company was run, doesn’t it undercut his main qualification for election, that his knowledge of how to run a successful business can help fix the economy?

Will Rocky Hurt the Mayor? 

As Dave Reid’s story documents, the Common Council is beginning to doubt the wisdom of reappointing Rocky Marcoux as Commissioner of the Department of City Development. The decision to send the appointment back to committee essentially starts the entire process all over, and is a slap in the face to Mayor Tom Barrett, who has pushed for the reappointment. The last thing the mayor wants is a torturous process of renomination.

The Hannah Hire

Perhaps the most stunning news of last week was that the Milwaukee Jewish Federation has hired Hannah Rosenthal as its new executive director. This is quite a coup for the group. Rosenthal has been a national player for years, most recently serving for three years as the Obama administration’s special envoy on anti-Semitism. She has also run the Jewish Council for Public Affairs in New York and the Chicago Foundation for Women, before earlier stints in this state running the Wisconsin Women’s Council and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.

Critics have questioned whether she will be too political for the non-partisan Jewish Federation. If so, she probably won’t last long. This is group that’s all about fundraising, and a local leader in philanthropy. In past years, though, a goodly amount of its donations have gone to causes in Israel. If Rosenthal attempts to change this, or overall fundraising goes down, she won’t last long. But I’m betting against this; she has been a success everywhere she’s gone.

Categories: Politics, The Chatter

3 thoughts on “The Chatter: The Voter Suppression Game”

  1. Stacy Moss says:

    Jewish Federation non-political?

    Well, maybe except for Israel.

  2. I have a couple of (perhaps picking) disagreements with Bruce’s discussion about voter suppression:
    1. What Murphy and Edsall describe the Democrats doing doesn’t strike me as voter suppression. Rather it is good old fashioned negative advertising. Part of the aim of negative advertising to create sufficient doubts in supporters on one’s opponent that they will decide to be neutral. This is not as good as convincing that voter to shift all the way from opponent to supporter (in essence gaining two votes) but still a good thing from the candidate’s viewpoint.
    Voter suppression, on the other hand, would be to find some characteristic of white men without college degrees and then use that as an obstacle to their voting. Say–and I am totally making this up–we discover that they disproportionately owe child support or have cars that haven’t past inspection. So we pass a law that one needs to be current with child payments or not have a car in violation in order to vote. That would be voter suppression–and note that both could be defended as good public policy.
    2. This article seems to adopt the convention that any violation of the election laws is “vote fraud.” But legally fraud requires intent. Without proving intent, a violation is not fraud. I suspect that many violations–perhaps–most are due to ignorance.

  3. Bruce Murphy says:

    Bruce, I’m not arguing that any violation of the election laws is fraud. I don’t think there are many violations in the first place, and numerous investigations in WI have shown that to be the case. Of these few cases, most involve felons voting and I suspect in many of those cases it’s because they don’t understand the law.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *