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Christian Smith-Socaris on October 9, 2008 - 10:00am
A couple of weeks ago, we outlined the rash of voter suppression activities cropping up, like clockwork, around the nation. This week we cover the new suppression efforts that have come to light since.
Montana GOP Challenge of Over 6,000 Voters Withdrawn After Grassroots Backlash: In a resounding victory for Montana voters, the GOP has withdrawn challenges to thousands of voters in the most heavily Democratic areas of the state. After local progressives discovered that the challenges had been filed, they swung into action in a way seldom seen. The same day the news hit, Forward Montana organized a multiprong response that included an impromtu protest at the Missoula GOP headquarters, a coordinated media and public education campaign and a legal response. They also have begun developing a legislative response to ensure that similar voter suppression efforts are not repeated in the future.
The challenges were based on a list of address changes purchased from a private consumer information company. Like all instances where mailing lists are used to remove voters from the rolls, this list included countless voters who had either moved only within the county (these voters can change their address at the polls) or who were students or deployed military personnel who can use their home address to vote. Forward Montana put a list of the challenged voters online and it quickly became clear that the vast majority of the challenges had zero merit. Even the Republican Lt. Gov. editorialized against the challenges, highlighting the fact that one of America's most decorated living veterans with 10 medals of honor was on the challenge list.
The Democratic Party, who sued to halt the challenges, has not withdrawn its lawsuit and is also asking the judge to bar any future challenges before November.
GOP Sues to Prevent Early Voting Sites from Opening in a Heavily Democratic Indiana County: In Lake County, Indiana the Republican Party has gone to court to prevent satellite early voting in city clerks offices in the cities of Gary, Hammand, and East Chicago - all heavily low-income, minority communities that vote overwhelmingly Democratic and are central to the Obama campaigns efforts to win this reliably red state.
The County Elections Board voted to open early voting in these cities by a 3-2 party-line vote. However, the county GOP is claiming that sites can only be authorized by a unanimous vote of the board. The clerks in the cities in question planned to move ahead with early voting, but agreed to wait until a judge can rule on the GOP's request for a temporary restraining order. Three courts are now involved and conflicting rulings have been issued.
Intimidating and Misleading Flyers Distributed to Philadelphia Voters: Flyers warning that voters with outstanding driving tickets or other legal issues will be arrested by undercover officers at the polls have been distributed in Philadephia neighborhoods and universities. A classic voter suppression technique, intimidating flyers have been a tool used to thwart voting since the civil rights era and before. The content of the flyers has been vigorously contested by Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Everett Gillison, who said, "[t]he only thing that police officers are going to do that we'll be encouraging that day is that they'll be exercising their own individual right to vote." The case has been referred to the local prosecutor and the Department of Justice.
Ohio Early Voters in Columbus Face Intimidating Surveillance: There have been multiple complaints of individuals standing outside the Veterans Memorial early voting location in Columbus, Ohio with clip boards, recording the license plate numbers of voters who enter the parking lot. This type of surveillance is a typical voter intimidation strategy, which unfortunately is not proscribed by Ohio law.
Alabama Governor Uses Secret List to Illegally Disenfranchise Voters with Criminal Records: The Alabama Office of Court Administration (OCA) has revealed that the Governor, using his authority as a federal judge’s court-appointed overseer of Alabama’s election system, has used a secret list of 444 felonies to remove voters from the rolls. Previously only about 70 crimes were grounds for disenfranchisement. The OCA has objected to the vast expansion of the list to include such crimes as killing livestock illegally, shoplifting and disrupting a funeral.
For months the Governor denied that an expanded list was being used to disenfranchise voters, while it was being provided to local election officials as legal guidance. The governor's office finally released the new list to the Associated Press last week. The Secretary of State's Office was caught off guard by the revelation and is scrambling to determine how many people where erroneously purged from the voter rolls.
ACORN Office in Nevada is Raided by Secretary of State's Office and Attorney General: Early this week agents of the Secretary of State and Attorney General's offices raided the Las Vegas ACORN office in a search for evidence of voter registration fraud. ACORN in Las Vegas has registered 80,000 mostly low-income and minority voters in this year's voter registration drive. The organization has been actively flagging any voter registration forms that appear defective or fraudulent and cooperating with the Secretary of State since the summer. They called the raid a political "stunt."
Ohio Sec. of State Forced to Accept Absentee Ballot Applications Distributed by GOP: The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that over a million absentee ballot applications mailed by the McCain campaign should be accepted even if a check box indicating that the applicant is an eligible voter has not been checked. In a unfortunate turn from her generally pro-voter disposition, Secretary Brunner had ordered local election officials not to accept the applications if the box wasn't checked, even though the check box was not required to be on the forms in the first place.
US Social Security Administration Shutting Database for Three Days in October, Possibly Preventing Voter Registration: The Social Security Administration has released an alert announcing that it will shut down its databases from Oct. 11th to the 13th. While not what you typically think of as a voter suppression ploy, the federal Help America Vote Act's requirements make it look that way in this instance. New registrations from voters without a driver's license number are required to be verified against the social security database. During the period the database will be down, thousands of voter registration forms will be processed, yet any needing social security database verification will be put aside. Given the record number of registrations in some areas, this will cause a major disruption and will exacerbate problems getting all registrations processed in time for election day.