A Litany of Shame: Voter Suppression in 2008

Politics, Presidential Elections, US Elections, US Politics
Voter Suppression Wiki Home

Voter Suppression Wiki Home

A sad feature of our modern political climate is organized and intentional voter suppression.  Below is a list of current efforts at voter intimidation in several states.  While many of the efforts are in swing states, it seems to be going on across the country.  This is by no means comprehensive and it paints a sad picture of our democracy where the importance of winning is greater than the importance of the integrity of our system.  Oh, one other thing.  In every case, Republicans are leading the charge to disenfranchise students, minorities, the poor, everyone who might not support their agenda.  On to the list…



BIRMINGHAM – Alabama Prisons Commissioner Richard Allen stopped a voter registration drive for inmates Thursday under pressure from the Alabama Republican Party. In a letter to state Republican Party Chairman Mike Hubbard, Allen said individuals conducting the program “were not doing anything for the inmates that they could not do themselves by simply contacting the Secretary of State’s Office for the voter registration postcard.” Still, Allen said he decided to stop the drive because of a section in the state code that prohibits using state-owned property to promote or advance candidates for election. “While it is not clear that assisting voters to register would violate those provisions, I cannot expose departmental employees to that possibility,” he wrote.



Last month, a federal judge in Phoenix upheld a 2004 law requiring proof of citizenship and ID for registering and voting, something that has depressed registration and participation for tens of thousands since the law’s inception. This backward step for democracy in Arizona will remain in force and will likely prevent qualified and eligible Americans from exercising their constitutional right to vote in November. (The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed an appeal Tuesday with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.) Evidence shows that since 2004, when the law took effect, more than 90 percent of the 31,000 Arizonans who saw their voter-registration forms rejected under the law were actually born in the United States. U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver, who presided over the case, also recognized that two-thirds of those rejected applicants – 20,000 potential voters – remained unregistered. In addition, thousands of ballots that were cast by registered voters went uncounted because of the law’s election-day identification requirement.



State elections officials will resume enforcement of a controversial state law that requires Floridians to have their identification match up with a state or federal database in order to register to vote. Secretary of State Kurt Browning sent notice to the state’s 67 supervisors of elections on Friday that the 2006 law, which has been on hold for the last year pending court rulings, would take effect again Sept. 8. The result is that voters whose identification doesn’t match with state files on Election Day will be given a provisional ballot and two days to prove their identity for their ballot to count.  Voting rights activists, who had unsuccessfully challenged the constitutionality of the law, blasted the decision, saying it allows the state to rely on what they consider error-prone databases in the month before voter registration ends on Oct. 6.

“This 11th-hour decision is an ill-advised move to apply a policy the state has never enforced in its current form, at a time when registration activity is at its highest, said Alvaro Fernandez of the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project, a plaintiff in the case along with the NAACP and the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition.



MUNCIE — An attempt to establish an early voting site on the Ball State University campus failed during a Delaware County Election Board meeting Wednesday.

In a decision divided along party lines, the Democratic-controlled election board voted 2-1 in favor of the measure. According to Indiana law, however, passage for a satellite early voting site requires unanimous support of the county election board. Dissenting Republican Bill Bruns argued that the campus was too close to the downtown Delaware County Building, where early voting is already allowed for a month prior to election day.

“The purpose of satellite voting is to make it more convenient for people who are far away,” Bruns said in explaining his vote to the crowd.

Bruns’ decision was met with little initial reaction from the 60-person crowd of mostly students, who only minutes earlier had debated with enthusiasm the merits of an early voting site.

“We were prepared for it,” said freshman Jess Mahanes, 18, secretary of University Democrats, in an interview afterward.

During an election board meeting last week, Bruns said he was leaning against the establishment of an on-campus early voting site. And in a guest column published Tuesday in The Star Press, Delaware County Republican Party Chairman Kaye Whitehead argued it was too late in the election year to start up a satellite voting office. Advocates of a Ball State site have said it would relieve lines at polling places on election day and better accommodate students.



The Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee have filed a lawsuit in federal court in Michigan over the Michigan GOP’s plan to use foreclosure lists to challenge voters at the polls, as first reported by the Michigan Messenger.  Bob Bauer, general counsel for the Obama campaign, and Mark Brewer, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, announced the lawsuit in a conference call with reporters this afternoon. It was filed on behalf of the campaign, the party and three Michigan residents who have had their houses foreclosed upon in recent months.

Bauer called the GOP plan to use foreclosure lists “a new and especially repellent version of caging.” Caging is a technique of challenging voters where they take lists of addresses, mail to them with a “do not forward” marking and if for whatever reason those mailings are returned, they use this as a basis for claiming that the voter no longer lives at the address at which they are registered.

Bauer noted that using foreclosure lists to challenge a voter’s address is “false and illegal” for several reasons. First, because getting a foreclosure notice is not evidence that the person’s address has changed. In Michigan, homeowners have the opportunity to redeem the foreclosure even after a sheriff’s sale has occurred, which means they can stay in the home for many months after a foreclosure notice has been sent. Second, because under Michigan law a person can vote at their old precinct if they lost their home within 60 days of the election.



Missouri lawmakers ended their legislative session on Friday without completing action on a proposed constitutional amendment that would have enabled election officials to require proof of citizenship from people registering to vote. The bill failed to go to the Senate floor for a vote in part because of pressure by the secretary of state and grass-roots groups, said a Republican lobbyist who worked for the measure. The lobbyist asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak for the backers. Sponsors of the amendment, which would have required voter approval to go into effect, say it is part of an effort to prevent illegal immigrants from affecting the political process. Critics say it could lead to disenfranchising tens of thousands of legal residents who would find it difficult to prove their citizenship.

After passing the House last week, the measure had more than enough votes for approval in the Senate. This week, Gov. Matt Blunt and Senator Christopher S. Bond, both Republicans, expressed strong support for the measure. Democrats had threatened to filibuster if the bill was brought to debate in the Senate. Republicans said they were willing to use a rare procedural motion to undermine a filibuster if it came to that. It never did. Part of the reason the measure never made it to the floor was that other bills took longer than expected to be discussed and passed, aides to the secretary of state said.

A strong undercurrent of frustration and resentment pervaded the final day, much of it directed at Speaker Rod Jetton from his fellow Republicans. Mr. Jetton has irritated some legislators by working as a political consultant for some campaigns while simultaneously presiding as speaker. He angered others this week while working against an effort to repeal a land-use law that had quietly passed with his support.

Voting rights advocates and the state’s top election official celebrated the inaction on the amendment. “It’s a victory for voters’ rights,” Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, a Democrat, said. “This debate has been about ensuring fair elections, and elections cannot be fair if eligible voters are not allowed to make their voice heard on Election Day.”



Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, responding to a Sept. 12 voter lawsuit directed by the state’s Republican Party, criticized GOP officials for challenging voters’ ability to register and vote an absentee ballot on the same day, a provision that has been on the state’s books since at least 1981.

In her official response to the lawsuit filed with the state Supreme Court, Brunner said Ohio law has allowed a person to register and vote simultaneously during a short period for more than 25 years, provided they gave an acceptable reason. But only since June 2006 have Ohio residents been eligible to vote early for any reason. Many more people than in previous election cycles are expected to take advantage of the overlap between early voting, which begins Sept. 30, and voter registration, which ends Oct. 6. The Sept. 12 suit alleged that the one-stop process will encourage fraud. Brunner responded that there have been no known cases of voter fraud related to same-day registration and voting since June 2006. The lawsuit also argued that a state law requires Ohio residents to register at least 30 days before voting, so same-day registration and voting should be banned. To that, Brunner said that under federal law, “an absentee ballot is considered to have been voted on Election Day-not on the day the ballot is filled out or returned to the board of elections.”



When Wisconsin considered preventing voters from casting regular ballots if the state didn’t find a “complete match” of the voter’s data in the motor vehicle or Social Security database and the voter didn’t have acceptable proof of residence at the polls, we warned them it was a bad idea.  As we explained, it’s bad policy to make a complete “HAVA match” a precondition to voting a regular ballot, because matching voter data fails from 20-30% of the time.

We were right:  the initial results from Wisconsin showed a match failure rate of 22%.  That is, nearly 1 in 4 voters weren’t successfully “matched” with other government data-not because they weren’t eligible to vote, but because of typos, missed middle initials, and other minor problems.

Thankfully, Wisconsin heard the message and rejected the proposed matching rule. The latest news confirms just how right that decision was.  As a test, Wisconsin took the voter registration records of the six retired judges who serve on the Government Accountability Board-the body that oversees elections-and ran them through the “HAVA match” process.  The result?  Four of the six judges didn’t match.



Last week, Virginia’s Montgomery County, home to Virginia Tech, issued a press release regarding proper protocol for college students registering to vote. In interviews with Inside Higher Ed Tuesday, it was described by turns as “unsubstantiated,” “chilling,” and (more generously) as not “incredibly encouraging or friendly.”

It reads, in part: “The Code of Virginia states that a student must declare a legal residence in order to register. A legal residence can be either a student’s permanent address from home or their current college residence. By making Montgomery County your permanent residence, you have declared your independence from your parents and can no longer be claimed as a dependent on their income tax filings – check with your tax professional. If you have a scholarship attached to your former residence, you could lose this funding. And, if you change your registration to Montgomery County, Virginia Code requires you to change your driver’s license and car registration to your present address within 30 days.”

The county registrar of elections said Tuesday that the memo was intended to counteract the absence of cautionary information given to students signed up through the ubiquitous get-out-the-vote registration drives. Generally speaking, however, those interviewed for this article said the warnings are, at worst, farfetched and misleading, or, at best, overstated and not typically supported in reality. And, in a year in which historic youth voter turnout is anticipated, and the Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has been propelled by college students’ support, this case in the battleground state of Virginia is “not an isolated incident,” said Sujatha Jahagirdar, program director for the Student Public Interest Research Group’s nonpartisan New Voters Project. “For a county registrar to issue what really are in our experience unsubstantiated warnings for a particular demographic is alarming,” said Jahagirdar. “It’s upsetting that this is coming up in Virginia. But it’s even more upsetting that the ability of young people to vote is questioned in many other states too.” She added: “In 25 years of registering young voters around the country, none of the staff has ever heard of a single incident where a student has lost their tax status or their scholarship because of where they’ve registered to vote.”



  1. jes  •  Oct 7, 2008 @6:27 am

    What amazes me is, why is it so hard to get voting right? There are people out of work, last I checked. Why isn’t voting being made a grand mission, a kind of TVA or Manhattan Project? Hire folks who aren’t working. For technical stuff. For testing. For going door to door. For brainstorming. For, I dunno, obtaining coffee for the people doing the lion’s share of the work.

    After 2000, I was hoping for state and local governments to get interested in voting, to get involved and organized and to start caring. Instead, we seem to be getting served a heaping slice of “same old, same old”. Sigh.

    Thanks for bringing this to light. Great blog, very enjoyable reading all around.

  2. nimh  •  Oct 9, 2008 @11:25 am

    Why isn’t voting being made a grand mission?

    Because it’s not in the interest of many (Republican) local and state authorities to promote turnout. It’s pure power politics.

    To some extent there’s also just laziness involved, I guess, or rather inertia. And lacking funding. Or lacking willingness on the part of the state and local governments to assign funding. But that just brings us back to square one…

  3. Diane Pearce Loves Obama  •  Mar 24, 2011 @5:40 pm

    All I know is that I am eployed at a large Pharmaceutical corporation in Clayton NC and I endroce Barack Obama with all my being. I encourage all my friends and colleagues to re-elect Obama in 2012!! I LOVE YOU OBAMA

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