Republicans’ wrongful efforts to tilt the November vote have come into sharper focus the past few days with two divergent events.
One involves the sudden firing last week in five states — Florida, North Carolina, Colorado, Nevada and Virginia — of a Republican operative whose wide-ranging voter registration drives to beef up the GOP vote are now suspected of illegally cherry-picking Republican-leaning registrants, and trashing or rejecting the registrations of Democratic-oriented voters.
The other is the decision Tuesday by a Pennsylvania court to block implementation of the state’s new strict voter photo-ID law until after the November election, on the grounds that it risks depriving too many voters of their fundamental right to vote. The ruling makes Pennsylvania the fifth state — others are Wisconsin, Texas, Ohio and New Hampshire — where a strict voter-ID law has been barred until after November over the issue of ready access to such an ID for all registered voters. (Similar laws in several other states are still under challenge.)
Neither of these events is unexpected. It’s been clear for the past two years that Republican-dominated state governments, including Tennessee, have adopted stringent voter photo-ID laws and other obstacles to voter registration just to suppress voter turnout among elderly, poor or minority voters and students who lean toward Democrats.
The Republican National Committee certainly knew, as well, of the controversial past of Nathan Sproul, the head of the voter registration company, Strategic Allied Consulting, they recently hired for $3 million to mount helpful voter registration drives in the five states. His prior company had been accused of fraudulent voter registration drives in Arizona in 2004 and linked to other dubious tactics.
Republicans apparently weren’t too bothered by his history. The Washington Post reported Tuesday, for example, that Sproul and firms with which he was associated had earned $21.2 million from the Republican Party and “affiliated interest groups” in the past nine years.
The blatant irony of these contradictory tactics is breath-taking. Republicans have sanctimoniously pushed the strict voter-ID laws on the grounds that they simply want to reduce voter fraud. Yet laws which require government-issued photo IDs are conditioned on documents that are often hard to obtain, and on ready access to drivers license centers that are often distant and hard to reach for elderly, minorities or the poor. At the same time, Republicans embrace a contractor to register Republican voters and wink at his alleged tactics to thwart Democratic registrants.
There are, studies show, relatively few cases of voter fraud anywhere, and hardly any of significant scale. Certainly the exceedingly low numbers of documented voter fraud are massively outweighed by the sheer number of voters who, by the millions, will not be allowed to vote in November because they yet lack ready access to the required documents and government facilities.
Less than half of Tennessee’s counties have a drivers’ license center, for example, and shut-ins, elderly and poor Tennesseans often have difficulty reaching them, even if they can secure the documents they need. Despite such hardships, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and the state’s chief election official refuse to supply county election commissions — which register voters — a photo-ID machine and authority to issue state photo ID.
The underlying issue in the voter-ID law charade is the absence of a fair and reasonable process for shifting to a photo-ID law that safeguards the right for all Americans to vote. Until the flagrant explicit partisan exploitation that Republicans have devised is overturned, the right to vote remains at risk for far too many citizens.