Every Democrat is painfully aware of the widespread GOP/conservative efforts to suppress the Democratic vote in the coming elections. An extensive and detailed report by Demos and Common Cause has carefully delineated the major problems that exist and searing indictments of the voter suppression strategy have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post and a wide range of other national periodicals.
Elizabeth Drew summarized the situation nicely in a recent New Yorker commentary:
…The current voting rights issue is even more serious [than Watergate]: it’s a coordinated attempt by a political party to fix the result of a presidential election by restricting the opportunities of members of the opposition party’s constituency–most notably blacks–to exercise a Constitutional right. This is the worst thing that has happened to our democratic election system since the late nineteenth century, when legislatures in southern states systematically negated the voting rights blacks had won in the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
But while the possibility of Romney and other Republican candidates actually winning elections by disenfranchising Democratic voters is the most grotesque threat on the horizon it is also important for Democrats to be aware of a second major danger that springs directly from the first: even if Obama not only wins the election but does so by a sufficient margin to avoid a contested result, the claim that massive voter fraud occurred can and will be used to de-legitimize his victory to millions of Americans and to provide a bogus justification for continued GOP intransigence and political sabotage during his second term.
Unfortunately, both the Republican Party and movement conservatives have the strongest possible incentives to follow this path if Obama is indeed re-elected.
For the GOP, an Obama victory will generate tremendous pressure on the party to moderate their extremist strategy of complete noncooperation and refusal to compromise with the new administration. The claim that Obama was only elected because of massive voting fraud will provide an easy and hypocritically “altruistic” rationalization for them to continue employing their extremist political strategy.
For movement conservatives, an Obama victory will generate tremendous demoralization among “the troops” and even the most ferocious denunciations of Romney’s ideological weakness and personal ineptitude will not be sufficient to restore their former fighting spirit. The claim that Obama was elected by massive voting fraud, on the other hand, will not only provide an explanation for the conservative defeat but also serve as a rallying cry for continued mobilization and a justification for continued belief that conservatives are still the “real” majority.
It is, of course, completely inevitable that the conservative grass-roots voter fraud groups that have been organized to monitor polling places on Election Day will loudly allege “massive voter fraud” and a stolen election regardless of what actually occurs on November 6th. But for this accusation to gain any significant credibility beyond the circle of already convinced conservatives, an absolutely key requirement will be some kind of dramatic visual evidence of problems or disruptions occurring at polling places. After all, by themselves on-camera interviews with the leaders of the voter fraud monitoring groups — interviews in which these grass-roots “voter vigilantes” will breathlessly allege the existence of busloads of swarthy immigrants and shiftless minorities having been herded from precinct to precinct to vote multiple times — will not be sufficient to convince anyone outside the circle of true believers.
The impact of such charges will be vastly amplified and reinforced, however, if video images of even the smallest and most unrepresentative handful of disruptions at polling places can be obtained and then presented as evidence that something suspicious was actually going on. It is only necessary to remember how Fox News’ relentless repetition of the footage of two motley and rather forlorn “Black Panthers” standing for several minutes in front of a single African-American precinct in 2008 elevated the notion of “thuggish intimidation” of McCain voters into a major national story and an unquestioned truth for millions of Fox viewers.
Most disturbingly, even incidents that are directly and entirely provoked by the actions of the new voter vigilantes themselves will actually serve to bolster and reinforce the bogus accusations of voter fraud. The simple fact is that, from a distance, images of angry people shouting at each other do not reveal what their dispute is about or which side is actually at fault. Any dramatic video images of angry confrontations or disruptions on Election Day, regardless of their actual cause, will powerfully reinforce the false perception that “something fishy” was really going on.
Unfortunately the danger that disruptions will be provoked by the voter vigilantes themselves is extremely high.
In the first place, the grass-roots voter vigilantes are already deeply and passionately convinced that massive voting theft is an established fact. An article in The Atlantic described one grass roots leader in the following way:
Speaking at one Texas Tea Party gathering, Alan Vera, the Army ranger turned volunteer-trainer, cautioned that “evil” forces were about to launch “the greatest attack ever on election integrity,” and implored the crowd to prepare for a “ground war”: “In 2012, we need a patriot army to stand shoulder to shoulder on the wall of freedom and shout defiantly to those dark powers and principalities, ‘If you want to steal this election, you have to get past us. We will not yield another inch to your demonic deception … If you won’t enforce our laws, we’ll do it ourselves, so help us God.’ ” Shaking his fist in the air, he cried, “Patriots, let’s roll!” The crowd cheered wildly.
(Other activists, of course, are far more cynical. A board member of the Racine county Wisconsin GOP who supervised the county’s major voter fraud group in 2010 noted that some precincts might be targeted “just because it’s a heavily skewed Democratic ward.”)
But, for the most part, the conservative ground troops will be utterly committed true believers who are completely convinced that massive voting fraud is occurring and that they are heroic patriots defending the nation from a sinister coup-de-tat.
This problem is then compounded by the fact that the tactics of the voter vigilantes are inherently provocative and extremely likely to provoke conflict.
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