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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Tea Party Voter Suppression Campaign Reportedly in the Works

AP’s Phillip Elliot has a disturbing report in WaPo today:

Activists on Wednesday noted that “dozens of tea party-aligned groups have sought records and are planning to visit polling places on Election Day to enforce their own “voter protection” programs.
…And with anger at Washington at a fever pitch and an anti-incumbent sentiment growing, the loosely organized tea party’s efforts to challenge voters on Election Day could dissuade scores of voters from casting ballots, the activists said. Tea party groups from California to Florida have organized to go to polling locations to check registrations themselves.

The primary targets, as usual, would be Latino and African American voters:

“We are worried this year that we could see large-scale efforts to challenge voters at the polls,” said Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center, a nonpartisan public policy and law institute based at New York University.
Gloria Montano Greene of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials also cautioned that the persistent anti-illegal immigrant fervor could drive down turnout or unfairly target those who appear to be immigrants.
“We know that we continue to face stark levels of voting discrimination around the country,” said Kristen Clarke, co-director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund’s voter project.

In light of epidemic home foreclosures during the last year and a half, there is also concern about the use of foreclosure lists to cast doubt on voters’ residency and voting eligibility. This was tried by Republicans in Indiana in 2008. A local Republican Party official reportedly said that presence on a foreclosure list “would be a solid basis” to ask someone to cast a provisional ballot.” The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund took legal action and stopped it.
Of all the forms of voter suppression, ‘caging’ seems to be most on the upswing. In his recent report on the right’s voter ‘caging’ initiative in Wisconsin, Josh Dorner at Think Progress has a good one-graph summary of the mechanics and impact of caging:

“Voter caging” is a means of voter suppression and intimidation that involves sending mail to a list of voters, compiling a list of mail pieces returned as undeliverable, and then challenging those voters at the polls or otherwise attempting to remove them from the voter rolls. The mere process of challenging voters can intimidate from voting even if they are eligible, cause long lines to form at polling places that will then discourage others from voting, and may result in eligible voters casting provisional ballots which stand a high likelihood of not being counted in the final tally.

Dorner’s excellent report details the tea party’s role in the Wisconsin voter suppression campaign based on a recording of a tea party meeting, including bragging about voter intimidation involving “a 6’4″, 300-pound man to challenge voters at the polls.”
The thing to keep in mind is that effective caging often depends on using one of two kinds of intimidation at the polls: (A.) goons questioning voters, and/or (B.) using law enforcement and/or trained attorneys to badger voters. The use of legit law enforcement would probably only occur in GOP-friendly jurisdictions. But fake, uniformed “enforcement” personnel have been used effectively to intimidate voters in the past. There is still time for voting rights groups to submit radio and TV public service announcements informing voters that they don’t have to stop and talk to anyone at the polls who doesn’t present legitimate law enforcement credentials.
In his post at Talk Media News, Kyle LeFleur quotes Weiser, who notes that about 3 million people couldn’t vote in 2008 because of registration problems. Weiser worries about the scale of voter suppression operations underway: “This is not something that we have seen for years and it raises significant risk for voters.”
All of which adds up to ominous signs that the GOP and or tea party activists may be assembling a nation-wide voter suppression campaign of unprecedented dimensions. Democrats were caught unprepared by the GOP’s “Brooks Brothers Riot” in 2000, and by the time we got our act together, it was too late. It appears that a massive ‘caging’ initiative is likely underway and we may see tea party goon squads intimidating voters at many polls on election day. This time, let’s be ready.

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