In the final month of the presidential campaign, the oveerriding challenge for Democrats is turnout. Yes, the remaining debates are important, but Democrats can be confident, at least, that Clinton has a strong debating edge and will prepare to win. The top priority in the remaining weeks for her campaign, local Democratic parties and her supporters in the battleground states is mobilizing a great ground game.
The threat of GOP suppression of pro-Democratic voters is real and immediate. It’s not only the U.S. Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act enforcement provisions, which has unleashed a rash of state measures to tighten i.d. requirements, restrict early voting and other dodgy measures. We are now seeing some outrageous attempts to imtimidate citizens who are engaged in voter registration projects in the states.
At The New Republic Spencer Woodman writes in his post, “The GOP’s Next Target: Get-Out-the Vote Operations?,” about a particularly sleazy Republican-driven suppression effort in Indiana:
On September 15, elections officials across Indiana received an alarming note from Connie Lawson, the state’s Republican secretary of state. “Unfortunately, it has recently come to my attention that nefarious actors are operating here in Indiana,” warned Lawson’s letter, which was sent to election administrators in each of the state’s 92 counties. “A group by the name of the Indiana Voter Registration Project has forged voter registrations. … If you receive one of these applications, please contact the Indiana State Police Special Investigations.”
For weeks, the state had been quietly pursuing an investigation into the Indiana Voter Registration Project, a get-out-the-vote group backed by the liberal-leaning Patriot Majority. Its mission is to resuscitate voter participation in Indiana from a record low in 2014. In cooperation with Secretary Lawson’s office, state police placed six detectives on the case, interrogated members of the voting group, and performed forensics on registration documents…
…Although the IVRP has submitted tens of thousands of voter registration forms in the Hoosier state this year, the state had only identified ten applications that were allegedly forged. (A news report released Thursday said that state police removed 250 suspicious IVRP registrations this week from a county elections office in central Indiana.)
Woodman goes on to share the experience of a voter registration worker, Lydia Garrett, who had to deal with the investigators. “During the interrogation,” Woodman writes, “one of the detectives pointedly told Garrett that he had been a detective for years and could tell when someone was lying” and asked Garrett if she would be willing to take a polygraph test.
In Georgia, writes Woodman, “Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp launched an extensive investigation into the New Georgia Project, a high-profile, Democrat-connected voter registration drive in the state that national commentators suggested held the potential to turn the state purple.”
In Pennsylvania in 2004, writes Erick Trickey at Politico, Republican activists created bottlenecks at the check-in tables for hundreds of University of Pittsburgh students, who had waited for hours to vote in the presidential election. As Trcikey explains,
“The attorneys for the Republican Party were challenging the credentials of pretty much every young voter who showed up,” recalls Pat Clark, a Pittsburgh activist and registered Democrat who was working for an election-protection group that day.
The GOP attorneys were acting as poll watchers. A common practice in many states, partisan poll watching helps parties get out the vote and keep an eye out for irregularities. But in Pennsylvania, laws governing how observers can challenge voters are unusually broad, and that makes them susceptible to abuse.
On that day in 2004, students who were challenged by the GOP lawyers were told they needed to find a friend who could sign an affidavit proving their identity and residence. Other battleground states, concerned that their voter-challenge laws could be misused, have limited or even abolished them in the past decade. But Pennsylvania hasn’t modified its rules. That worries election experts, who fear Donald Trump’s persistent calls for supporters to monitor the polls to prevent cheating could create conflicts and chaos inside and outside of precincts across the state…
Tricky quotes Trump on his call to PA Republicans: ““We’re going to watch Pennsylvania—go down to certain areas and watch and study—[and] make sure other people don’t come in and vote five times. … The only way we can lose, in my opinion—and I really mean this, Pennsylvania—is if cheating goes on.”
PA Republicans are trying to make it even easier to imtimidate voters with poll challenges. As Trickey explains,
…Last week, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives advanced a bill that would allow residents to be certified as watchers anywhere in the state. Current law allows them to watch polls only in the county they live. Republicans, on a near-party-line vote, amended the bill to give it immediate effect—so it could allow Trump poll watchers to range freely across the state on Election Day. But the bill would have to get past Democratic Governor Tom Wolf, and House Democrats have charged that it would “allow outside agitators to intimidate your local poll workers and make it harder for you to vote.”
Yet, it could get worse in PA. As Trickey notes,
In 2004, some of the University of Pittsburgh students who were caught in the interminable line arrived at the front to discover they weren’t registered in the poll books. Some of them were victims of a dirty trickplayed on college campus in three states in that year: canvassers sent by GOP operatives had gotten students to sign petitions supporting medical marijuana or lower car insurance rates, then used their information to submit bogus changes to their voter registrations.
Despite the shameless Republican voter supression projects in Indiana, Penssylvania, Georgia, North Carolina, Florida and other states, Democrats are preparing to monitor and chalenge the GOP with increasing effectiveness. Sam Frizell notes at Time Magazine that Democrats have also secured some impressive gains in terms of expanding their constituency:
In North Carolina, a key swing state, teams of lawyers are going county-by-county to add early voting days, pressuring supervisors of elections to include additional days and polling sites. In predominantly Democratic Wake County, home to the state capital of Raleigh, early voting hours have been expanded by 50%. In the blue counties that are home to Charlotte and Fayetteville, the Clinton campaign has bargained for similarly increased hours.
In Florida, Miami-Dade, the biggest liberal base in the state, has expanded its early voting sites from around 20 in 2012 to 30 this year, due to the Clinton campaigns efforts. Broward, Orange and Hillsborough counties—home to Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Tampa—have also expanded early voting hours. In the state where Al Gore lost to George W. Bush by a mere 500 votes, a day of extra voting at one polling place could swing the election if it ends up similarly close.
In Minnesota, Democrats have won no-excuse early in-person and mail voting. In North Carolina and Wisconsin, Democratic lawyers have beaten back laws requiring voters to carry IDs, while they’ve sought to reinstitute a week when voters could register and vote early at the same time in Ohio.
A month out from the 2016 national election, it’s clear that the Republican voter suppression machine is unrelenting, and Dems have a lot of work to do to prevent it from prevailing in 2016. The good news is that Democrats are intensely engaged, both nationally and locally, in the fight for a fair election. Clinton and her campaign have done a good job in meeting this challenge. Now it’s up to Democratic rank and file to volunteer to serve in GOTV mobilization and poll watching. With that comitment, an historic Democratic landslide becomes a real possibility.
If the Democrats had the good sense to nominate Bernie Sanders, we would be in a much stronger position. The nomination of Hillary Clinton has alienated huge numbers of progressives and independent voters, and thus a lot of good down-ballot Democrats are going to suffer the consequences of low turnout in November.