I’m old enough now, and have been voting for enough decades, that I recognize a voter intimidation campaign when I see one. And I see one now, unfolding before our eyes.
The GOP nominee has started claiming, with his surrogates, that if he doesn’t win in November, it will be because the election was “rigged.” This, in spite of many polls that show how much ground he is losing, day after day.
So the GOP is now resorting to one of its favorite tactics: “ballot security” measures, that are claimed to prevent “voter fraud” but have been proven to intimidate the minority voters whose precincts somehow attract most of this GOP-organized activity. GOP speakers are raising the same old GOP red herring of “voter fraud”, which the party has been using for some years now to pass state laws that unconstitutionally limit American citizens’ voting rights. Those laws are now being struck down by federal court after federal court, but it’s a slow process. And although the U.S. Supreme Court left in place a consent decree entered into more than thirty years ago to settle a lawsuit against the Republican National Committee for such practices in New Jersey in 1981 (led by the man in the featured image, above), it is not binding on the “independent” political groups that now play such a big part in our elections.
What does “ballot security” mean? We all want our ballots to be secure, don’t we? Here’s what it means, as implemented by the GOP since the 1950s, according to a distinguished political scientist who published an exhaustive study of “ballot security” programs:
[S]ome of the features of vote suppression efforts put forth by Republicans under the guise of ballot security programs, as they have been described in this Report:
1. An organized, often widely publicized effort to field poll watchers in what Republicans call “heavily Democratic,” but what are usually minority, precincts;
2. Stated concerns about vote fraud in these precincts, which are occasionally justified but often are not;
3. Misinformation and fear campaigns directed at these same precincts, spread by radio, posted signs in the neighborhoods, newspapers, fliers, and phone calls, which are often anonymously perpetrated;
4. Posting “official-looking” personnel at polling places, including but not limited to off-duty police—sometimes in uniform, sometimes armed;
5. Aggressive face-to-face challenging techniques at the polls that can confuse, humiliate, and intimidate—as well as slow the voting process—in these same minority precincts;
6. Challenging voters using inaccurate, unofficial lists of registrants derived from “do-not-forward” letters sent to low-income and minority neighborhoods;
7. Photographing, tape recording, or videotaping voters; and
8. Employing language and metaphors that trade on stereotypes of minority voters as venal and credulous.
Ballot-security programs employing these techniques, as the above research has shown, are not usually the work of a few renegades out of touch with the leadership structure. The history of such programs from the 1950s to the present reveals that lawyers, judges, election officials, and people high in the state or national command hierarchy of the Republican Party and its campaigns are typically the leaders of the disfranchising efforts …
That study was published around 2004. Since then, the GOP has pushed hard, often successfully, to lift restrictions on the ownership, use and public carrying of guns, including military-style rapid-fire weapons. There are already documented incidents of “open-carry” activists showing up at meetings of citizens and even legislators opposed to their own positions, openly armed with intimidating weapons. I expect to see more of the same near polling places this November, in largely minority or Democratic-leaning precincts. The GOP’s nominee and his spokespeople are already whipping up their supporters into a frenzy of violent imagery and suggestions — look at their national convention and the rabid verbal attacks and threats made during it and since then toward opponents like Gold Star father Khizr Khan and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
I will vote early this November. I will urge others who might feel intimidated by poll watchers at their polling places to do likewise. I will volunteer as a non-partisan supporter of voting rights at the polls on Election Day. And I will never forget or forgive the many, many GOP leaders who are either backing up and repeating their nominee’s crazed dog whistles to the violent lunatic fringe, or at best pretending not to hear them.
Photo: 1981 Republican “ballot security” enforcer Anthony Imperiale, Newark NJ, in 1969; image from http://www.pastdaily.com