June 18, 2008
The votes not counted
Every election cycle in the U.S. there are votes that never get counted –but not because of computer glitches on paperless voting machines, as if often assumed. The computer glitches happen and no paper trail is there to give silent evidence of the missing votes. Much energy has been devoted to replacing paperless voting machines with systems that have a voter verified paper record without also considering the other source of missing votes.
What am I talking about? What other type of missing vote is there besides the ones lost inside the electronic world of computerized voting machines? The answer, of course is that the other type of votes that never get counted are the ones that never get cast. Tragically millions of votes are never cast in jurisdictions across America each election cycle for a wide variety of reasons –partisan dirty tricks, voter suppression, voter intimidation, purged voting rolls, misinformation campaigns targeted at certain groups of voters, or simply voting machine shortages in inner city precincts. It is these uncounted votes that never show up in the winning (or losing) margin but in close races can mean the difference between victory or defeat.
This election cycle the weapon of choice in preventing legitimate voters from ever getting a chance to cast a ballot seems to be requirements to show ID at the polls in order to vote. These voter ID laws have proliferated in the last eight years with the net effect of denying the right to vote to U.S. citizens who do not have access to the required ID. Some of the recent egregious examples of this kind of voter suppression are the elderly nuns in South Bend, IN who were unable to cast ballots in the recent Indiana primary and the 97-year-old Arizona woman who could not produce a birth certificate because she was born at home in Clinton, KY and never had one. There countless others, of course, whose stories of being denied the right to vote does not make the news. Bill Boyarsky on Truthdig.com points out that the primary season already shows evidence of an increase in this type of voter suppression activity. http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20080605_exposing_the_gops_voter_suppression_campaign/
Hilary O. Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau, told a House committee in February that “ … The NAACP, as well as representatives from almost every other civil and voting rights organization, all report an increase in the number of Americans—primarily racial and ethnic minority Americans—who say they have been denied their constitutional right to register and vote.”
Eighteen states require some form of ID in order to vote, with Indiana’s strictest-in-the-nation law being upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court recently. Their requirements vary wildly but have the net effect of preventing otherwise qualified legitimate citizens from exercising their right to vote. More details about these state voter ID laws can be found at electionline.org or projectvote.org.
In the opinion of Professor Richard L. Hasen of Los Angeles’ Loyola Law School, one of the nation’s foremost election law scholars, predicts that voter suppression will take place in countless polling places across the nation but will not be a mass campaign. He believes that the administration of laws like the ones requiring voter ID will provide cover for widespread voter suppression of minorities.
“The most successful way of keeping minority voting down is [using] the law,” Hasen said.
So what can be done to get ready for these tactics in the November General election?
To counter such moves, he said, candidates needing minority votes, such as Obama, must put field workers and election lawyers into the field to educate voters on the complexities of their local laws. They must make sure voters have the required ID. And they must be ready to go to court in an instant when someone spots a dirty trick. “These kind of things have to happen now,” he said.
This is particularly crucial in battleground Western states with large Hispanic populations. The combination of anti-immigrant sentiment and voter ID laws could lead to a decline in voting among these groups. Antonio Gonzalez, president of the Southwestern Voter Registration Education Project, says that anti-immigrant sentiment may hurt the turnout in states like Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico (a total of 19 electoral votes).
Professor Hasan offers the following advice to the Obama campaign: hustle election protection specialists to the battleground states. There’s not much glory in nosing around a Colorado or Arizona county courthouse—but that’s where this election may be decided.
The rest of us can do our part by participating in local election protection efforts — and staying alert to evidence of these kind of voter suppression efforts.
Every vote needs to be counted — and every legitimate voter needs to have his or her voice heard at the ballot box.