Two pivotal events happened to the Republicans in the 1960s, both involving Nixon.
First, the Republicans sustained a terrible shock in 1960, losing by a hair to that upstart Irishman. They have insisted ever since that Kennedy stole the election, but the argument is so bogus that even Pat Buchanan laughed it down, pointing out all the illegal stuff the Republicans did in the same election. But they vowed never again to lose a close race without a fight. They started Operation Eagle Eye to nudge election results in the right direction, beginning with the 1962 race in which young lads like William Rehnquist cut their teeth as political gangsters, harassing black voters in Arizona under the guise of protecting “ballot security”.
The Republicans have been screeching “Democratic voter fraud” for the last fifty years. Study after study shows that the voter-fraud meme is utterly baseless, but they keep yelling it, complaining to the media and to their own supporters about unsubstantiated “tips” and “reports” of “irregularities”, magnifying any error by any Democrat anywhere is a titanic vote scandal…All to crank up their own turnout, to get people like the Wall Street Journal to endlessly repeat the accusations, and to justify their own thug-like political tactics, on the reasoning that real Republican voter disenfranchisement is less important than imaginary Democratic voter fraud.
The second issue involves race. As civil rights became a central issue in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Republicans, led by Nixon, realized they couldn’t woo both blacks and white racists at the same time, so they chose to dump the legacy of Lincoln and go with the rednecks. And they decided also to get into the vote-suppression business in a big way. They have exploited the fear of the shrinking white majority regarding minorities, as well as anyone trying to help minorities to vote: Obama, the Rainbow Coalition, ACORN, the NAACP, and the ACLU; the aim is to sell the notion that anybody black or brown is illegitimate dishonest, criminal, and anyone who helps them to vote must be a crook. The Republicans also worked to combine the concept of the big Democratic party machines with the black vote into one scary meme – “urban”. In one case they openly admitted targeting blacks and got barbecued by a judge. Later on they decided to write off the Latino vote for reasons no one can understand, and decided to criminalize that entire community with the immigration jihad as well.
So the Republicans made vote suppression a fixed part of their political strategy: seeing to it that minorities don’t vote.
How do they do all this? Long before the polls open, the GOP launches a very public, organized, completely unauthorized effort to “deter” fraud in black and Hispanic areas. It goes something like this: “When you get to the polls, election officials are watching. We will ask you questions, and if you get them wrong you could go to jail. Voter fraud is illegal. It’s a crime. The FBI could become involved. We are putting out a reward for catching perpetrators of fraud!” All to scare minorities away. And when that doesn’t work, they simply lie: “There are new residency requirements! Voting machines can see who you are and notify government agencies! If you have a traffic ticket, a parking ticket, or a child support issue, if you have been questioned by the police for anything, or even been a witness, or anybody in your family, you will be arrested if you vote!” That last one was sent by the “Harris County Negro Protective Association” which of course does not exist. And once they figure out their message, they bring out all the King’s men to get it out: robo-calls, radio ads, newspaper inserts, posters, mailers, postcards, even signs posted at polling places. Blacks and Hispanics, who have years of experience being harassed by the police even though they’ve done nothing wrong, get the message, just as they did when they tried to vote in the 1950s: show up to vote and nasty crap will happen.
For fifty years the Republicans have been training white poll watchers and sending them into minority areas to intimidate minority voters with harassment and abuse, to frighten and humiliate voters. Their poll watchers challenge minorities with nosy, abusive questions. “Where’s your ID? You’re illegitimate! Fraud! Fraud!” Once they even justified their abuse with “some of them were voting more than once….most blacks look alike so it was hard to tell.” If a minority voter is foolish enough to ask for assistance, the Republican poll watcher is likely give them an abusive answer, or complain about the “improper assistance” they are getting from other poll watchers. Another trick is to take pictures and film of voters, to include recording their confidential conversations with real election officials. The Republicans are quite open about trying to terrorize voters they don’t like, on the grounds that since they’re black they’re probably crooks anyway: “‘Browbeating’ is a common defense to cover irregularities.”
Next come the goon squads: big scary guys who stand in the doorway, Wallace-like, to intimidate voters. They are quite open about encouraging assault: They want to “have a human body who is tough and even mean, at the polls counting the ballots.” At one polling place, “We dispatched a 6’6,” 275 lb. football player to the polling place; he walked in, cracked the guy on the kisser, and flattened him to the floor, turned around and walked out, and no more problems occurred at that polling place! Use force if needed!”
If that isn’t good enough, bring in the fake cops. The Republicans have been caught many times sending their own people with uniforms, guns and radios to the polling places, giving the impression that they have the power to arrest people. Some wear badges that say things like “Ballot Security Program.” Some of them write down license numbers, ask questions about citizenship, sit next to the real election officials
Of course the real cops can intimidate people too: just the fear of immigration officials will keep perfectly legal Latinos from going to the polls in Arizona this fall, so the Republicans have already won that battle. Courts have had to direct unofficial poll watchers to coordinate any complaints with the secretary of state’s office rather than starting to whoop up trouble right there at the polls or call the police.
The Republicans also push local cops to go door-to-door in black areas, armed, to ask about their absentee ballots – try to vote and you’ll get a cop on your doorstep! They have also hired private investigators and other unregulated freelancers to go out into minority areas, ostensibly hunting down fraudulent voters, offering rewards for the purpose. We will absolutely see the teabaggers taking the law into their own hands this fall.
A key aim is to ensure that their dirty work is done on election day itself: scream at election officials on election day to get their way on the big day itself, get the media reporting the results they want to see, and then…it’s too late to correct errors or outright fraud.
The larger aim is to make voting a negative experience so that minorities don’t come back. Minority areas don’t have enough polling places close by, lines are long, equipment is antiquated, ballots run out, dragging out the process of identifying voters. The Republicans have been known to send homeless panhandlers to polls for harassment, or to put out the word that “anybody who moves within the county must verify their address at the clerk’s office!” So you must go to poll, learn the new rules, go to city hall, then back to vote. Or give up and go home, which is a Win for the GOP.
The Republicans are particularly energetic at illegally attacking documentation. They aggressively (and illegally) purge voter rolls in minority areas, particularly in the South, as they did in Florida in 2000; often the claim is that the people being purged are convicts, which neatly feeds into white fears of blacks. They vigorously challenge voter documents, especially the increasing number of absentee ballots; in minority areas they illegally demand notarization of absentee forms, and they will challenge ballots for pencil marks that stray outside the box, for example. Many times they have used the subterfuge of sending registered mail to minority addresses; if they are not returned, the voter is illegally tossed off the voter rolls; they can also target renters who are disproportionately poor, old, black or Hispanic.
Their real pet peeve is voter identification in minority areas, a way to suppress turnout, pushing for more and more identity documents. A key aim is to criminalize being a minority, to push the “Brown = Criminal” meme: just as they screech about Obama’s birth certificate, they pop up in minority areas and bark “Show me photo ID! Show me a bank statement, a gas bill!” In at least one case a Republican poll watcher sneered at one voter “Where’s your government check??” They also resist anything that increases minority participation, such as motor-voter.
The GOP sometimes tries to distance itself from these efforts by hiring operatives who are not officially on the payroll – the same deniability strategy that failed disastrously in Watergate. But they’re not really trying hard -- GOP officials have admitted privately, many times, that they are suppressing the minority vote illegally. They even gave out trophies to the goons who stole the 2000 election. And the Republicans have been caught, sued and punished in court over and over. They’re answer, effectively, is “tough crap, you’re sore losers! Rules are for sissies!”
The GOP leadership is running all of this, controlling thousands of GOP lawyers via the Republican National Lawyers Association (who played a key role in the Florida fight), borrowing help from their corporate pals, using the local secretaries of state (remember Katherine Harris?), exploiting their control of the U.S. Attorney organization during the Bush era to illegally use the Justice Department to suppress Democratic votes…and I’ll bet they use the teabaggers this year too!
So where will they attack? The Republicans target blacks and Hispanics not only because they hate them, and the feeling is mutual – but also because targeting them is easy, since those groups are still heavily segregated, half a century after the civil rights movement. In addition it is easy to continue selling the “Brown = Criminal” theme. They also target the elderly and native Americans; they go after college students with residency requirements. They are particularly exercised in races which were decided by razor-thin margins last time or could be this time, or races with black and Latino candidates.
Just as the Democrats have insisted on pursuing their legislative agenda by Marquis of Queensbury rules while the Republicans have been kicking them in the balls over and over, we seem to be heading for another election cycle in which we play by the rules and the Republicans don’t. Which is how you lose. Just as we lost in 2000 and 2004 by allowing the Republicans to suppress the vote. So as we wheel the Obama campaign machine out of the garage again, be sure that the effort includes voter education and resistance to vote suppression. Keep working with the usual suspects to register voters and fight voter suppression: the Rainbow gang, the NAACP, the ACLU etc. Utilize another group the Republicans loathe, the trial lawyers. When their goons show up at the polls, take their pictures, and their cars too!
So, Republicans, it is useless to deny you’re doing it, because the party has admitted doing it, and they have been caught and punished in court. And it is also useless to holler “Democrats are doing it too!” because, time after time, you fail to back up your baseless claims.
**UPDATE** -- Wow, they're not even waiting for November.
Kentucky's election fraud hotline lit up on Tuesday with claims of numerous election violations, according to the Bluegrass Politics blog on the Lexington Herald-Leader's Web site.
According to the Herald-Leader's Janet Patton the charges have varied from vote buying or selling to “electioneering" (campaigning within 300 feet of a polling station) to voter harassment and appear to have been made mostly against Rand Paul supporters.
“Some are local but primarily they have been with one campaign: the Rand Paul campaign,” Les Fugate, deputy assistant secretary of state, told Bluegrass Politics of the complaints.