There will be some gnashing of teeth by the Washington State Republicans to this July 3rd press release from Governor Gregoire:
Governor Chris Gregoire today designated the Washington Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) as a voter registration assistance agency and directed the agency to appoint a voter registration assistance officer, efficiently help citizens register to vote and work with the Secretary of State’s office to ensure compliance with established voter registration procedures.
“It is one of the primary duties of government to make available to all citizens the opportunity to register to vote and, if needed, provide registration assistance,” said Governor Gregoire. “Our social service agency serves a diverse group of people every day and therefore is an ideal place to help more Washingtonians register to vote.”
Governor Gregoire also encouraged all state agencies to provide on their web sites a link to the Secretary of State’s voter registration page and to consider other ways in which they might support and promote voter registration.
This is the way government ought to work. It should take concrete steps to maximize opportunities for all eligible citizens to exercise their constitutional right to vote. It is curious, then, that over the last decade the Republican Party has increasingly become the party of voter suppression and disenfranchisement. (Luke Esser looks prescient with his 20-year-old disenfranchisement satire.)
We saw the Republican vote suppression in action days before the 2005 election when Lori Sotelo (apparently inspired by a Karl Rove briefing, filed an error-prone series of voter challenges. Subsequently, the Washington State laws were changed to prevent such abuse.
Under the worst of circumstances, the Republican-sponsored disenfranchisement becomes operational through a Republican-controlled government…. In 2000, we saw a massive, and error prone disenfranchisement operation undertaken in Florida, under the supervision of Secretary of State Katherine Harris—an operation that almost certainly swung the presidential election by inappropriately purging thousands of African Americans from the voter rolls. A US Commission on Civil Rights report summarized it this way:
…poorly designed efforts to eliminate fraud, as well as sloppy and irresponsible implementation of those efforts, disenfranchise legitimate voters and can be a violation of the VRA. Florida’s overzealous efforts to purge voters from the rolls, conducted under the guise of an anti-fraud campaign, resulted in the inexcusable and patently unjust removal of disproportionate numbers of African American voters from Florida’s voter registration rolls for the November 2000 election.
African American voters were placed on purge lists more often and more erroneously than Hispanic or white voters. For instance, in the state’s largest county, Miami-Dade, more than 65 percent of the names on the purge list were African Americans, who represented only 20.4 percent of the population. Hispanics were 57.4 percent of the population, but only 16.6 percent of the purge list; whites were 77.6 percent of the population but 17.6 percent of those purged.
Florida easily could have, and should have, done much more to protect the voting rights of African Americans and other Floridians.
(They also found other ways that African American voters were disproportionately disenfranchised in Florida in 2000.)
On the face of it, the Republican problem seems to be paranoia, with the biggest cheerleader of paranoia being Karl Rove. Don’t you believe it. If there is anything that Republican strategists learned from the 2000 election is that disenfranchising voters works for Republicans! Karl Rove almost certainly knows he is feeding the Republican masses a load of horseshit.
Republican voter fraud “paranoia” is really theatre in two acts, designed to disenfranchise subpopulations that vote Democratic.
The first act shakes the confidence of ordinary voters in the election system—that is, it spreads paranoia through unfounded fears of widespread (presumably Democratic) election fraud.
We certainly saw this fear-mongering played out in Washington State in 2004. During the election contest trial, Republican lawyers opened with a bold statement about how they would prove election fraud. The trial proceeded without any evidence of election fraud being offered. Judge Bridges Oral Decision stated:
There is no evidence that anybody associated with any of the candidates in the governor’s race had anything to do with causing the errors. There is no evidence that has been produced in this Court to suggest that the errors resulted from partisan bias. During the 2004 general election, the various polling sites across the State were populated by inspectors, judges, Accuvote judges, observers, attorneys and the media. No testimony has been placed before the Court to suggest fraud or intentional misconduct. Election officials attempted to perform their responsibilities in a fair and impartial manner. There is no evidence before the Court to question ballot security as to those ballots actually counted.
The second act in the G.O.P. theatre is to make registration and/or voting more difficult for “certain voters.” That would be the poor, people of color, and people living in urban environments. You know, various schemes to cancel registrations, laws to require photo IDs at the polls, that sort of thing. These gimmicks particularly hit poor people of color—people that some Republicans believe shouldn’t even have a right to vote.
That is why Gregoire’s memo will cause some political consternation and constipation among state Republicans. We all know who uses DSHS: the same people Republicans build gated communities to keep out.