2012-06-02 "Republicans Plot to Steal White House" by Paul McGeough from "Sydney Morning Herald"
Paul McGeough is an Irish Australian journalist and senior foreign
correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald, specializing in Middle
There's a fiendish cleverness in perpetrating a fraud in broad daylight, at the same time as you tell the people that it must be done to guard against - you guessed it - fraud.Illustration: Simon Bosch
The reality of voter fraud in the US is that it is virtually non-existent. It has been known to happen, but studies reveal its probability is less than that of being struck by lightning - just 0.0009 per cent in Washington State and a very remote 0.00004 per cent in Ohio.
So welcome to the state of Florida, where the state emblem is the hanging chad. Remember, it was here that just 537 votes in the recount drama of 2000 threw the presidency to George W. Bush.
Nothing can be left to chance. Like about 20 other Republican-controlled states, Florida has gone all out to stifle the likely Democratic vote before the presidential poll in November. Using the Bush rule of thumb, a tweak to the law that shaves the Democratic vote by just a few hundred at elections where about 10 million get to vote, is halfway to throwing the outcome.
Po-faced state governors and attorneys-general talk about each attack on the electoral roll rules as necessary to protect the integrity of the electoral process. But they are in the business of stealing votes.
So it was refreshing this week to see the Florida gang caught red-handed, as it were, by a federal judge who didn't mince his words in adjudicating on the Republicans' latest vote rigging. In so doing, US District Judge Robert Hinkle became the first jurist to hack into any of the so-called electoral reforms being enacted in states where Republican-controlled legislatures get to write the rules for local and federal polls.
Hinkle struck down a new provision that made it virtually impossible to organise traditional voter-registration drives. The law required organisers to register with the state, to return new registration documents to state officials within 48 hours and made it a criminal offence for the organisers to register someone later found to be ineligible.
As written, the law was a gift to any Republican candidate. Registration drives mostly were organised in black, Hispanic and student communities - all more inclined to vote Democrat than Republican. And the implicit threat had its intended effect - leading voter-registration organisations walked away.
Hinkle declared the 48-hour rule to be ''harsh, impractical''. He was especially scathing about a demand that organisers must sign a sworn statement that they would obey state laws, saying: ''[It can] have no purpose other than to discourage voluntary participation in legitimate, indeed constitutionally protected, activities.''
In a ''gotcha'' line, the judge relied on ''if-it-ain't-broke, don't-fix-it'' logic - ''Before the adoption of the 2011 statute, the state was operating under provisions that, at least insofar as shown by this record, were working well.''
Another electoral provision that has been found to be more popular among Democrats than Republicans is voting in the days or weeks before the formal poll date - so, needless to say, the provision has become a target for the Republican suppress-the-vote brigade.
This has been an important provision because unlike traditional Saturday voting in Australia, Americans vote mid-week when the majority of voters have jobs and other distractions to tend to.
And the reason for attacking early voting is because it is so popular, especially among Barack Obama's African American supporters in the south. In the past 15 years, it has risen steadily as a share of the vote - accounting for about a third of all votes cast in 2008.
It is not an issue of fraud. Voting figures for 2008 reveal the reason Republicans are so determined to shrink the period in which early voting is allowed for this year's election - it seems to have given Obama a leg-up.
In North Carolina, where more early votes were lodged than were cast on polling day, Obama won the state by less than 15,000 votes. More than half of the black votes were cast early, compared with just 40 per cent of white votes - so there is a good chance a shrunken window for early voting could damage Obama.
In Florida, the Republicans' critical point of attack on early voting was to ban pre-poll voting on the Sunday before election day. This is sickening and arguably racist, because it is a deliberate attack on the practice of African American churches bussing their congregations to vote after they attend services.
In an editorial, The New York Times rails against the assault on early voting - ''it is the latest element of a well co-ordinated effort by Republican state legislatures across the country to disenfranchise voters who tend to support Democrats, particularly minorities and young people.''
The legendry African American congressman John Lewis was equally blunt - ''There is a deliberate, systematic attempt to win or steal the election before it takes place … it's a sin; it's obscene.''
But in Florida, they're not done yet.
State officials used a bizarre cross-referencing of voter rolls and driver's licence records to produce a list of 180,000 names of electors they claim might not be American citizens.
In a recent first strike, they wrote to almost 2700 of them - giving them 30 days in which to prove their citizenship or to be struck from the roll. Just the implicit insult in such a letter or general forgetfulness would be enough to have a portion of its recipients not respond.
More than 350 in the Miami area came in to prove their citizenship. As the The New York Times explains, the state's data is demonstrably dodgy and it is highly likely many legitimate voters who can't read English, or have relocated or didn't check their mail among the 1300-odd other recipients of the letter, will be barred from voting in November.
Other swing states are mounting similar purges. New Mexico's investigators came up with 64,000 suspicious names, but found only 19 individuals who might have been non-citizens.
Colorado is doing the same. All these states have big Hispanic populations, who are deeply offended by the Republican stand on immigration. The chances are that if they vote, they will vote Democrat; so the best option for the Republicans is to prevent them from voting at all.
Some detailed research by The Miami Herald on the near 2700 first recipients of the Florida letter challenging their right to vote revealed 58 per cent of them to be Hispanics and 14 per cent to be black.
It's hardly surprising that the African American congressman G.K. Butterfield, a Democrat from North Carolina, would tell a recent gathering: ''There's a right-wing conspiracy that is alive and well in this country that is trying to take us back to 1900 and even before.''