By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
President Barack Obama and national GOP officials agree on one thing: The battle for the White House in 2012 will likely again come down to who wins the handful of election deciding battleground states.
At the top of that list are Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Virginia. These are the states that have swung back and forth between the GOP and the Democrats for the past quarter century.
Florida arguably and very dubiously put George W. Bush in the White House in 2000. Ohio did much to put Bush back in the White House in 2004. In 2008, both switched party hands, and along with the other three Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Virginia did much to put Obama in the White House. While the GOP is bound and determined to make sure that doesn’t happen again in 2012, it has for the most part dumped the crude stuff to suppress votes that got a lot of media attention, a slew of legal challenges, and stirred public outrage.
That included making sure there was an absence of polling places in minority neighborhoods, ballot and vote machine irregularities, using lists of foreclosed homes to challenge voter’s residences, rigid time lines for filing voter applications, and the lack of information, misinformation or deliberate disinformation about voter registration forms and materials. Courts ruled that these blatant and naked efforts to torpedo minority voting were illegal, and Democratic Party officials were vigilant and aggressive in challenging these ploys.
But the GOP has gone back to its dirty campaign playbook and found a rash of new playbook schemes to insure that as many voters that are most likely to vote Democrat and for Obama stay home on Election Day in the must win states. This time around they have powerful new weapons to try to pull off their voter scam with GOP governors and GOP dominated state legislatures in the driver’s seat in the states that Obama won in 2008.
The GOP state officials have expanded the scheme that they unveiled a few years back and that is the rigid requirement that voters produce a government-issued identification, such as a driver’s license, a passport, or a state or military ID card as proof of their identity to be eligible to vote. Months before the 2008 election, the Supreme Court upheld Indiana’s rigid voter registration law that required such proof. Since then nearly 20 other states require either photo or non-photo IDs. Other states have jumped on the bandwagon and require ironclad proof of identity.
Florida and Ohio are among those states. North Carolina came within a hair’s breath of passing a similarly restrictive voter ID bill, but the state’s Democratic governor vetoed the bill. The cover excuse for this voter suppression scheme is that it is a bona fide measure to prevent voter fraud. This flies squarely in the face of several studies that debunk the myth that tens of thousands of mostly poor, ineligible black and Latino voters flood the polls and illegally skewer the vote total toward the Democrats. Estimates put the number at more than 20 million possibly eligible voters that through lack of time, money, or access to documents were unable to get the required ID proof.
GOP officials in two key election-deciding states, Florida and Ohio, didn’t stop at requiring hard-nosed voter ID proof. Both states knocked out voting on Sunday before the election. In the absence of any employer paid time for voting on Tuesday, Sunday voting was a huge boost for black and Latino voters. Both states also radically shortened the early voting time frame from 14 days to eight in Florida and from 35 days to 16 days in Ohio.
Black voters accounted for nearly one out of five of the early return voters and nearly one of three of the Sunday voters. Latinos accounted for nearly one out of five of the Sunday voters. In North Carolina, more than half of blacks voted early.
Obama also got a huge election shot in the arm from students and other youthful voters. A number of states now prohibit the use of student IDs as voter eligible proof. In Wisconsin, students now must have a new student ID with a two-year expiration date to be eligible. In Virginia, Gov. Bob McDonnell’s Republican-controlled State Board of Elections proposed tightening rules that make it easier for election officials to disqualify absentee ballots for even the most trivial mistake such as a misspelling on a signature.
GOP officials have not scrapped the old tried and true methods of voter suppression. They include: district gerrymandering, tightening felon bans, skimping on the number of polling places and machines in mostly black and Latino neighborhoods, stationing police at the polls, and challenging citizenship papers where they can get away with it.
The GOP voter suppression schemes are aimed at one thing and one thing only and that’s to hold onto the White House or in the case of the 2012 election hijack the White House from Obama. Democrats will again pull out all legal stops to fight the schemes. They will need to because The battle for the White House hangs in the balance.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on KTYM Radio Los Angeles streamed on ktym.com podcast on blogtalkradio.com and on thehutchinsonreportnews.com
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