Earl Ofari Hutchinson
The GOP’s relentless war on alleged rampant voter fraud targets, not thousands, as many critics have noted, but millions of eligible voters. The Brennan Center for Justice found that the majority of the five million eligible voters that could be banned from the polls under the new restrictive laws rammed into place in a dozen states by GOP governors and GOP controlled state legislatures were Black, Latino, or American Indian, low income, and young voters. The SCOTUS decision upholding the Arizona GOP voter restrictions, the Georgia and Texas tough new restrictions and the vote suppression measures proposed in two dozen more GOP controlled legislature states will add even more millions who can be dumped from the voting booth.
In 2008, these voters provided the decisive margin for President Obama’s White House victory in Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida, Virginia, and Colorado. In 2000 and 2004, Bush won five of these six states. In every case, he needed a solid turnout from older, white, conservative, overwhelmingly male voters to win.
That changed radically in 2008 with Obama’s win. GOP strategists were determined that there would be no repeat of this in 2012 and unleashed their voter suppression campaign. Attorney General Eric Holder counter-attacked with Justice Department lawsuits, court actions, and injunctions to try to halt the GOP effort to suppress the vote.
Holder’s fight back against the GOP’s ham-fisted efforts to shoo as many poor, minority, and young voters away from the polls in November and beyond almost certainly is a major reason for the GOP’s furious political mauling of him. GOP-controlled House committees launched investigation after investigation into Holder for everything from alleged perjury to malfeasance of office during his Justice Department tenure.
For the GOP, its voter suppression smokescreen was about numbers; two numbers to be exact. One number is the popular vote. Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore got a bigger share of the popular vote than Bush in 2000. He got that because of the heavy turnout in key states of the GOP’s prime vote suppression targets, blacks, Latinos, and the young voters. In a super tight 2012 race, the five million voters that the Brennan Center documented as potential victims of the GOP’s disenfranchising rash of voter ID and registration laws, could have tipped the popular vote to GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney.
The five million vote estimate turned out to be an undercount since some estimates put the number at more than 20 million possible eligible voters that potentially are affected by the torrent of GOP-driven requirements.
Gore’s popular vote win in the presidential contest in 2000 showed a popular vote majority is meaningless without securing the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. This is the second number the GOP’s voter suppression campaign aims to attain. The states that have clamped on the new voter restrictions would consistently provide 171 electoral votes in presidential elections.
That’s more than sixty percent of the total needed for a presidential candidate to bag the White House. The one crucial state that Obama did wrest from the GOP in 2008 and 2012, Pennsylvania, has been a special target of the GOP’s suppression war. If the state’s new stricter, voter ID law had been in place in both years, the margin of Obama’s victory in the state would have been much smaller, if at all.
In 2016, the vote suppression campaign bore fruit for Trump who won both the popular vote and the state’s electoral votes. He won because of a marked downtown in the Black and Hispanic votes in the state’s urban areas.
The GOP claims that its only concern is to ensure clean and fair elections, nabbing vote fraud lawbreakers and upholding constitutional precepts of rampant voter fraud. These are phony, self-serving fraudulent excuses. The rabidly partisan Republican National Lawyers’ report in 2010 found a total of 400 election fraud prosecutions over a decade nationally. That’s less than one per year per state. The underwhelming instance of fraud uncovered in Florida, which has drawn much public attention, is no aberration.
Studies that examined alleged voter fraud in Ohio and Wisconsin in the 2002 and 2004 elections found only a handful of actual cases of voter fraud. More than nine million votes were cast in the two states in both elections. That as has been shown was the same in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections.
Holder made his most dogged challenge to the GOP voter suppression campaign in Texas which had enacted a rigid voter ID law. He bluntly called it a new poll tax, which is the racist weapon Southern states used for decades to keep Blacks from the polls. It took decades of protests, marches, litigation, and a Supreme Court decision to finally dump the poll tax.
The GOP banks that its new voter suppression tactics will hold up for years and through many elections to come, starting with the 2022 congressional elections and the big prize, the White House in 2024. The GOP is dead set that there will be no repeat of 2020 in the coming national elections.
This is the final in a four-part series on the GOP’s War on Voting Rights. The series is based on my forthcoming book, Bring Back the Poll Tax! -The GOP’s War on Voting Rights (Middle Passage Press). It will be officially released on August 6, 2021, the 56th anniversary of LBJ’s signing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.