The SanityPrompt

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Wednesday, October 27, 2004

BBC, Voter Suppression and that Story out of Florida

Anyone listening to Morning Sedition on Air America this morning would have heard them discuss a story reported yesterday on the BBC about a possible strategy by Republicans in Florida to slow down election lines by challenging voters in black precincts. You can read the official Republican response here. Essentially, the GOP mailed new registrants, ostensibly to persuade them to vote Republican. I would bet, though, that the real goal was to identify faulty addresses by recording the addresses of returned mail. (Note that the nonprofit rate increases if you ask the USPS to return mail undelivered mail to sender - hence most nonprofits who just want to persuade people on a one time basis opt out of getting undelivered mail returned to them.)

I am not sure what to make of this story. The reporting by Palast is pretty vague and full of sinister allusions but rather nonsensical. ABC's the Note (profiled in this week's New Yorker) picked up this story and found out where the list came from. It seems someone in the Bush campaign inadvertently mailed it to the humorous website WWW.GEORGEWBUSH.ORG and they passed it along to Palast. You can look at the list by clicking here. ABC's the Note doesn't appear too concerned about this story as they printed up the GOP response along with snippets of Palast's story. My hunch is that the GOP is developing lists to monitor possible voter fraud.

The great fear of Democrats is voter suppression. This is easy to understand since so many Democrats come from groups that have traditionally been the victims of disenfranchisement efforts. If you were Republican and wanted to keep a Democrat from voting on election day how would you do it? Well, without being able to directly target an individual by voter registration, hence without knowledge of a person's identity and personal preferences, you would have to go by some external marker. And the best external predictor of voter preference is skin color since black support for Democrats ranges between 80-90%. When I used to work in politics we called minority neighborhoods pockets of "high performance democratic voters." So Republican strategies have traditionally focused on keeping turnout down in such neighborhoods (see below).

But in fairness, let's consider the Republican perspective as well. The great Republican fear is voter fraud. This dates way back (there are still GOP charges that Dailey stole the '60 election for Kennedy), but can be understood by considering where most large scale voter fraud has historically taken place and where most Democrats live -- the cities. If you were a Democrat and wanted to increase your vote you could pay poor people to assume various identities and go to the polls repeatedly during the day. So Republican efforts towards election day traditionally use terms like 'ballot security' in order to increase awareness of potential voter fraud as a preventive measure. You can see this ongoing in the current spate of articles by right-wing columnists warning about Democratic voter fraud and pushing this issue over the danger of voter suppression.

So Republicans have two possible strategies facing them in Florida. They can use the 'caging list' to identify potential fraud on election day and make sure election judges deal with it accordingly, or they can use the list to create distractions and challenges that lead to large waiting lines in 'high performance' Democratic precincts thereby lowering turnout by encouraging people to just go home. I am not too worried about the latter possibility since it is hard for me to imagine a few challenges creating long back ups. If there are many challenges though, that's another story.

The bigger problem appears to be brewing in Ohio and that is a story that bears watching.