Back in 2000, Republican election officials in Florida led by then-Governor Jeb Bush and Secretary of State Katherine Harris kicked nearly 60,000 mostly African American voters off the rolls just ahead of the election.
They said that these people – who comprised 3% of the entire African American electorate in Florida – had been convicted of felonies and were thus ineligible to vote.
Turns out, though, that was mostly a lie. The list, based on a Texas felon list, led to tens of thousands of completely eligible African Americans Florida voters with names similar to Texas felons being denied their right to vote.
Thanks to Republicans throwing all these mostly-Democratic-leaning voters off the voter rolls, the election stayed close enough in Florida to allow the Supreme Court to hand George W. Bush the presidency.
Fast-forward four years later to Ohio. There, Republican Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell – a long-time GOP operative who, at the time, was also an “electoral adviser” to Bush during the 2000 re-count proceeds – purged 300,000 voters in his state off the rolls just ahead of the election.
Like the purge list in Florida four years earlier, the Ohio lists were filled with errors, too. And as Robert Kennedy, Jr. points out, thousands of eligible voters were kicked off the voting rolls simply because they didn’t vote in the previous election.
And most of those disenfranchised voters were Democrats.
In Cleveland, which broke 5-to-1 for John Kerry, 1-in-4 voters were purged from voting lists. In one specific precinct in Cleveland, the turnout was only 7% – the lowest in the state – thanks to this voter purge.
A House Judiciary Committee report on the 2004 Ohio election found that the purging “likely disenfranchised tens of thousands of voters statewide.” Once again, enough to swing a close election to Bush in 2004.
Thanks to our bizarre Electoral College voting system, if one political party wants to steal the election they don’t need to deploy teams all around the country to stuff ballot boxes, intimidate voters, and rig electronic voting machines.
They just need to set-up shop in one or a few of those swing states – like Florida and Ohio – kick a couple thousand voters off the rolls, disqualify a few more thousand voters on Election Day by giving them wrong information, maybe toggle a few electronic voting machines, and then “Voila!” The election is taken care of.
Two out of the last three elections have been determined in this way. And it appears this election will be heavily influenced by voter purges, too.
As pollster Nate Silver with the New York Times’ 538 Blog projects, there’s a 50/50 chance Ohio will determine who the next president is – just like in 2004.
Cue the new Republican Secretary of State, Jon Husted, who’s been working hard to restrict Ohio voters’ access to the polls. Hundreds of thousands of Ohioans – particularly minorities – took advantage of early voting in 2008 to elect President Obama. So, Husted cut down on those early voting hours.
And now the courts have given Husted a new tool to restrict the vote. On Wednesday, a panel of three Conservative Justices (all appointed by George W. Bush or his dad) ruled in favor of Secretary of State Husted, paving the way for massive voter disenfranchisement in the key swing state.
According to the ruling, voters who are told by poll workers to vote at the wrong precinct and then do so, lose their right to have their votes counted. A previous court ruling ordered that voters who are misled by poll workers still have a right to have their vote counted, but that’s now been overturned.
We already know that the Romney campaign has sent out flyers to prospective ballot watchers in Wisconsin giving them misleading information to tell voters. Now, thanks to this court ruling, the Romney campaign can legally have its poll watchers in Ohio send voters to the wrong polling places to make sure their votes aren’t counted.
For the second time in three elections, Ohio could be stolen right in front of all of our eyes.
Or the theft might happen in Florida again. Just like in 2000, Republican election officials are again purging tens of thousands of voters off the rolls. As the Miami Herald reported on these purge lists, “Hispanic, Democratic, and independent-minded voters are the most likely to be targeted…Whites and Republicans are disproportionately the least-likely to face the threat of removal.”
On top of that, already discrepancies are being reported with early-vote tallies on Florida’s electronic voting machines. In one Florida voting precinct, more than a thousand early votes were either “lost” or “miscounted.” Considering that George W. Bush “officially” won the state by 538 votes, these discrepancies could mean the difference in the election.
A close national election, like everyone is expecting this year, translates to an even closer election in the states where all it will take is a few thousand voters to flip an election.
It is way too easy to steal an election in America. Our Electoral College allows just one or two states to swing a Presidential election every year. The privatization of the vote with electronic voting machines has handed over the beating heart of our democracy – the vote – to corporate interests who then handle it in secret. And the lack of an explicit federal “right to vote” for all eligible Americans has made voter suppression efforts much easier and harder to prosecute or prevent.
We must fundamentally change how we elect our President and who gets to vote in that election. Until we do this, we don’t have a democratic republic that the rest of the world should emulate – we just have a dysfunctional system that the plutocrats can steal and more closely resembles an oligarchy than a republic.