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Republican Voter Suppression Efforts Continue

The Commonwealth judge in the Pennsylvania voter ID case will not rule today on the fate of the law. But even if the judge vacates the voter ID law for Pennsylvania, that does not end the spate of voter suppression efforts nationwide. In fact, two new efforts have just heated up.

In Florida, Governor Rick Scott has restarted the state’s voter purge effort – or at least a facsimile of it – just 40 days before the election. Previously, the state gave up on their initial efforts to purge the voter rolls of suspected “non-citizens.” However, this is a new effort, based on data from the Department of Homeland Security’s SAVE database. The purge list is small thus far, with less than 200 names:

Florida’s noncitizen voter-purge program roared back to life Wednesday when Gov. Rick Scott’s elections department produced a new list of 198 potentially ineligible voters — including 36 who might have cast ballots illegally.

The list, along with a stack of documentation, was sent to the independent county elections supervisors who are ultimately in charge of maintaining and purging voter rolls.

At the same time, state attorneys for each of the concerned counties could begin examining whether to bring criminal charges against any noncitizen who has voted.

The decision to push ahead with the controversial program just 41 days before Election Day in the nation’s biggest battleground state is already the subject of three separate federal lawsuits from a coalition of liberal-leaning groups as well as President Barack Obama’s Justice Department.

I think this has more to do with “proving” voter fraud than a systematic attempt to purge the rolls of expected Democratic voters. If you build a case for fraudulent voting, you give space to future efforts. So while technically this does herald a return of the Florida voter purge, it seems like a move to save face more than anything. Under federal law, however, states cannot purge voters within 90 days of an election. Florida officials believe they can because the law doesn’t afford the same protections to non-citizens.

While I think the Florida effort is more about the politics of the future, what’s happening in Ohio is very much about suppressing the vote today.

Lori Monroe, a 40-year-old Democrat who lives in central Ohio, was startled a few weeks ago to open a letter that said a stranger was challenging her right to vote in the presidential election.

Monroe, who was recovering from cancer surgery, called the local election board to protest. A local tea party leader was trying to strike Monroe from the voter rolls for a reason that made no sense: Her apartment building in Lancaster was listed as a commercial property.

“I’m like, really? Seriously?” Monroe said. “I’ve lived here seven years, and now I’m getting challenged?”

Monroe’s is one of at least 2,100 names that tea party groups have sought to remove from Ohio’s voter rosters.

This is part of the “True the Vote” campaign, a voter caging and suppression effort dressed up as a “citizen movement” to prevent voter fraud. Almost all of the voters singled out by the groups are Democrats, mostly in counties President Obama carried in 2008. And it’s just pure harassment. The idea is to challenge as many Democrats at the polls as possible for whatever reason you can muster. They’re going after college students who didn’t put their dorm room numbers on their voter registration forms. They’re fiddling around with postal service change-of-address information to attack eligible voters. They claim that African-American voters are registered at “vacant lots” when they live in homes.

Keep in mind that this isn’t coordinated by a GOP legislature or Governor. It’s an independently funded outside effort. So voter suppression will be with us for a long time.

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David Dayen

David Dayen