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Challenges to Conservative Voter Suppression Tactics Largely Successful in 2012

With the narrow, potentially confusing but generally beneficial ruling yesterday in the Pennsylvania voter ID case, the trend is confirmed: voting rights activists have successfully fended off a number of voter suppression tactics put forward by Republicans seeking to model the electorate to their benefit in 2012.

The result, that Pennsylvanians will not have to present a state-approved ID to vote in November, was the latest and most significant in a series of legal victories for those opposed to laws that they charge would limit access to polls in this presidential election. With only a month left until Election Day, disputes around the country over new voter ID requirements, early voting, provisional ballots and registration drives are looking far less significant.

“Every voter restriction that has been challenged this year has been either enjoined, blocked or weakened,” said Lawrence Norden of the Brennan Center for Justice, which is part of the New York University School of Law and opposes such restrictions. “It has been an extraordinary string of victories for those opposing these laws.”

Voter ID laws have been taken off the table in Texas and Wisconsin. The Justice Department has blocked such a law in South Carolina, which has appealed in federal court. In Florida and Ohio, early voting and voter-registration drives have been largely restored. New Hampshire is going ahead with its law, but voters who do not have the required document will be permitted to vote and have a month to verify their identity.

Even in Mississippi – Mississippi! – voter ID will not take place this year, after the Justice Department requested more information on the potential discriminatory effect.

I have a couple things to say about this. First of all, this shows the power and force of collective action when something turns into a priority. Voter suppression has existed in the background of the conservative project for a number of years, going back to at least 2000 and probably further back than that. For years, the grassroots has paid attention to this and started screaming about it. Only this year has it become a major focus. Groups like the ACLU, the NAACP, the Advancement Project and more really stepped up with consistent challenges to the tactics no matter where they occurred. There was a partner inside government in the form of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. Rank and file Democrats got wind of the efforts through progressive media. The spotlight got turned on.

In a sense, this really makes the voter suppression used in 2000 and 2004, with the voter purges in Florida and the voter caging efforts and the lack of voting machines in Ohio (to name just a few examples) even more depressing. Because the power was available to those who could have stopped this or at least spotlighted it. And they failed to do so before the election.

The other point to make is that the fight continues. The Pennsylvania ruling only DELAYED the eventual implementation of the law. In Florida, Rick Scott is laying the groundwork for more voter purges and suppression efforts, probably for his own re-election campaign. Conservatives, currently in control in most of the swing states, will not stop trying to model the electorate to their advantage, directly through disenfranchisement. In fact, as demographics start to work against them, expect MORE of this, not less. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance, etc.

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David Dayen

David Dayen