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GOP Voter Suppression: More Miss than Hit

In still other places, it's been a combination of both factors:


  • In Ohio -- perhaps the most high-profile example of voter-suppression this cycle -- the state GOP sued to force Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner to provide local election officials with the names of new voters whose registration information didn't match other government documents. Brunner resisted, arguing, it appears correctly, that the information would be used to challenge large numbers of voters and cause chaos at the polls. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately sided with Brunner. (The Department of Justice deserves some of the credit here, too, for declining a request by the White House to intervene.)

And in some states, the Republicans appear to have done themselves in through the sheer chutzpah of their behavior, and the resulting outcry:


  • In Montana, the state GOP announced plans to challenge 6000 voters in predominantly Democratic counties, based on discrepancies between in their listed addresses. But after even Republicans in the state denounced the ploy, the party backed off, and its executive director resigned.


  • In New Mexico, the state party held a press conference at which it released the names, and some personal information, of ten voters, almost all Hispanic, that it said had voted fraudulently in a Democratic primary in June. It was later established that they were all legitimate voters. The U.S. Department of Justice is now investigating reports by TPMmuckraker and others that a lawyer attached to the party sent a private investigator to the homes of some of these voters to question them about their voting status -- potentially violating federal voting laws.

Of course, that's not to suggest that Republican suppression efforts haven't been successful anywhere. In Florida, for instance, Secretary of State Kurt Browning, a Republican, has instructed election officials to reject voter registration applications that do not pass a computer match test. Voting-rights groups say the system can disqualify voters based on nothing more than a missing middle initial on their voter form. They fear the move could disenfranchise tens of thousands of legitimate voters. (Though even in the Sunshine State, there's a bright spot. GOP governor Charlie Crist on Tuesday ordered extended hours for early voting centers, after long lines were reported in many parts of the state.)

Of course, the whole point of the voter-suppression game is to throw up as many gambits as possible, and hope that just a few succeed. And there's no way to measure the effect that even the unsuccessful ploys have in generating cynicism about the process itself, and thereby reducing turnout, to Republicans' advantage. So in a close election, it's still possible that voter suppression could make the difference -- as it may well have done in 2000.

But it's worth noting that -- thanks largely to Democratic control of the secretary of state's offices in some key states; the skepticism with which many courts have looked on efforts to put obstacles in the way of voting; and the role of voting-rights groups and the press in exposing the bankruptcy of Republican claims -- the nationwide GOP voter-suppression effort appears to have been far less successful than the party might have hoped.

Not that we expect them to drop the tactic any time soon.