Voting is a right, if you’re not one of them


Minnesota’s Republicans are in a quandary. While other midwestern states appear poised to elect Republican governors, Minnesota appears likely to shun state Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Delano, in favor of former Sen. Mark Dayton, DFL-Minn. This comes on the heels of two consecutive disastrous elections, in which Republicans lost both senate seats and control of the Minnesota House of Representatives.

What really sticks in the craw of Republicans, though, is the seat they lost to Sen. Al Franken, DFL-Minn. They know if they could have kept just a few hundred Democrats from voting that they would have re-elected Norm Coleman. They know that if Norm had been re-elected, Democrats wouldn’t have been able to squeeze health care reform through the Senate.

The people who put Franken over the top are not the type of voters who Republicans see as legitimate. They’re not white. They’re not rich. Many of them are not men. And while Republicans would be horrified at anyone trying to keep a rich white guy from exercising his right to vote, they feel much different when they have the chance to keep a poor Latina from the polls.

And so that’s what they’re gearing up to do:

A coalition of conservative groups says it’s enlisting volunteers to become “voter surveillance teams” at polling places on Election Day, to watch for possible cases of voter fraud. The groups, led by one called Minnesota Majority, say they want to reduce illegal attempts at voting.

But others say the effort appears to have less to do with election fraud and more to do with suppressing voter turnout.

The conservative group, Minnesota Majority, has been raising the issue of election fraud since 2008. Some of its claims haven’t been validated. Others have prompted county attorneys to investigate possible cases of voter fraud. Now the group’s president Jeff Davis, says the goal is to prevent voter fraud.

“Once a ballot is cast it’s almost impossible to undo that,” said Davis. “So our program is intended to prevent those illegitimate ballots from being cast in the first place.”

Davis’ group has been pushing to require people to present photo identification at the polls. State law allows Minnesotans to vote without a photo ID, if they have a utility bill showing their current address or someone vouches for their residency.

Davis says his group is joining with a tea party group and the Minnesota Voters Alliance to ensure that individuals know who they’re vouching for, and to videotape and track buses and vans that deliver large numbers of voters to the polls.

Now, nobody wants non-registered voters to vote. But this goes rather beyond putting together a poll-watching group to make sure that state laws are followed. This goes straight through to intimidation. After all, how exactly are they going to ensure that I know who I’m vouching for? Okay, that’s a silly hypothetical – I’m white, and I live in the suburbs. How exactly are they going to ensure that Jane Voter in St. Paul knows who she’s vouching for? Are they going to ask questions? Hook her up to a polygraph? Ask for photographic evidence?

And even if she’s successful in showing that yes, she knows Mrs. Nguyen, they live next door to each other – well, the damage is done. Because Jane Voter has been intimidated into not vouching for Mr. Hernandez who lives down the block. And Mr. Hernandez and Mrs. Nguyen are going to go back and tell their friends that trying to vote is an invitation to harassment. And as we learned in 2008, it doesn’t take many discouraged voters to swing an election.

Moreover, we’re going to have these groups videotaping vans bringing in voters – a practice that is pretty much as old as voting. The DFL and the GOP have been running vans from senior centers and apartment buildings for decades. It’s part of GOTV – a way of ensuring your voters turn out at the polls. There’s nothing illegal or wrong about it. But if you’re a private individual, you may not want a conservative group videotaping your every movement, all while demanding to know if you really are Mabel Gunderson or not.

Now, the people putting this thuggery together will tell you that they’re doing it for a good cause. They just want the right people to vote. Nothing more, nothing less. But to anyone familiar with the tactics of the right, it’s pretty clear that this is meant to be quite a bit more. No, as my friend and former colleague Robin Marty noted, these actions bear a striking similarity to the tactics of abortion clinic protesters – the ones who “just want to tell women the truth,” by forcing them to run a gantlet of protesters in order to get an abortion. Or prenatal care. Or birth control. Whatever.

Just as anti-choice groups try to intimidate women out of exercising their rights, so Minnesota Majority is trying to help its friends in the Republican party by intimidating voters out of exercising their rights. It is, as always, the right attempting to bully people when they don’t get their way. And only by standing up to these ghouls on the right can we on the left ensure that the rights of our fellow citizens are upheld.

UPDATE: See also Jeff Rosenberg.