Tag Archives: voter registration

More and More on Pernicious Voter Suppression

Culebra      This is a warning on the eve of a new year:  I’m obsessed with stopping voter suppression as we countdown the months and days to the election in November.  Besides my general obsession, I’m especially focused on the efforts “behind closed doors,” so to speak in the warrens and cubbyholes of secretaries of state where voter files are managed and maintained.  One of my recurring nightmares after five decades of work registering voters, particularly among low-and-moderate income families, is that many of our efforts to bring new voters through the front door are being lost as nameless data crunchers eliminate voters through the backdoor through purges and other mechanisms.

Reading Andrew Cockburn’s piece in the recent Atlantic called “Election Bias:  The New Playbook for Voter Suppression,” added more logs to my fire.  Much of his “letter from Washington” repeated the litany of recent examples of voter purges in Georgia, Wisconsin, and elsewhere.  He started his piece though with a story about the Tennessee Black Voter Project.  They claimed to have registered 90,000, largely African-American new voters in the spring of 2018.  They had to endure the usual obstacles of rejections, but past that the Secretary of State became the leader of the Republican band in the legislature to make it harder to register new voters in Tennessee by putting “mass registration drives under state control and to criminalize mistakes made on applications.  The bill imposed heavy fines for any group that turned in multiple incomplete applications, mandated severe penalties for failing to submit registration forms to election officials within ten days of being signed by the applicant, and require any person registering voters to receive official certification and government-administered training.”  In short, the usual menu of obstacles to successful registration drives.  Fortunately, a Tennessee district judge threw it out.

What caught my eye especially though was not all of this harassment, but one of the key organizers being quoted as not knowing which of their registrants successfully got through the process and which didn’t.  This is exactly one of the aims of our Voter Purge Project, a partnership of ACORN International, the American Voter Project, and Labor Neighbor Research & Training Center.  Using our database processing this would be an easy query and match that we could do for them, except for one thing that gets less attention and that Cockburn didn’t cover.  To get the voter file and check on success versus failure and who might have been purged, correctly or falsely, would take $2500, and to monitor it throughout a year, would mean $2500 times twelve months or $30,000.  Tennessee doesn’t want anyone without deep, deep pockets to be able to see how they are handling the voter lists or their database!

The general theme of Cockburn’s piece, the critique of the Tennessee Black Voter Project, and scores of other efforts throughout the south and the rest of the country is not just voter suppression, but a concerted effort to deny voters on par with the systemic policies that the Civil Rights Movement sought to address.  Might as well tell it like it is, and it is pure grade evil and crosses the line of what should be permissible in a democracy.  Period.

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Surging Voter Registration in the United Kingdom

New Orleans      Here’s an interesting voter registration story, but it’s not in the United States, but the United Kingdom.  I had been hearing about this phenomenon for weeks whenever I spoke with our organizers in England.  ACORN was working on a specialized program before the coming snap election to register tenants.  Speaking over the last several weeks with Nick Ballard, head organizer of ACORN UK, he reported that one million registered in a week and then this week mentioned almost 250,000 in one day.  It could be a gamechanger.

The numbers are making news around the world, and they are significant.  As reported in The Independent,

“…according to the Electoral Reform Society. Before the final deadline at midnight on 26 November, there have been 3,191,193 applications to register in the period from the day the election was called on 29 October to midnight on Monday.  That’s an average of 114,000 per day.  The figure is 38 per cent higher than the 2,315,893 applications to register in a similar period in the 2017 election, which equated to an average of 68,000 registrations per day.

The sheer numbers alone are not the only reason that the registration surge could make a difference.  It is also “who” is registering that catches your eye.  The Independent notes that

“The Electoral Reform Society said that of the applications made since the election was called in October, so far 2,125,064 applications (67 per cent of the total) were made by people aged 34 or under.  And as the cut-off for registration grows closer, an even greater proportion of young people are registering. On Monday (November 25th), 366,443 people applied to register, with 72 per cent of applications from people aged 34 or under.

No one believes that this tsunami of youth registration is a good sign for the Conservatives or the Brexiteers.

The snap election was called as the Conservatives led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson tried to force Brexit, the exit of Britain from the European Union, to a “hard” departure without an agreement with the Brussels.  Through various efforts both fair and foul, Johnson had tried to fast walk the mess through Parliament, even hornswoggling the Queen at different points, and was finally forced to an election to determine who represents the majority in the country, the Conservatives and their allies or the Labour and theirs.  Much is at stake not only within the EU, but whether Scotland and Northern Ireland remain in the United Kingdom as well.

In this context, young voters are critical, because their opposition to Brexit has been most intense there, while support has been strongest over 65.  In the United States our experience is that first time registrants are more likely to vote than others, so for the Conservatives this is worth worry.

The picture isn’t clear though.  The Election Commission says one-million registrants might be duplicates, because, if anything, the database in the UK is worse than the state by state patchwork quilt we have here.  Furthermore, the majority of cumulative votes could go with Labour, but like the US Electoral College, what matters is the vote in each constituency in Parliament, since that will determine whether Johnson and the Conservatives get their mandate to mayhem and rule or their walking papers.

Two more weeks will tell the story.  Registration is now history.  The vote will be worth watching.

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