Why GOP's Southern Strategy Moved North

The scariest voter-ID laws might be the ones that aren't in solidly red states.

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This base support -- normally guaranteed for a Republican candidate -- is now a swing set. Obama's successful bailout of the car industry, upon which many Ohio and Pennsylvania manufacturing workers rely, has left him in good standing with independents in these key states. The GOP's strategy to regain that support has been to wage an aggressive anti-Obama campaign: attacking his signature achievement, health care reform, and resorting to race-baiting tactics to make the president appear foreign and outside the mainstream. 

New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania are all non-former Confederate states whose legislatures have instituted restrictive voting laws -- mirroring the GOP strategy to bypass the Voting Rights Act provisions altogether.

Dan Froomkin, deputy editor for Nieman Watchdog, has derided the failure of mainstream press outlets to call Republican tactics what they are: a deliberate effort to disenfranchise minorities. By attempting to be unbiased, the media allow Republican claims of voter fraud to appear legitimate, and this amounts to journalistic malpractice. Froomkin writes, "Failing to call out the voter ID push is like covering the civil rights movement and treating 'separate but equal' as if it was said with sincerity."

The U.S. Justice Department is charged -- under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 -- with reviewing changes to voter laws in states with a history of discrimination. This process, known as preclearance, oversees much of the American South. Attorney General Eric Holder has used this authority to halt new laws in Texas and Florida, but Northern states like Pennsylvania and Ohio do not fall under the provision. Instead, a case must be made in court and empirical evidence presented.

Enter Viviette Applewhite, a 93-year-old African-American Philadelphia resident who has voted in every election since 1960 but will be disenfranchised by the new laws because she no longer has an original birth certificate or driver's license.

Last week the state of Pennsylvania was forced to admit that no significant instances of voter fraud -- the very reason for voter-ID laws, claim supporters -- had occurred there. Only 13 cases were reported since 1999, out of 31 million votes cast. In June, Pennsylvania's Republican House leader Mike Turzai revealed what liberals had long suspected: The new laws were purposely designed to suppress votes. In a videotaped speech before the Republican State Committee, he boasted that voter ID is "gonna allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania."

Independent studies reveal that the restrictions will affect 9.2 percent of eligible registered voters -- roughly 758,939 residents -- and that is well above the margin by which Obama won the state against John McCain. Speaking before the NAACP in Houston in July, Holder referred to the voter laws as a "poll tax" and vowed to fight them.

Despite GOP insistence that their efforts are not politically motivated, the racial bias is clear. As many as 25 percent of African Americans lack a government-issued photo ID, compared with 8 percent of whites. Asian Americans and Latinos have equally high numbers, with 20 percent and 19 percent respectively lacking photo identification.

In years past, proof of residence -- a bank statement or utility bill -- would have sufficed. Indeed, for the elderly and those without cars in urban areas, Social Security cards and birth certificates -- which do not bear photos -- were the definitive form of ID for generations. Young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 could use student-ID cards to vote -- but not anymore.

The Republican strategy is so clear it's transparent: to undermine Obama's base. The president won 66 percent of voters under 30 and 95 percent of the African-American vote in 2008.

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