Before 2008, early voting was the “in thing” for wealthier, whiter, educated Republican voters. Then the Obama-campaign nerds mobilized it into a black thing, too. Go to church, get on a bus, go vote. And look who we got as president.
Can’t have that, right? So instead of playing the long game and making a “big tent” bid for black votes, Republicans are weaving this elaborate and costly national legislative strategy to (in the immortal words of Todd Akin) “shut that whole thing down.”
Early voting is a Republican thing … and you can’t have it anymore.
Perception coupled with cynical strategy and narrowed, racial, knee-jerk reactions have prompted a wave of poll taxing unseen since Jim Crow and the advent of the Voting Rights Act. GOP strategists have dug deep into the racial recesses of mostly white Republican minds, fanning fears of a black electorate and urging legislators in multiple states to design elaborate barriers to the voting process. It would get that much harder to get to a polling place. Much more difficult to vote on a weekend, with some states going out of their way to make Sunday early voting extinct.
An interesting example blows the strategy’s racial spot up in the Show-Me-Racism state of Missouri, where the Republican-led legislature managed to push a “six day” early-voting proposal into a ballot referendum for November. Missouri Republicans want early voting—just on the kind of terms that a mostly Republican demographic would want: six days minus the weekend. That includes the infamous Sunday that white Republicans have castigated as a get-out-the-black-vote day for Democrats.
The GOP-led initiative essentially blew a hole in a 300,000-signature grassroots petition drive by actual citizens demanding six weeks of early voting. Said the retired pipe fitter who started it all and spent a few weeks collecting names for the pro-early-vote effort: “To me it just seems like they're coming in and trying to cut our effort out from underneath us.”
And in Georgia, GOP state Sen. Fran Millar, whose district includes Atlanta, just kept it real about efforts to keep DeKalb County (aka African-American) residents from showing up en masse at the polls. When some floated the idea of an early-voting place at a mall “dominated by African-American shoppers and … near several large African-American mega-churches,” Millar promised to block it, claming in an email that “Michele (sic) Obama comes to town and Chicago politics comes to DeKalb.”
His Missouri cohorts tried to take a higher road, complaining that too much early voting “invites and begs” fraud since—O … M … G!—there were just about 13 “credible cases of in-person voter impersonation” between 2000 and 2010, and 18 federal convictions for voter fraud between 2000 and 2005.
On a national scale, early voting is—strangely enough—either missing or annoyingly inaccessible in states with large and politically decisive black populations. Seven states have no early voting, and four of those—Alabama, Michigan, Mississippi and Pennsylvania—have black populations ranging from 12 to 37 percent. Yet they are dominated by plantation-minded Republican elected officials who would just as quickly steal that constitutional mile as give an inch of convenience to their African-American constituents.
In other states with sizable black populations, like Kentucky, Missouri, New York, South Carolina and Virginia, you need an “excuse” to vote early. Again, it’s a case of states skimping on an obligated investment in their election budgets while banging the suppression bat on black, low-income, young and/or single-to-multiple-job-holding parents who could use a weekend to vote.
Yet as the Wall Street Journal reports, Republicans are falling all over themselves to get out an early vote in lieu of upcoming midterm elections in critical states. Go to GOP.com and notice an all-out absentee-ballot effort in the upper-right-hand corner, complemented with a stock Web pic of a big-as-day “Early Voting Here” sign. As uncle would say: “Ain’t that some [insert expletive here].”
And now, with gubernatorial and Senate races tightening up in Iowa, North Carolina and Wisconsin, the GOP is scrambling to get out that early vote—right after they bust so much sweat to take it away from you.
Charles D. Ellison is a veteran political strategist and a contributing editor at The Root. He is also Washington correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune, a frequent contributor to The Hill, the weekly Washington insider for WDAS-FM in Philadelphia and host of The Ellison Report, a weekly public-affairs magazine broadcast and podcast on WEAA 88.9 FM Baltimore. Follow him on Twitter.