Banana Republicans: Block the Vote

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"Block the Vote" is the title of chapter five of the 2004 book by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, Banana Republicans: How the Right Wing Is Turning America Into a One-Party State (ISBN 1585423424).

Summary

In the face of overwhelming rejection from African-American and other minority voters, Republicans have adopted a two-tiered strategy:

  1. token efforts at symbolic inclusion, aimed primarily at soothing the conscience of white voters, many of whom want to see themselves as supporters of a racially inclusive party; and
  2. efforts to minimize the number and influence of black votes.

One strategy to suppress black votes has been to run negative campaign ads that accuse Democrats of racism. If blacks cannot be persuaded to vote Republican, the goal is to make them cynical enough that they won't bother to vote at all. A similar effort to suppress the black vote has been linked to black preacher Al Sharpton's campaign in the 2004 Democratic presidential primary. Sharpton postured as a radical firebrand, accusing other Democratic candidates such as Howard Dean of racial bias. Roger J. Stone, a longtime Republican operative, told the New York Times that he had been behind several of Sharpton's most visible campaign tactics, including scrutiny of Dean's record of minority appointees when he was governor of Vermont.

Perhaps the most striking recent example of voter suppression came in the 2000 presidential election, where a slim margin of 537 votes in Florida gave George W. Bush the votes in the electoral college that he needed to claim victory over Al Gore. (Nationwide, Gore won the popular vote by 543,614 votes.)

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR), produced a report in June 2001 titled "Voting Irregularities in Florida During the 2000 Presidential Election." The report concluded, "Despite the closeness of the election, it was widespread voter disenfranchisement, not the dead-heat contest, that was the extraordinary feature in the Florida election. The disenfranchisement was not isolated or episodic." The USCCR found that African-American voters were at least ten times more likely to have their ballots rejected than other voters and that 83 of the 100 precincts with the most disqualified ballots had black majorities.

And Florida was not the only state whose elections had racially tinged inequities. Following the 2000 elections, the American Civil Liberties Union filed voting-rights lawsuits in Georgia, California, Illinois and Missouri, in addition to Florida.

Historically, both parties have used gerrymandering to maximize their political advantage wherever they have enough power to pull it off. Following completion of the U.S. Census once every ten years, whichever party is in control of a state takes full advantage of the opportunity to redraw the congressional district map to benefit that party's candidates. By packing as many members of the opposing party into as few electoral districts as possible, the party that controls redistricting can ensure that it will dominate elections in most of the other districts.

In recent years, Republicans have pursued redistricting with enthusiasm. Before redistricting after the 2002 election, Pennsylvania had 21 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, 11 in the hands of Republicans and 10 in the hands of Democrats. Afterward, the state had 19 seats, 12 apportioned to Republicans and 7 to Democrats. In Michigan, Republican redistricting gave Republicans a 9-to-6 edge in the 2002 congressional elections, even though 49 percent of voters in the state pulled the lever for Democrats compared to 48 percent for Republicans. In Florida, they expanded their majority from 15-to-8 to 18-to-7 - "entirely due to redistricting," according to Rob Richie of the Center for Voting and Democracy, a nonprofit organization founded in 1992 by leading scholars, civic leaders and former elected officials.

Rather than making races more competitive - defined as where the winning candidate won with 55% of the vote or less - redistricting following the 2000 census actually left only 38 competitive House races in 2002. With the outcome virtually inevitable in all of the other races, it is hardly surprising that voter interest also waned, as turnout dwindled from 52 percent in 1992 to just over 38 percent in 2002.

In 2001, the Texas state senate was controlled by Republicans while Democrats controlled the state house of Representatives. As in Colorado, their inability to agree on a plan threw redistricting to a panel of federal judges, who drew up a compromise plan that maintained 17 Democrat and 13 Republican districts. After Republicans won control of the house in 2002, however, they drew up a new plan that all concerned agreed would likely give Republicans an additional seven seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Citing the voting irregularities from the 2000 election, in July 2004 thirteen members of Congress wrote to the United Nations requesting that it send observers to monitor the 2004 Presidential election. [1]

Discussion questions

  • Is it a reasonable thing for a political party to try to frustrate the ability of citizens to vote?
  • If voting is a legal right, how is it possible for voting to be "suppressed"?
  • Can electoral boundaries be redrawn to favour one political party over another? How?
  • How should electoral boundaries be determined to fairly reflect the will of the people?

Sources

  • David Horowitz, "Baa Baa Black Sheep," Salon.com, November 9, 1998.
  • Cathleen Decker, "Motor Voter Law Drives Registration to High Levels," Los Angeles Times, March 16, 1996, p. A1.
  • Lawrence Knutson, "Senate Ends GOP Filibuster, Approves Motor Voter Bill," Associated Press, May 11, 1993.
  • Linda Feldmann, "GOP Campaign Tactics Spark New Jersey Furor," Christian Science Monitor, November 12, 1993, p. 2.
  • Michelle Ruess and Dunstan McNichol, "Grand Jury Hears Whitman's Kin," The Record (Bergen, NJ), November 25, 1993, p. A1.
  • Michelle Ruess, "Whitman Says of Payoffs: Never Happened," The Record (Bergen, NJ), November 13, 1993, p. A1.
  • Jim Geraghty, "NH Democrats Say Attorney General Investigating Election Day Phone Jamming," States News Service, February 20, 2003.
  • John B. Judis, "Soft Sell," The New Republic, November 11, 2002.
  • Wayne Barrett, "Sleeping with the GOP," Village Voice, February 5, 2004.
  • Michael Slackman, "The 2004 Campaign: The Consultant: Sharpton's Bid Aided by an Unlikely Source," New York Times, January 25, 2004, section 1, p. 22.
  • Laughlin McDonald, "The New Poll Tax," American Prospect, vol. 13, no. 23, December 30, 2002.
  • Sean Wilentz, "Jim Crow, Republican Style: Voter Suppression in 2002," in Andrew Cuomo, ed., Crossroads (New York, NY: Random House, 2003), p. 280.
  • NAACP press release, "NAACP to Send Election Observers to Kentucky; NAACP Asks the Justice Department to Send Federal Election Monitors," October 31, 2003.
  • Megan Garvey, "NBC Balks at Sharing Election Night Tapes," Los Angeles Times, August 8, 2001, p. A1; and Megan Garvey, "Waxman Renews NBC News Assault," Los Angeles Times, September 11, 2001, p. A1.
  • Todd Gitlin, "How TV Killed Democracy on Nov. 7," Los Angeles Times, February 14, 2001, p. B11.
  • Robert Parry, "Bush's Conspiracy to Riot," Consortium News, August 5, 2002.
  • Carol Rosenberg, "Political Jobs Go to Bush's Recount Warriors; Appointees Fought Gore Bid in Florida," Miami Herald, July 14, 2002, p. A1.
  • David Barstow and Don Van Natta, Jr., "How Bush Took Florida: Mining the Overseas Absentee Vote," New York Times, July 15, 2001, p. 1.
  • "Gore Wins Under Six of Nine Scenarios," Palm Beach Post, November 12, 2001.
  • "Florida Recount Study: Bush Still Wins," CNN special.
  • Scott Hiaasen, Gary Kane and Elliot Jaspin, "Felon Purge Sacrificed Innocent Voters," Palm Beach Post, May 27, 2001, p. 1A.
  • Gregory Palast, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy (New York, NY: Plume of Penguin Putnam, 2002).
  • Gregory Palast, "Flawed 'Voter-Cleansing' Program," Salon.com, December 4, 2000.
  • Anthony York, "Eliminating Fraud - Or Democrats?", Salon.com, December 8, 2000.
  • John Nichols, Jews for Buchanan: Did You Hear the One About the American Presidency? (New York, NY: New Press, 2001).
  • "How America Doesn't Vote," New York Times, February 15, 2004, section 4, p. 10.
  • Liam Scheff, "Winning the Election the Republican Way: Racism, Theft and Fraud in Florida," The Weekly Dig (Boston, MA), April 22, 2003.
  • Robert E. Pierre, "Botched Name Purge Denied Some the Right to Vote," Washington Post, May 31, 2001, p. A1.
  • Dennis Cauchon, "Errors Mostly Tied to Ballots, Not Machines," USA Today, November 7, 2001.
  • Scott Hiaasen, Gary Kane and Elliot Jaspin, "Thousands of Felons Voted Despite Purge," Palm Beach Post, May 28, 2001, p. 1A.
  • U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, "Voting Irregularities in Florida During the 2000 Presidential Election," June 2001.
  • Katharine Q. Seelye, "Divided Civil Rights Panel Approves Election Report," New York Times, June 9, 2001, p. A8.
  • Text of letter from Charles T. Canady, General Counsel, Office of Florida Governor Jeb Bush to Edward A. Hailes, Jr., General Counsel, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, June 6, 2001.
  • Catherine Wilson, "Florida, Counties Settle NAACP Suit Over 2000 Election," Associated Press, September 3, 2002.
  • ACLU advertisement.
  • Jeffrey Toobin, "The Great Election Grab," The New Yorker, December 12, 2003.
  • Shannon P. Duffy, "Gerrymander: Good Politics or Power Grab?", Legal Times, December 15, 2003, p. 8.
  • Sasha Abramsky, "The Redistricting Wars," The Nation, vol. 277, no. 22, December 9, 2003, p. 15.
  • "Redistricting, Turnout and Competitiveness," issue brief, Alliance for Better Campaigns.
  • Rob Richie and Steven Hill, "Re-redistricting Is an Ugly Power Grab," Houston Chronicle, June 29, 2003.
  • Michael Kelly, "Segregation Anxiety," The New Yorker, November 20, 1995.
  • David Lublin, "Racial Redistricting and Southern Realignment in the 1990s," presentation at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies' conference "Redistricting 1992-2002: Voting Rights and Minority Representation," May 22, 2002, Washington DC.
  • Thomas F. Schaller, "A Route for 2004 That Doesn't Go Through Dixie," Washington Post, November 16, 2003.
  • The Center for Voting and Democracy, "Dubious Democracy Report: 2003-2004,".
  • Steven K. Paulson, "Colorado Supreme Court Rules Republicans' Redistricting Unconstitutional," Associated Press, December 1, 2003.
  • Laylan Copelin, "Catch Us If You Can: How the Killer D's Pulled Off an Improbable Plot to Freeze the House," Austin American-Statesman, May 18, 2003, p. A1.
  • Eric Lichtblau, "Justice Department Rejected Idea of Joining Texas Dispute," New York Times, August 13, 2003, p. A16.
  • David Pasztor, "Redrawn Districts Pass Test at Justice; Agency Finds No Voting Rights Violation; Map Still Faces Legal Hurdle," Austin American-Statesman, December 20, 2003, p. A1.
  • Michael King, "Here We Go Again: The Redistricting Case Resumes, One Battle in a Protracted War," Austin Chronicle, December 5, 2003.
  • Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, "House members will discuss request to United Nations to monitor election", Media Release, July 6, 2004.

See also

  • Voters Outreach of America describes a Republican-affiliated group that was accused of voter registration fraud during the 2004 U.S. elections