Early Voting Is Underway, But Republicans "Boycott" It

In Ohio the Republican-led state assembly has suppressed early voting by mail during the three days before Election Day. In Florida, Republicans have reduced the number of early voting days from 14 to eight, erasing the opportunity to vote on the Sunday before Election Day and disenfranchising pro-Obama minorities.

Voting is underway in the U.S. for the presidential election. Early voting started in North Carolina, where nearly 3,000 ballots have already been returned by mail. On Friday, voters in South Dakota and Idaho can cast ballots in person. In 2008, approximately 33 percent of Americans expressed their preference by mail or going to the polls before the traditional first Tuesday in November.

This year, the percentage could be even higher. In two states, Oregon and Washington, elections are conducted exclusively by mail and ballots are cast three weeks before November 6. In many of the battleground states needed to win the White House — including North Carolina, Nevada, Colorado, Florida and Iowa — early voting is likely to represent about 80 percent of the votes. At this time, the Democratic Party is engaged in a massive effort to get people to vote before November 6. At a rally in front of thousands of students in Ohio, where voting begins on October 2, Barack Obama urged: “Young people, you got to use the early vote because you might not wake up in time on Election Day. I can’t have you missing class.”

In 2008 the early voting strategy was essential for Obama to win. Democrats were able to bring out thousands of young people, African-Americans and low-income people, groups who traditionally are more likely not to go to the polls. In five of the 67 counties in Florida, two-thirds of African-Americans went to the polls before the Election Day. In the end, 59 percent of early voters chose Barack Obama. Only 40 percent supported John McCain. It was the result of the Obama campaign’s extraordinary capacity for mobilization, concentration and discipline, probably the most efficient electoral machine in American history. Up to 2008, early voting favored Republicans. Basically, early voters were traditionally white, elderly people, ideologically motivated. In 2004, George W. Bush won 60 percent of early voting.

In order to avoid the 2008 experience, Republicans have in recent years increasingly attempted to restrict early voting. For instance, in Ohio the Republican-led state assembly has suppressed early voting during the three days before Election Day. According to Republicans, it is a way to limit voter fraud and to allow the authorities to be prepared for Election Day. According to Democrats, it is instead a system to keep thousands of people, especially minorities, away from the polls. In 2008, 93,000 voters expressed their vote Saturday through Monday before Election Day. A judge ruled in favor of Democrats, but legal battles on voting continue, less than 50 days before Election Day.

In Florida it is even more complicated. The state assembly, controlled by Republicans, has reduced early voting days from 14 to eight, suppressing, in particular, the opportunity to vote on the Sunday before Election Day. Again, the intention is quite clear. On Sunday after church services many African-Americans, especially elderly ones, go to vote. In many cases, churches provide shuttle bus services to bring people down to the polls. Suppressing early voting on Sunday means canceling thousands of prospective votes for Barack Obama.

Recently, Democrats have often accused Republicans of wanting to return to the pre-Voting Rights Act state of affairs, reducing or even abolishing voting rights for thousands of African-Americans. Republicans in their effort to limit voter fraud have not only dramatically reduced early voting, but also voted in states they control for “voter ID bills,” requiring a photo and address identification to receive a ballot for an election. It is a matter of small concern; voter fraud is virtually nonexistent in the U.S. Arizona, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas require identification. A driver’s license is considered valid (but 21 million Americans do not have it); Veteran’s and Social Security cards are invalid, though (the first one does not have an address; the second has no photo). In other cases, the rule is even more elaborate. In Alabama, gun license holders can pick up a ballot, but students using their school identification card can’t.

The comedian and writer Sarah Silverman made a hilarious video showing the American electoral system’s contradictions and fooleries and explaining to voters what to do. For Democrats, it is essential to get as many Americans to the polls as possible. In some states, such as Florida, Obama and Romney are virtually equal in the polls; a few hundred votes can be decisive. Voter suppression on the election day, however, could also come from groups such as “True the Vote,” an organization founded in Texas as a tea party offshoot, and money coming from “Americans for Prosperity,” the Koch brothers’ Super PAC. In 2010, on the occasion of a series of local elections, “True the Vote” implemented its strategy, which consists of going to the African-American and Hispanic constituencies and asking for the exclusion of all voters whose registrations present errors or inaccuracies in the name or address transcription. As a result, there have been inspections, delays and tensions, which often have moved hundreds of people away from the polls. These strategies are more sophisticated than in the past, when in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, black people in line in front of the polling stations had to endure threats and attacks without any police intervention. Now, as then, however, the goal is the same: Suppress the minority vote.

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