Friday, October 27, 2006

Black Turnout Threatened by Vote Supression Fears

The New York Times reports today that Democratic candidates are fearing a decline in black turnout in November, as the cumulation of suspected electoral demobilization has fostered African American disillusionment with the political system:

For tight races, black voter turnout will be crucial on Election Day. But despite a generally buoyant Democratic Party nationally, there are worries among Democratic strategists in some states that blacks may not turn up at the polls in big enough numbers because of disillusionment over past shenanigans.

“This notion that elections are stolen and that elections are rigged is so common in the public sphere that we’re having to go out of our way to counter them this year,” said Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist.

This will be the first midterm election in which the Democratic Party is mobilizing teams of lawyers and poll watchers, to check for irregularities including suppression of the black vote, in at least a dozen of the closest districts, Ms. Brazile said.

Democrats’ worries are backed up by a Pew Research Center report that found that blacks were twice as likely now than they were in 2004 to say they had little or no confidence in the voting system, rising to 29 percent from 15 percent.

And more than three times as many blacks as whites — 29 percent versus 8 percent — say they do not believe that their vote will be accurately tallied.

Voting experts say the disillusionment is the cumulative effect of election problems in 2000 and 2004, and a reaction to new identification and voter registration laws.

Long lines and shortages of poll workers in lower-income neighborhoods in the 2004 election and widespread reports of fliers with misinformation appearing in minority areas have also had a corrosive effect on confidence, experts say.

The harder question is whether this jaded outlook will diminish turnout....

Ronald Walters, director of the African American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland, said the reason for the rise in black voters’ cynicism could be summed up in a single word: confirmation.

Mr. Walters said that episodes of voter suppression that were dismissed in 2000 as unfounded recurred in 2004 and were better documented because rights groups dispatched thousands of lawyers and poll watchers. In addition, the first national data-tracking tool, the Election Incident Reporting System, offered a national hot line that fed a database of what ended up to be 40,000 problems.

“All of a sudden after 2004, these weren’t just baseless or isolated incidents,” Mr. Walters said.

The type of misleading letter sent this month to 14,000 Hispanic immigrants in Orange County, Calif., threatening them with arrest if they tried to vote, was hardly a first. In 2004, similar fliers appeared in predominantly black neighborhoods in the Pittsburgh area, on official-looking letterheads. The fliers said that because of unusually high voter registration, Republicans were to vote on Election Day, and Democrats were to vote the next day.

Fliers sent in Lake County, Ohio, told people that if they had registered through the N.A.A.C.P., they could not vote.

Asked whether such tactics from 2004 could influence black turnout next month, the Rev. Al Sharpton of New York, whose National Action Network is also mobilizing voter protection teams, said that despite insufficient action from Democrats in responding to the problems, he believed that black turnout would be high.

“Just because more of us believe that folks are trying to rob us of certain rights doesn’t mean we are more likely to give up and leave the front door unlocked,” Mr. Sharpton said.
The Orange County voter intimidation controversy is taking place in a congressional district close to mine. The GOP candidate is Tan Nguyen, and though he denies involvement, some operatives associated with his election bid must have become pretty desperate about their chances of defeating the Democratic incumbent, Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez.

As for blacks and the Democrats? It seems to me that the party should be redoubling their voter mobilization efforts. One of the structural advantages Republicans enjoyed in 2004 was grassroots get-out-the-vote efforts. If there is clear evidence of black voter intimidation, then legal remedies should be sought and GOP party leaders should denounce the activities.

Yet, no matter what GOP candidates do, liberal civil rights activists -- ever so ready to swallow voter conspiracy theories -- will continue to cry foul at every perceived threat of black voter disenfranchisement.

I'm sometimes amazed that we're going though this stuff, more than forty years after the passage of the
Voting Rights Act, legislation whose immediate effect was to dramatically increase black voter registration across the South. Subsequent interpretations of the Voting Rights Act have, however, worked to increase black political power through the creation of gerrymandered "minority-majority" congressional districts.

I think it's self-demeaning for blacks to push for racial preferences in voting. Black candidates have shown time and again that they can compete for political office when they offer policies that appeal to broad constituencies (think of former Virginia Governor Douglas Wilder or Barack Obama today), not minority strongholds intent on maintaining their quotas.
I'll look forward to the time when participants in the American voting system get past focusing on race.

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