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REPORT: From Poll Taxes To Voter ID Laws: A Short History of Conservative Voter Suppression

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"REPORT: From Poll Taxes To Voter ID Laws: A Short History of Conservative Voter Suppression"

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Thursday, ThinkProgress reported that the Ohio House had approved the most restrictive voter id law in the nation — a bill that would exclude 890,000 Ohioans from voting. Earlier this week Texas lawmakers passed a similar bill, and voter id legislation — which would make it significantly more difficult for seniors, students and minorities to vote — is now under consideration in more than 22 states across the country

Conservatives have said voter id laws are necessary to combat mass voter fraud. Yet according to the Brennan Center for Justice, Americans are more likely to be killed by a bolt of lightning than commit voter fraud. And the Bush administration’s five-year national “war on voter fraud” resulted in only 86 convictions of illegal voting out of more than 196 million votes cast. Instead conservatives are employing an old tactic: using the specter of false voting to restrict the voting rights of minorities and the poor.

Below, ThinkProgress examines the history of conservatives anti-voter agenda:

JIM CROW SOUTH: In the Jim Crow South, historian Leon Litwack writes, “respectable” Southern whites justified their support for measures to disenfranchise African-Americans “as a way to reform and purify the electoral process, to root out fraud and bribery.” In North Carolina for example, conservatives insisted that literacy tests and poll taxes — which disenfranchised tens of thousands of African-Americans — were necessary to prevent “voter fraud.”

1981 RNC VOTER CAGING SCANDAL: According to Project Vote, in 1981 the Republican National Committee mailed non-forwardable postcards to majority Hispanic and African-American districts in New Jersey in an effort to accuse those voters of false voting. The 45,000 returned cards were then used to create a list of voters whose residency the GOP could challenge at the polls. The Democratic National Committee sued, winning a consent decree in which the RNC agreed not to engage in practices “where the purpose or significant effect of such activities is to deter qualified voters from voting.” Similar initiatives were undertaken by the Arizona GOP in 1958, the RNC in 1962 and again, despite the decree, in Louisiana in 1986.

RECENT VOTER CAGING EFFORTS: During the 2004 election GOP state parties, along with dozens of unidentified groups, launched similar “voter caging” efforts designed to challenge the eligibility of thousands of minority voters by accusing them of voter fraud. And in 2008, the Obama campaign sued the Michigan Republican Committee for collecting a list of foreclosures in an effort to challenge the residency, and eligibility, of voters who had lost their home in the housing crisis.

US ATTORNEY DAVID IGLESIAS FIRING SCANDAL: In an unprecedented politicization of the Justice Department, in 2006 the Bush White House fired US Attorney David Iglesias for refusing to prosecute voting fraud cases where little evidence existed. The New Mexico political establishment asked for Iglesias’ dismissal after he refused to cooperate with the party’s efforts to make voter id laws “the single greatest wedge issue ever.”

US ATTORNEY TOM HEFFELFINGER DISMISSAL: In Minnesota, US Attorney Tom Heffelfinger lost his position when he ran afoul of GOP activists for “expressing deep concern about the effect of a state directive that could have the effect of discouraging Indians in Minnesota from casting ballots.”

WISCONSIN, THE KOCHS AND THE 2010 ELECTION: Last fall ThinkProgress reported that a coalition of Wisconsin Tea Party and Koch-funded groups, in an effort to stop “voter fraud” and prevent “stolen elections,” was planning a sophisticated voter caging effort that would use GOP lawyers and Tea Party volunteers to challenge the eligibility of voters at polls in the state. Earlier that year, the same groups were instrumental in defeating a voter protection law that would have criminalized any attempt to use force or coercion to “compel any person to refrain from voting.” One prominent Tea Party member behind the voter caging effort that “since the voter law did not get passed this year… we can still do this.”

As statehouses across the country move forward on voter identification bills, ThinkProgress will continue to track conservatives latest efforts to advance their century-old anti-voter agenda.

Kevin Donohoe

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