Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

GOP's push to suppress vote threatens democracy

By Ilyse Hogue, Special to CNN
updated 11:10 PM EST, Sun November 4, 2012
Voters cast their ballots in April in Pennsylvania, where a new voter ID law has been blocked by a judge.
Voters cast their ballots in April in Pennsylvania, where a new voter ID law has been blocked by a judge.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ilyse Hogue: Ohio secretary of state's 11th-hour directive could invalidate provisional ballots
  • She says it's part of GOP push to confuse election process to suppress certain voters
  • She says GOP pushed through voter ID laws in 33 states on made-up claim of voter fraud
  • Hogue: Systematic efforts to keep people from voting threaten entire democratic process

Editor's note: Ilyse Hogue is co-director of Friends of Democracy, a super PAC aimed at electing candidates who champion campaign finance reform. She is the former director of political advocacy and communications for MoveOn.org and has been a senior strategist to Democratic and progressive groups, including Media Matters for America, Public Campaign and Rebuild the Dream. She is a regular contributor to The Nation magazine.

(CNN) -- One day before the election, tensions are running high and poll numbers are being crunched every few hours. Nowhere is this truer than in Ohio -- the pathway to victory. So there was a collective gasp Friday when a last-minute directive from Ohio's secretary of state, a Republican, threatened to invalidate a number of provisional ballots.

When the fate of the nation could hinge on a handful of votes, arcane state rules and local politicians' motives take on a new urgency.

Ilyse Hogue
Ilyse Hogue

Earlier last week the Obama campaign complained to Wisconsin's attorney general about what it said was "willful misrepresentation" by the Romney campaign in the materials used to train Election Day poll watchers. At issue was whether people in Wisconsin with felony convictions could vote. (They can, once they complete their sentences, but the Romney documents had said they can't.) Given that this fact can be Googled in less than 10 seconds, one must conclude the Romney campaign was either grossly ignorant of election law or intentionally deceiving volunteers in an effort to swing the vote.

Opinion: Vote, damn it!

This election year is the culmination of years of Republican efforts to foment confusion and fear to keep certain Americans from voting. That is a subplot of this election, but one that will have massive consequences. In close and bitterly fought elections, there's far more at stake than who occupies the White House: Americans' belief in the integrity of our democracy hangs in the balance.

These efforts are pernicious, pervasive and professionalized. In a recent New Yorker article, Jane Mayer profiled Hans von Spakowsky, a legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation who has been hyping the myth of voter impersonation fraud since 1998, despite mountains of evidence refuting his claim. (The Brennan Center for Justice has concluded that many more people are struck by lightning than commit in-person voter fraud.) Rep. John Lewis -- a civil rights hero who bled to get all Americans the right to vote -- describes von Spakowsky as waking up every morning thinking "What can I do today to make it more difficult for people to vote?"

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Spakowsky is a close adviser to True the Vote, a Houston-based organization funded by wealthy conservative donors that has led challenges against the registration of minority voters across the country.

Because of these challenges, thousands of Americans who have voted reliably in the same place every year have had to attend formal hearings to defend their registrations or be disqualified from voting. The group has been so aggressive and so inaccurate in its work that Rep. Elijah Cummings has said it could "amount to a criminal conspiracy to deny legitimate voters their constitutional rights."

The backbone of the voter suppression movement has been the national push to institute a labyrinth of voter identification laws. Thirty-three states have passed such laws since 2009.

Opinion: What's really at stake in election 2012

The result has been confusion and sloppy implementation as overburdened poll volunteers have had to memorize constantly changing regulations. Meanwhile, millions of Americans, including tens of thousands of seniors, will be disenfranchised because they don't have the required ID or they are simply confused by the laws.

Law ended 'souls to the polls' Sunday
Clash over Pennsylvania voter ID law
Rights groups: ID laws target minorities

While advocates claim they are just trying ensure a fair vote, Pennsylvania's Republican House Majority Leader Mike Turzai infamously spilled the beans in June when he claimed the state's new voter ID law would deliver the state to Mitt Romney.

Recent news reports suggest that if there is an actual attempt at systemic voter fraud, it's coming from GOP-affiliated groups. Meet Nathan Sproul: a longtime Republican operative paid $3 million by the Republican Party to register voters in five states this cycle. Evidence suggests Sproul's company, Strategic Allied Consulting, has been systematically encouraging falsifying signatures and having workers lie to voters. The GOP severed ties with Sproul's group when these allegations became public, but his relationships with the party and affiliated groups date back to 2004, and the allegations against him date back almost as long.

A Google search turns this information up in a couple of seconds.

Some American values do trump election victories if the choice between the two is laid bare. The American Legislative Exchange Council, the driver for much of the voter ID legislation, has faced a revolt of its corporate members as citizen consumers have expressed their outrage: Thirty-seven companies have left ALEC, including such high-profile names as Sprint, Nextel, and Entergy.

Clear Channel has been forced to take down billboards making vague threats of legal action against voters in low-income and minority neighborhoods after a campaign by civil rights group Color of Change.

And courts in Pennsylvania ruled that a new voter ID law cannot be enforced in this election after hearing from plaintiffs like 92-year old Vivian Applewhite, who showed she would be disenfranchised since she has no birth certificate.

Regardless of who wins, if the election proves as close as it appears, it's likely that the demand for recounts and accusations on both sides will fly fast and furious. But this erosion of Americans' rights requires a clear and comprehensive solution -- universal legislation that makes it easier to vote for all Americans regardless of their circumstances. Our democracy depends on it.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ilyse Hogue.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 1:34 PM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Sun August 17, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
updated 5:46 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
updated 6:26 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
updated 4:24 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
updated 6:56 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
updated 4:35 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
updated 7:08 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Mary Allen says because of new research and her own therapy, she no longer carries around the fear of her mother, which had turned into a generalized fear of everything
updated 3:59 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Gilbert Gottfried says the comedian was most at home on the comedy club stage, where he was generous to his fellow stand-up performers
updated 4:54 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Iris Baez, whose son was killed by an illegal police chokehold, says there must be zero tolerance for police who fatally shoot or otherwise kill unarmed people such as Michael Brown
updated 8:46 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Maria Cardona says as he seeks a path to the presidency, the Kentucky Senator is running from his past stated positions. But voters are not stupid--and they know how to use the internet
updated 10:19 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Gene Seymour says the shock at the actor and comedian's death comes from its utter implausibility. For many of us over the last 40 years or so, Robin Williams was an irresistible force of nature that nothing could stop.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Soledad O'Brien says the story of two veterans told in a documentary airing on CNN shows the challenges resulting from post-traumatic stress
updated 11:25 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT