In 2008, Republican operatives tried to create a narrative of widespread voter fraud being perpetrated across the country by young and minority voters and the people trying to register them. There was hardly a widespread conspiracy—the non-partisan Brennan Center of Justice reported, “It’s more likely that an individual will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls”—but the allegations provided useful cover for attempts to suppress turnout of new and infrequent voters.
And this year, it seems, voter suppression is back in full force—all in the name of stopping the mythical epidemic of voter fraud. The progressive group One Wisconsin Now reported today a plan by the Republican Party of Wisconsin, various Tea Party groups, and the conservative campaign cash-funneling machine Americans for Prosperity, to use “voter caging” to weed out registered voters in minority and student communities.
One Wisconsin quotes the Brennan Center’s description of voter caging:
Voter caging is the practice of sending mail to addresses on the voter rolls, compiling a list of the mail that is returned undelivered, and using that list to purge or challenge voters registrations on the grounds that the voters on the list do not legally reside at their registered addresses. Supporters of voter caging defend the practice as a means of preventing votes cast by ineligible voters. Voter caging, however, is notoriously unreliable. If it is treated (unjustifiably) as the sole basis for determining that a voter is ineligible or does not live at the address at which he or she registered, it can lead to the unwarranted purge or challenge of eligible voters. ...Moreover, the practice has often been targeted at minority voters, making the effects even more pernicious.
…which is pretty much what the Wisconsin groups are trying to do, according to One Wisconsin’s report. One Wisconsin boils down the GOP/AFP/Tea Party plan:
• The Republican Party of Wisconsin will use its "Voter Vault" state-wide voter file to compile a list of minority and student voters in targeted Wisconsin communities.
• Americans for Prosperity will use this list to send mail to these voters indicating the voter must call and confirm their registration information, and telling them if they do not call the number provided they could be removed from the voter lists.
• The Tea Party organizations will recruit and place individuals as official poll workers in selected municipalities in order to be able to make the challenges as official poll workers.
• On Election Day, these organizations will then "make use" of any postcards that are returned as undeliverable to challenge voters at the polls, utilizing law enforcement, as well as attorneys trained and provided by the RPW, to support their challenges.
The allegations are backed up by documents and audio recordings of meetings. You can peruse it all at http://www.SaveWisconsinsVote2010.org.
One Wisconsin thinks that some of these groups’ activities might be illegal. But legal or illegal, operations like this are downright cynical. Trying to win an election by getting fewer people to vote is a desperate move, and far from the spirit of democracy.