RNC Voter Suppression Efforts Foiled When Federal Judge Upholds Minority Voter Protections

Tuesday was a good day for voting rights when a New Jersey federal judge ruled to extend restrictions against partisan voter suppression efforts that primarily target minority voters, effectively rejecting the Republican National Committee's claim that such protections are no longer needed.

The ruling is "a victory for all Americans who believe that every citizen should have the right to vote and have their vote counted," said Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine in a Politico report.

The RNC's effort to cut voter suppression protections dates back to the eve of Election Day 2008, when it attempted to dissolve a 1982 consent decree that prohibited it from implementing so-called "ballot security" measures that include voter caging, intimidation, and other dirty tricks.

In May, Project Vote executive director, Michael Slater issued a statement on the RNC's long - and recent - history of voter suppression efforts that led to the issuance and now protection of the consent decree.

"The consent decree--originally entered in 1982 and modified in 1987--has helped constrain, if not wholly deter, partisan efforts to suppress the vote for almost thirty years....There is no basis for terminating the consent decree, which prohibits the RNC from engaging in voter suppression and intimidation tactics conducted under the guise of `ballot security' without prior approval from the courts. In fact, the history of GOP 'ballot security' efforts--right up through the 2008 election--prove that the consent decree is still a vital protection for minority voters. The unfortunate truth is that the Republican Party has engaged, and continues to engage, in voter suppression tactics wrapped in the guise of fraud prevention."

The original case that resulted in the consent decree involved a 1981 RNC mailing of non-forwardable postcards to predominantly Latino and African-American districts in New Jersey. The 45,000 cards that were returned were used to create a "caging list" of voters for the GOP to challenge at the polls.

"By doing this," Slater wrote in May, "the RNC tried to skirt federal law that sets up a procedure to ensure that voter registrations are not erroneously cancelled on a mistaken belief that the voter has moved. The Democratic National Committee sued in DNC v. RNC, and in the resulting consent decree, the RNC agreed not to engage in these and similar practices `where the purpose or significant effect of such activities is to deter qualified voters from voting.' Despite the decree, the RNC did the same thing in Louisiana in 1986, causing the case to be reopened and the consent decree amended to require the RNC to get court approval before conducting self-described ballot security programs." 

Between 2004 and 2006, as many as 77,000 Americans in targeted communities had their votes challenged. "In 2008, only a strong public backlash and rapid response in courts of law prevented the unfounded mass challenges to voters," including the well publicized Michigan case where the Macomb County Republican Party chair stated that the Party intended to target foreclosure victims to conduct a mass challenge of voters, said Slater. The Obama campaign filed suit, which was later settled with an agreement that foreclosure lists would not be used as the basis for vote challenges.

Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Dickinson Debevoise of Newark acknowledged the ever-present problems with targeting and deterring voters, saying "voter intimidation presents an ongoing threat to the participation of minority individuals in the political process."

"The judge set an eight-year sunset clause (unless the DNC can prove a violation before the sunset) and narrowed the decree by clarifying that only the DNC could bring violations to the court's attention," according to the Politico. "He also said that the term `ballot security' would include only efforts aimed at preventing potentially unqualified voters from casting a ballot, as opposed to programs meant to ensure the smooth functioning of the electoral process or increase the number of people participating in it."

In a statement Tuesday, Kaine said that "Republicans would be better served trying to engage minority and under-represented voters rather than trying to intimidate them."

Tags: election reform, minorities, Project Vote, RNC v DNC, Tim Kaine, voter caging, voter intimidation, voter suppression, Voting Rights (all tags)


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