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Political Animal

Jim Crow Job

By Brian Morton | Posted 5/10/2006

The National Rifle Association, long a friend of the governor of Maryland, Robert Ehrlich, likes to talk about how we shouldn’t penalize “law-abiding citizens.” The amusing part of this little game is that the minute someone breaks those laws the NRA hates, they are suddenly “non-law-abiding citizens,” and thus exempt from that original control group.

But when it comes to changes in voting laws, well, despite the election being months away, the governor is all about voter fraud and the possibility of it running rampant in this fall’s elections. Never you mind that no one yet has committed any—there’s that possibility that it might occur, and this has Gov. Bobby Smooth’s underpants in quite the knot.

You see, Republicans hate voter fraud—hate it, hate it, hate it. Whether or not it occurs, they spend millions of dollars nationwide complaining about it, warning voters about it, and rallying their troops to go into urban environments to scare voters away in order to ensure that it never happens. Facts be damned, Republicans still claim Parris Glendening stole the 1994 gubernatorial election from Ellen Sauerbrey via voter fraud, even if no evidence ever turned up to support the allegation. It doesn’t stop them from saying it happened lo these many years later. “Everybody knows it,” they say.

These tactics are part of the GOP’s oldest set of plays in the book, going back all the way to the Jim Crow era. They call it “ballot security.” It’s pretty simple, especially in a state like Maryland with several large urban areas and a few jurisdictions with predominantly African-American populations. High turnout benefits Democrats. Low turnout benefits Republicans. A state with voter registration favoring Democrats by a 2-1 margin is one where Republicans can’t afford to have massive voter surges at the polls. So they implement a multipronged strategy.

First is to claim voter fraud in advance. If none is found, they figure, no one will remember. But it will always plant the seed in the public’s mind that something isn’t on the up-and-up. Right now, it benefits Ehrlich to put as much distrust in the election system as possible. Republicans aren’t big believers in the efficacy of government, so if they make government seem incompetent, it sets up a self-fulfilling prophecy. If Ehrlich defunds the fall’s early voting system via monkeying with the finances of it through his vote on the Board of Public Works, who is going to remember the mechanics of the process later when things go wrong? He’ll be busy saying, “I told you so.”

Recall that before this election year, the GOP in Maryland didn’t give a whit about whether there were paper trails after computerized voting. Suddenly they’re clamoring for paper receipts from voting machines. There was plenty of time to fix that problem three years ago, but where were the Republicans then?

According to The Washington Post, no fewer than 35 states across the country have early voting plans, but Ehrlich hasn’t cited a single instance of voter fraud occurring in any of them. When Georgia implemented its new voter identification program that required costly government-issued photo identification cards, it claimed it did so to prevent fraud. But it was interesting to note that while Georgia has 159 counties and sold the cards in 58 separate locations not one was located in the dense urban (read: African-American) locale of Atlanta.

The reason behind early voting is that in densely populated urban areas long lines can form, especially after people get off from work and head to their polling places. Long lines serve as a deterrent, and many people simply will not vote if the inconvenience is too great. This isn’t a problem in rural areas, for all the obvious reasons. But the GOP has no incentive for cities to have larger turnout, as they tend to vote heavily Democratic.

So in Maryland, they shout voter fraud the same way that in Georgia they don’t sell voter ID cards. So far no Republican in Maryland has put their foot in his or her mouth over voting laws the way the sponsor of the Georgia voter ID law did last year. A U.S. Justice Department memo was released last November that showed Republican Georgia state Rep. Sue Burmeister claiming that if black people in her district “are not paid to vote, they don’t go to the polls.”

Ehrlich is calling the new early voting law “a transparent attempt to commit fraud,” and has been asking his supporters to go out and sign petitions to send the measure to a referendum. He’s threatened to take the law to court, in addition to monkeying with it via his spot on the Board of Public Works, and he’s even talked fellow board member Comptroller William Donald Schaefer into joining his efforts.

So far, nobody has broken a law yet when it comes to voting, and the elections are months away. But it hasn’t stopped Bobby Smooth from trying to penalize law-abiding citizens who want to vote in peace. One can only presume that, for Ehrlich, there just happens to be far too many of them.

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Political Animal archives

More from Brian Morton

The Fix (8/4/2010)

Police State (7/7/2010)

Funny Business (6/9/2010)

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