Campaigns are really about two stages: what goes on before Election Day, and Election Day itself. While the press people spin and the policy people wonk and the consultants groom and advise, the field people sit quietly in rooms with giant maps on the wall, pizza cartons overflowing the trash cans, and old soda cups from fast-food restaurants littering the desks. They pore over precinct maps and never much say a word to anyone, because they know that when the rubber hits the road they’re the most important part of the operation. They’re in charge of D-Day. Or rather, E-Day.
If, after three presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate, the Kerry-Edwards team looks solid, knowledgeable, and ready to lead, the war over the actual vote will begin in earnest.
Despite the obligatory attempt by the Wall Street Journal editorial page on Sept. 28 to deny the documented and successful disenfranchisement of thousands of black Floridians in 2000, it is very clear that, while Democrats try to bring voters to the polls, the GOP’s main tactic is to keep them away by as many strategies as possible. And this year it has its hands full.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports 40,000 newly registered voters registered through mid-September in Allegheny County, with thousands more expected before the cutoff date arrived Oct. 4. The paper cited, as of Sept. 29, 21,859 newly registered Democrats, 9,369 Republicans, and 9,265 independents or members of minor parties. This in a battleground county in a battleground state.
The Associated Press reported on Sept. 28 that Cleveland has seen almost twice as many new voters register compared to 2000; Philly shows its biggest gain in new voters in 20 years; Florida’s Miami-Dade County saw its number of registered voters grow by 65 percent through the middle of September compared to four years ago; and in Oregon, Democrats outregistered other new voters by a 2-1 ratio. The Austin American-Statesman reports a 64 percent jump in new voter applications there compared to 2000. In the whole state of Florida, the Orlando Sentinel points out, there are 1 million more potential voters than in the last presidential election.
The newly registered often don’t show up in national polls, so they tend to be off the radar when it comes to the assessments given by media organizations. But those campaign field workers quietly toiling in those map-filled rooms know they’re out there.
At the same time, the GOP is busy doing what it did in 2000 in Florida, except now with the power of incumbency at the federal level. It has a Justice Department at its disposal, helmed by John Ashcroft, one of the most political attorneys general in recent memory. The New Yorker magazine reported in its Sept. 20 issue that the Justice Department’s Voting Section has switched its traditional focus from “voter protection” to “voting integrity,” meaning that more resources are allocated to fighting alleged vote fraud than ensuring the right of all, especially minorities, to cast their votes.
The Republican Party is still up to its same old tricks at the state level all across the country. A top GOP official in Michigan, state Rep. John Pappageorge, was quoted in August saying, “If we do not suppress the Detroit vote, we’re going to have a tough time in this election.” That same month, The Miami Herald reported GOP operatives staking out naturalization ceremonies with pre-checked voter registration forms, to trick new immigrants into registering with the Republican Party. The secretary of state in Colorado, The Denver Post reported on Sept 29., drafted a rule that any down-ballot votes—those below the presidential level—on the state’s provisional ballots would not be counted. In Colorado, provisional ballots are used in cases of voters without ID or who aren’t on a precinct’s poll listing for some reason. This is significant due to a ballot referendum that would proportionally split Colorado’s Electoral College vote, something the state GOP is firmly against. The secretary of state there, predictably, is a Republican.
And who can forget the second attempt in Florida this past June to purge the voter rolls of 47,000 traditionally Democratic voters via a secret list of “felons” created by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s secretary of state, Glenda Hood. The Miami Herald featured a series of reports on how media in the state had to go to court to open the list to scrutiny after Hood placed more and more onerous restrictions on viewing the list. When the list was fully released, it showed that predominantly black males would have been purged, and that 2,100 names on the list had already received executive clemency, and it contained the absurdly small number of 61 Latinos.
Those quiet people in the field will have their hands full this November. It’s a war out there.
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