The Fraud That Failed
How the GOP’s voter suppression laws may have inadvertently cost them Florida.
And they still have the early-voting days—less of them, but they have them. In the meantime, they have made the “voter suppression” efforts infamous among their base voters. In the area around Curry’s church, I find black voters who were completely aware of the laws and could recite the ways the state had tried to block their votes. “My son had an incident eight years ago,” says Valerie Gardner, a real estate agent in the area, “and because of that he can’t vote. We went to vote and the state had never told him that he couldn’t.” So in response, she helped out Operation Lemonade as much as she could that morning before heading to a wedding.
“I think that this whole thing is gonna backfire on ’em,” says Curry. “If they had left it alone, African-Americans may have been less excited about this election than they were about 2008.” Take the fear of disenfranchisement away and they might have been skittish about voting for a president who endorses gay marriage. In other states, like Maryland and Washington, there are campaigns directed at black voters that straddle the line between patronizing and true. But in Florida, where the Obama campaign is running an ad to remind people of the 2000 election, it doesn’t play. “Just because he says he’s for gay marriage doesn’t mean he’s going to implement it,” says Rev. Gary McCleod of the nearby Mount Sinai church. “That doesn’t concern people.”
I leave Miami and drive to West Palm Beach. The South Florida Tea Party keeps its office on Clematis Street, and the guest tonight is from the Texas-based poll-watching conservative coalition True the Vote. Adryana Boyne became an American citizen by marriage in 1992, and cast her first presidential vote for George H.W. Bush. This year, at the Republican National Convention, Craig Romney invited her to sit near the family for Mitt’s nomination speech. South Florida Tea Party chairman Everett Wilkinson apologizes to her, because he’d wanted to do more Tea Party outreach to Hispanic voters for months, “and we’re getting a late start.” Boyne nods sadly, then rallies to record a 10-minute video explaining to Hispanic voters that the Democrats are lying to them when they talk about restrictions.
“We have people, the snowbirds, who live in two states, and they’re voting twice,” she says. “We know what happened a few years ago with ACORN. Remember? That’s still going strong. People say: Just go register anyone. Do you have a driver’s license? You can register to vote. That’s not true. You have to be a citizen of the United States.”
After the video is done, I join Wilkinson, Boyne, and Boyne’s friend Juan Fiol for a very late dinner. Fiol, who’s been working for Wasserman Schultz’s opponent Karen Harrington, is even more frustrated than Boyne. Democrats, he says, are pandering to Hispanics, scaring them away from Republicans, claiming that there’s no such thing as fraud. “Early voting enables fraud,” he says. “There’s a certain number of fraudsters. Let’s say there’s 100. They go out the first day, they commit 100 frauds. OK? But let’s say it’s seven days. It becomes 700 frauds. It becomes 14 days, and it’s 1,400 frauds. In Ohio, it’s open for a month! C’mon, man!”
Four years ago, Republicans were saying the same thing. John McCain used precious time in his final debate with Barack Obama to attack ACORN—its dodgy registration reforms were a “threat to democracy.” McCain didn’t win, but the effect was to make Republicans as angry and paranoid about the threat to their votes as Democrats ever were. One poll, taken a year after Obama won, found that 52 percent of Republicans credited it to ACORN fraud.
The new voter ID/voter-registration laws were supposed to fix that. In the process, they helped Democrats convince their wavering base that their ballots were in danger. They’ve absorbed the lesson even as the laws loosened up. “The law in Florida was a kneejerk reaction,” says Wilkinson. “It ended up deterring voter registration. We, as an organization, weren’t able to overcome that.” But the Democrats may have overcome it, and that success just might rescue them.
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet at him @daveweigel.