In my opinion

The GOP, demographics and voter suppression

 

lpitts@MiamiHerald.com

Bill Internicola had to show his papers.

He received a letter last month from the Broward County Supervisor of Elections informing him the office had “information from the state of Florida that you are not a United States citizen; however, you are registered to vote.” So Internicola had to prove he is an American. He sent the county a copy of his Army discharge papers.

Internicola is 91 years old. He was born in Brooklyn. He is a veteran of the Second World War. He earned a Bronze Star for his part in the Battle of the Bulge. Yet he was required to prove to a county functionary that he is entitled to vote in an American election.

We learn from reporter Amy Sherman’s story last week in The Miami Herald that this is part of a campaign by Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, to weed non-citizens off the rolls of the state’s voters. Initially, Florida claimed roughly 180,000 were possible noncitizens. That number was eventually whittled way down to about 2,600 people. In Miami-Dade County, where the largest number of them live, 385 have been verified as citizens. Ten – 10! – have admitted they are ineligible or asked to be removed from the rolls.

The Herald recently analyzed the list and found it dominated by Democrats, independents and Hispanics. Republicans and non-Hispanic whites were least likely to have their voting rights challenged.

Voter suppression? Intimidation? No way, says Florida Republican Party Chairman Lenny Curry. He blasted Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson for criticizing the effort. Nelson, he said, “asks our public servants to ignore the threat to electoral integrity.”

But the “threat” is very nearly non-existent. Tova Wang, an expert in election law, told U.S. News and World Report in April that the number of people who have been prosecuted successfully for voter fraud is “ridiculously low.” A 2006 report from the Brennan Center For Justice at New York University School of Law found documented examples of voter fraud to be “extremely rare” and likened it to one’s chances of being killed by lightning. On Friday, the Justice Department weighed in, ordering the state to stop this voter purge. The Feds say that, among other failings, the policy violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The idea that voter fraud is epidemic stems from the occasional high profile exception and from stunts like GOP activist James O’Keefe’s sending some guy into a polling place to vote under the name of Attorney General Eric Holder. But stunts and high profile exceptions do not disprove — nor even address — the statistical reality Wang and the Brennan Center describe.

The demographic trend lines are clearly against the Republican Party. But rather than work to broaden the party’s appeal, some GOP leaders have chosen instead to narrow the other party’s base under the guise of addressing a problem that does not exist. Thus, you get a campaign to gut the aforementioned Voting Rights Act of 1965. Thus, you get restrictive new Voter ID laws. Thus you get Florida (like New Mexico and Colorado) culling its voter rolls of noncitizens and somehow, apparently by sheer happenstance, targeting those most likely to vote for the other party.

Thus, you get Internicola being asked for his papers. Yes, he provided them. But how many people, in a nation where voter turnout stands at a measly 45.5 percent, are going to make the effort? How many, when repeated obstacles are placed between them and the polling place, are going to give up in frustration? And that, of course, is the whole idea.

This is a thumb on the scales. It is a blatant use of the machinery of government in the cause of voter intimidation and suppression.

Internicola happens to be — what are the odds? — a Democrat. He was “flabbergasted” to learn the state did not consider him a citizen. He called the county office and asked: “Are you crazy?”

But in the end, Bill Internicola had to show them his papers. For that, the governor and his party should be deeply ashamed.

Read more Leonard Pitts Jr. stories from the Miami Herald

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