Southern Brooklyn

Op-Ed: Despite Debate Win, GOP Seeks Edge With Voter Suppression

Source: AP Photo

BETWEEN THE LINESWhen Mitt Romney became the Republican’s designated presidential nominee following his victories in the spring primaries, the party’s conservative wing seemed as lukewarm about the former governor as they were four years ago for maverick Senator John McCain. In a calculated move to counterbalance his moderate credentials, and emulating what McCain did four years ago, Romney chose Congressman Paul Ryan, a Tea Party favorite, as his vice presidential running mate.

But even that didn’t seem to matter much because, after weeks of campaigning, until the first presidential debate, Romney trailed or was tied in nearly every poll. As a matter of fact, in the days leading up to the Denver debate, a lack of enthusiasm clouded the GOP.

But the doubt promptly dispersed, and gave Romney a timely jolt, when President Obama’s first debate performance was, at best, mundane, and, at worst, uninspiring. In spite of tightening or eliminating the gap in the polls, after one debate Republicans shouldn’t be too quick to lick their chops or dream of an electoral landslide just because a few voters shifted.

On the campaign trail, “Rappin’” Romney tries to assure conservative crowds he’s worthy of their support, yet during the debate his moderate side was in first gear — another indication that, whichever way the wind blows, Mitt changes direction. Romney had to win over moderate as well as undecided voters or the race for the White House would have stalled even more.

Nevertheless, as the debate wore on, some supporters were in full drool, with some, two hours later, likely doing a triumphant boogie. Out on the stump, Romney’s style is humdrum and hasn’t lived up to expectations, so the post-debate resurgence was requisite or the chance for a GOP November victory was kaput. As it is, Romney’s back in the game — for now.

However, that faint glimmer of GOP optimism was a bit tarnished when the September unemployment rate was reported to be less than eight percent, the lowest since 2008. Nevertheless, as the president and Democrats touted that silver lining, Romney told crowds he was unimpressed with the drop in unemployment.

After pundits and “experts” on Fox News analyzed the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) results, they implied it was more likely a statistical manipulation conspiracy than coincidence that justified the reduced numbers with a month to go before the election.

Though it is mind-boggling that the BLS would cook the books to make Obama look good, the president’s relentless antagonists still deny the numbers demonstrate that the economy is improving. It not only reduces the GOP’s chances of moving back to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but also reveals the level of cynicism they have embraced since their defeat in 2008.

Ever since then, Republicans repeatedly point to dreadful jobless numbers to attack the president’s performance and ineffectiveness to turn around the nation’s economy. However, now, when the statistics seem to indicate the situation is marginally improving, they not only conveniently refuse to accept them, but have the audacity to insinuate there’s some kind of mischief afoot by the Obama Administration.

Admittedly, most of the new jobs were supposedly due to an increase in low paying, part-time employment, but, significantly, thousands of formerly unemployed citizens will no longer receive government entitlements, which conservatives would love to eliminate all together, as they pay taxes and contribute to the economy.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Republicans have consistently criticized and condemned President Obama for almost four years. Before the clear-cut debate triumph and the boost in the polls, the GOP has employed a much more undignified scheme — by passing restrictive voting laws across the country, apparently encouraged it will influence the outcome for success on Election Day.

Nothing is more fundamental to our democracy than the right to vote, even though tens of millions do not — or hardly — exercise that privilege. In some states, recent voter suppression laws reduce the pool of eligible voters and will limit access to polls for the upcoming presidential election, which is obviously the wrong approach to end voter discrimination in this country.

Almost a century after the ratification of the 15th Amendment, which “…prohibits each government in the United States from denying a citizen the right to vote…,” unfair practices continued to deprive millions of African Americans — and others the right vote. It took the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 to finally outlaw such repression. That is, until it was revived by the GOP shortly after the Republicans triumphed in the 2010 Congressional elections.

In the last two years, the controversy has centered on a wave of voter ID laws passed by more than a dozen Republican state legislatures, particularly in key swing states that Obama carried in 2008 and might affect this election’s outcome. While Republicans argue the measures ensure voting integrity and prevent fraud, even though such cases are extremely rare, Democrats maintain the rules are sneaky tactics to suppress qualified constituencies, such as the urban poor and the elderly, who lack driver’s licenses and tend to vote Democratic, from voting.

Recently, the courts have overturned more voter ID laws than they let stand, including in Texas, Florida, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, because of their barefaced political expediency and intent to keep certain registered voters from the polls. Some of the rulings may be further examined — following the 2012 election.

Concern about ballot integrity would be better directed toward the potential for fraud with the growing use of absentee ballots — as a rule used more by Republican than Democratic voters — particularly the “chain of custody” for a ballot once it’s mailed to voters.

As a matter of fact, more states require identification to vote than require equivalent credentials to buy a gun. To them, the Second Amendment is obviously more important than the 15th!

Shenanigans and suppression of ballot access are nothing new to the democratic voting process, but it neither inspires faith in the process, nor encourages the ambivalent or the indifferent, who rationalize their pretext to avoid participating in a constitutional right on an appointed day.

For the last decade, Americans have been valiantly fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan to protect our sovereignty. It is particularly shameful and undignified that, in the 21st century, Republicans dare to employ — or much less have success with — such an underhanded technique as voter suppression that not only infringes and restrains, but also disgraces, our precious right to elect a president.

Neil S. Friedman is a veteran reporter and photographer, and spent 15 years as an editor for a Brooklyn weekly newspaper. He also did public relations work for Showtime, The Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson. Friedman contributes a weekly column called “Between the Lines” on life, culture and politics in Sheepshead Bay.

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