Gov. Rick Scott doesn’t like to lose. But he lost an important court case dealing with voting rights and last week he decided to cut his losses, along with those of Florida taxpayers who have footed the bill for more than 2 ½ years. Scott dropped his appeal of a federal court order that said the state’s efforts to purge the voter rolls of suspected noncitizens during the 2012 presidential campaign violated a federal law that prohibits “systematic” removals less than 90 days before a federal election. And he issued a statement that signaled a new willingness to work with county elections supervisors, who opposed the purge. “Florida is in an excellent position to conduct fair elections,” Scott’s statement said. “I am confident that the 2016 presidential election cycle will put Florida’s election system in a positive light thanks to the improvements made by our supervisors of elections, the Legislature and the Department of State.” As a result, Scott is facing criticism from the right.
I’m always looking for areas where the Left and the Right can agree on a policy reform, even if it is for different reasons. One has emerged from the tragedy of Ferguson, Mo. In the aftermath of Michael Brown’s shooting, many blamed some portion of the tension there on the striking racial gap between the police force, which is 94 percent white, and Ferguson’s African-American population, which makes up two-thirds of the city. Not only the police force but also the rest of the local power structure in Ferguson is dominated by whites. Ferguson has seen enormous demographic change in the last 20 years, with the percentage of its black population growing from 25 percent to 67 percent. But five of its six city council members are still white, as is the mayor. The school board has six white members and one Hispanic.
Indeed, in a column for right-wing clearinghouse World Net Daily, longtime conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly acknowledged as much with a defense of North Carolina’s new voting law, which has been criticized for its restrictions on access, among other things. Here’s Schlafly:
“The reduction in the number of days allowed for early voting is particularly important because early voting plays a major role in Obama’s ground game. The Democrats carried most states that allow many days of early voting, and Obama’s national field director admitted, shortly before last year’s election, that ‘early voting is giving us a solid lead in the battleground states that will decide this election. The Obama technocrats have developed an efficient system of identifying prospective Obama voters and then nagging them (some might say harassing them) until they actually vote. It may take several days to accomplish this, so early voting is an essential component of the Democrats’ get-out-the-vote campaign.”
She later adds that early voting “violates the spirit of the Constitution” and facilitates “illegal votes” that “cancel out the votes of honest Americans.” I’m not sure what she means by “illegal votes,” but it sounds an awful lot like voting by Democratic constituencies: students, low-income people, and minorities. Schlafly, it should be noted, isn’t the first Republican to confess the true reason for voter identification laws. Among friendly audiences, they can’t seem to help it.
Voter fraud whack-a-mole continues. Remember the bottom line here: no one has found convincing evidence of any recent, significant level of voter fraud. The cases that have been alleged often turn out to be phony. And the voter suppression “remedies” Republicans like don’t have anything to do with whatever fraud is generally alleged. So: the latest conservative talking point is the claim that there were a bunch of felons who voted improperly in Minnesota in 2008 — perhaps enough to have flipped the very close Senate race in that cycle from Democratic Al Franken to Republican Norm Coleman. Conservative columnist Byron York points out correctly that flipping that seat would have been hugely consequential; the Affordable Care Act, Dodd-Frank, and other legislation might well have failed if Dems had lost just one more Senate seat. But the accusations are old and long ago debunked. The evidence that York discusses is in a new book by a conservative journalist and a former Bush administration lawyer — charges that were pretty convincingly rebutted when they were made back in 2010.