Minority voter suppression isn’t anything new. When I read the story on WNYC about a Bedford-Stuyvesant church getting misleading voter registration information, my initial thought was disbelief, but not at the tactics. I was more shocked that anyone would consider this a unique development in politics.
In terms of getting fake, inaccurate or misleading voting information, black voters in Maryland, my immediate neighbor to the north, are usually up to their ankles in it. Alice got more solid information at the Mad Hatter’s tea party. Every time there is an election, Prince Georges County and Baltimore County, which are the two Maryland counties with the highest concentration of black voters, are swamped with fliers, chain e-mails and whisper campaigns designed to keep them away from the polls.
Prior to the 2002 gubernatorial election, fliers were turning up in black and Hispanic neighborhoods which claimed that once you paid any parking tickets, back child support, overdue rent and unpaid utility bills, then you were free to come out and vote on November 6. None of this was actually true, and aside from that, November 6 was a Wednesday, which was the day after the election. The Onion actually did an all-too-accurate spoof about this two years later, and like all Onion articles it was meant to be a joke, but nobody in Maryland laughed very hard.
In 2006, when Bob Ehrlich was looking for a second term, Election Day saw fliers in black neighborhoods claiming that Ehrlich had received a ringing endorsement from both Kweisi Mfume, the former head of the NAACP, and Jack Johnson, who at the time was a well-respected P.G. County executive. Dogs are more likely to endorse squirrels than Kweisi Mfume is likely to endorse Paul Ehrlich, and Jack Johnson wasn’t much of a fan of the Governor, either.
In 2008, the old standby of being unable to vote unless all of your bills were up to date was used, but this time the new wrinkle of being threatened with arrest was added in. Other e-mails were sent out saying that it was illegal for voters to wear t-shirts or buttons supporting one candidate or another when they went in to vote.
In 2010, when Ehrlich was taking another shot after getting replaced by Martin O’Malley, black Maryland voters started getting robocalled at around 1 PM on Election Day, and were thanked cordially for their support for Governor O’Malley. They were then told that the election was in the bag, so they should relax, put their feet up and congratulate themselves on a job well done. No need to go to the polls, fellas. It’s a landslide.
This robocall was the one thing that Ehrlich’s campaign couldn’t distance itself from. If it’s just flyers, you can claim it was some random wacky prankster with a political bent and a Xerox machine. Robocalls, not so much.
The guy who ended up taking the hit for this was Paul Shurick, who was Ehrlich’s campaign manager. He got 30 days home arrest and 500 hours of community service, and how I hope he was required to perform that service at a youth center in Baltimore or PG County. I’m sure his views on trickle-down economics would be well received there.
I want to clarify that I don’t believe that Maryland Republicans are racist. I truly don’t. They’re just practical. If black voters had a tendency to vote in a manner that pleased the Maryland Republican Party, they would do everything in their power to help them get to the polls. But they don’t, so it’s flyers, e-mails and whisper campaigns. Up until Shurick’s conviction that sort of thing was business as usual.
The “Watch Me Trick Fred Out Of His Right To Vote” stuff is actually pretty low percentage in terms of it working. I’m sure that there have been a few people who have been bamboozled out of going to the polls, but not enough to alter an election. So now it seems that the plan is to get really serious about voter suppression, not just in Maryland but nationwide, and not with bush league practical jokes.
This time Republicans are selling the narrative that the first priority of every convict doing time is to get out there and vote, or that a few idiots with a nightstick in between them are magically altering the outcomes of elections, or that millions of people named Donald Duck, Hugh G. Rection and Amanda Huggenkiss are the only reason Barack Obama is currently the President of the United States.
None of this is actually true, but there isn’t a politician on the planet that has been afraid of throwing out election year fictions to confuse people. Why would they stop now, particularly with the White House at stake? Freak everybody out, create a solution (making it difficult for democratic leaning voters to vote) in search of a “problem” (rampant voter fraud) and it’s off to the races. E-mails, whisper campaigns and flyers are for amateurs, Maryland. Let the real pros show you how it’s done.