The GOP's November Surprise
I should have known when George Will started writing columns about the dastardly threat of voter fraud that something big was in the works. And sure enough, the conservative media echo chamber is now vibrating from a cacophany of warnings that Democrats are trying to steal the presidential election by fradulently registering ineligible voters.
What's happening here is an effort to soften up the news media and the public for a truly audacious, and perhaps even desperate, gambit by the Republican Party that appears to be planned for election day: wholesale challenges to minority voters in battleground states in an effort to either (1) intimidate or demoralize likely Democratic voters, or (2) lay the groundwork for one of those Bush-v.-Gore-enabled retroactive legal actions aimed at reversing an adverse result. More likely, the aim is (3) both.
In case you've missed it, both the New York Times and the Washington Post have published extensive reports on the GOP's plans in Ohio to deploy "volunteers" (paid a reported $100 a pop for their time) in 8,000 mostly minority voting precincts with the goal of challenging the eligibility of many if not most voters. Aside from throwing such voters into the category of "provisional" voters whose ballots may get tossed out later on, the idea appears to be to make voting as slow and unpleasant as possible in the precincts that might give John Kerry the electoral votes of this key state.
While this scheme has been best documented in Ohio, I'll bet you a fist full of buckeyes that similar plans are under way in other battleground states with large minority populations. Hence the "voter fraud" cries from the GOP. "You know how these people are," is the implicit message. It is highly reminiscent of the Bush-Cheney campaign's successful strategy in 2000 of preemptively claiming victory in Florida and then depicting any effort to actually get the votes counted as an election-stealing enterprise.
I don't know exactly who the "volunteers" are who are planning to flood African-American polling places in Ohio to gum up the works and mess with the minds and ballots of voters. But given the rather limited number of black Republicans available, I have a clear mental image of some pasty-faced, bow-tie clad Federalist Society dweeb from Case-Western Law School showing up at an inner-city Cleveland precinct spouting 1953 case law at angry voters who know how often this sort of crap was pulled on African-Americans in the Deep South.
Now I have no particular reason to doubt the physical courage of conservative activists, and absolutely no reason to doubt their willingness to engage in bully-boy tactics. A good precedent was provided by the famous Brooks Brothers Riot of November 22, 2000, when a gang of Republican operatives, including quite a few GOP congressional staff down from Washington, succeeded in intimidating the Miami-Dade Canvassing Board into abandoning a hand recount of presidential ballots. But if this year's Republican intimidation tactics are half as bad as I suspect they will be, they may simply fortify the determination of their targets to get out and get in their votes.
Today the DLC called on President Bush to personally condemn any wholesale challenges to minority voters on or before Election Day. He's about as likely to do that as he is to suddenly admit he's made a bunch of mistakes over the last four years. But at a minimum, he should have the decency to warn his campaign's "volunteers" that they may experience more than a $100 worth of unpleasantness if they spend November 2 randomly hassling minority voters.
After all, playing Bull Connor without the fire hoses and the police dogs could be hazardous to your health.
UPDATE: Tapped's Nick Confessore has an excellent post on the GOP's minority voter intimidation project, and documents the propaganda war to pre-justify it better than I have.