Colson: Policy, shmolicy, let’s cheat our way to power


As attention around the U.S. focused on the New York state primaries this week, I decided to address another topic near and dear to the hearts of all who agree that democracy is the best system we’ve yet come up with for choosing national, regional and local leaders — voter suppression.

We can all remember the uproar that arose after the disastrous presidential election of 2000, when thousands of people in Florida found their names had been dropped off voter registration lists, including many who were misidentified as convicted felons (Florida, thanks to an 1868 law aimed at keeping freed slaves from voting, is one of the few states that permanently ban felons from voting).

Those who tried to address these inaccuracies in the state’s electoral bureaucracy found themselves stuck in a dark world of telephones that were never answered, hostility on the part of bureaucrats overwhelmed by the number of appeals for their assistance, and a number of other impediments.

Then there was the infamous “hanging chad” debacle, in which an untold number of ballots were invalidated in back-room parties of partisan hacks; voting machine glitches that left thousands of Jews in Palm Beach mistakenly voting for Pat Buchanan; and other problems that mostly served to disenfranchise state residents of color or other “minorities” who generally were assumed to be more likely to vote for Democrats.

Many simply ended up not voting in that election, which famously ended up in a rancorous 36-day recount battle before the U.S. Supreme Court gave the election to Republican George W. Bush — even though it was obvious then and later that Democrat Al Bore, … er, I mean Gore had won the popular vote and deserved to win.

A subsequent examination of the misidentified-felons issue turned up 12,000 or so voters who were inaccurately labeled as felons and prevented from voting in that election. That was more than 20 times the margin of victory (537 votes) that gave the Florida election, and thereby the presidency, to Bush.

The embarrassing electoral failure of 2000 has been followed by a wide range of further efforts at voter suppression, most in favor of Republican candidates for offices at every level.

The techniques are varied, but they all have one basic goal — make it as difficult as possible for anyone to vote who might have any kind of bias toward voting for a Democrat.

Wisconsin, currently the power base of Republican Governor Scott Walker, is a prime example of this wave of chicanery.

There, as evidenced by recent news from a longtime Republican staffer in the state Capitol who quit his job over this matter, the Republican-dominated state legislature has figured out a good way to ensure that it stays in the driver’s seat — a voter ID law and related bureaucratic stumbling blocks that make it much more difficult to register and vote in that state.

Simply getting a state-issued ID there can be a daunting task.

For instance, in Sauk City, the office where applications for the ID are accepted is only open on the fifth Wednesday of every month. Since there are only four months that have five Wednesdays, anyone who can’t make it on those particular days is forced to take a long drive to the nearest big city or just give up.

According to the Republican staffer who quit his job — Todd Allbaugh, if you’re interested — who was in the legislative chamber when Wisconsin’s voter ID law was being debated (by Republicans only, since the minority Democrats were not allowed into the chamber for the discussion), the GOP stalwarts writing up this bill were “giddy” about the prospects of denying voting rights to blacks, college students and others who were believed to be in the Democrats’ column.

All this supposedly was aimed at preventing a wave of “voter fraud” that simply did not exist.

There has been considerable puzzlement over Walker’s continued dominance in a state that, according to polls, is not that happy with his governorship.

He has failed to produce the vast number of jobs he promised to create when elected, his stewardship of the state’s much-admired natural environment has been abysmal, he has laid waste to the state’s labor organizations to no good effect (and likely has set up a decline in the state’s wage levels), and his civil-service system is in shambles.

The only reason Walker still rules Wisconsin, many believe (including me) is his engineering of voter suppression techniques that have kept his critics and doubters from the polls.

Accusations of similar suppressive tactics surfaced here in Colorado back in 2013, when the National Rifle Association and its adherents recalled two state legislators after they voted in favor of slightly stricter gun laws in the wake of the Aurora theater massacre.

And there are cases of gerrymandering and other tactics around the country that bolster a growing belief that if Republicans can’t win voter support through policy debates, they’ll win by cheating.