Determined to avoid a repeat of the GOP’s 2012 voter-suppression efforts, New York Sen. Kristen Gillibrand and Assistant Democratic House leader James Clyburn are pushing for the “Voter Empowerment Act,” which requires electronic voting machines to produce paper receipts, allows for voter registration on election days, creates a new national voter hotline, and criminalizes voter intimidation practices.
MSNBC host Chris Matthews asked Clyburn on Tuesday’s Hardball if states, under GOP leadership, were abusing their authority to prevent minorities and Democrats from voting. “Absolutely,” Clyburn said.
The South Carolina lawmaker said he saw voter suppression first hand when he was in Akron, Ohio, the Friday before the election. He said the Republican secretary of state there was doing “all kinds of things to dilute the impact of black voters” by combining multiple precincts into one location and “thereby creating pressure on the system that will cause long lines to form, and you know people will be discouraged or give up.”
Long lines and voter ID laws may have cost Democrats thousands of votes last fall. In Florida, for example, Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP-led state legislature cut early voting from fourteen days to eight–and cut off voting the Sunday before the election. As Matthews noted, that’s when many African-Americans, who tend to vote Democratic, head to the polls right after church, taking their “souls to the polls.” Then there were a slew of states that tried to restrict voting by mandating voters have ID, as in Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Such techniques seemed to have worked. A poll taken shortly after Election Day showed Democrats and minorities waited longer, in comparison to whites and GOP voters.
The AFL-CIO survey shows 16% of Obama voters waited for 30 minutes or more to cast their ballots, compared to 9% of Romney voters. And while 22% of African-Americans and 24% of Hispanics said they had to wait half an hour or longer, only 9% of white voters did.
MSNBC’s Alex Wagner, host of NOW, told Matthews the GOP push to suppress minority voters is about “consolidating power in the hands of a fractious few,” noting the policies the Republican Party has embraced do not align with many of the voters they are seeking to push out. The GOP, she said, wants to “manipulate the process to ensure that the rural, white conservative voters have a disproportionate share of power.”
Not if Clyburn can help it. “I don’t know if we can legislatively change the state laws but we can in fact change laws as they relate to federal elections,” he said.