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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Get Out the Vote vs. Suppress the Vote: Who Will Win?

Get Out the Vote vs. Suppress the Vote: Who Will Win?
Image © Austin Cline
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Speculation and debate over who will win the 2008 presidential election has become popular, but it's not necessarily productive unless you focus in on the most important issues that will influence the election outcome. Obviously a lot of burden falls on the candidates themselves: stellar performances will increase their chances, while huge blunders will shatter their chances. However, there are also important factors well outside their direct control which, barring any major developments, may be decisive. The largest and possibly most decisive factor may be the competition between Democratic efforts to get out the vote and Republican efforts to suppress voting.

The Obama campaign is relying heavily on their work to "get out the vote" to win the election. This tactic worked very well for them during the Democratic primaries and they are expanding on it across the nation. Volunteers and paid campaign staffers are working hard to register new voters and find ways to actually get them to the polls on election day. Above all they are focusing on the demographic groups which traditionally swing Democratic and which are even more heavily inclined towards Obama this year: African-Americans, Hispanics, young voters, and college students.

If the Obama campaign is successful in getting these groups to the polls in large numbers, he should win the election handily — and maybe even by a landslide. Even small increases in the right demographics in the right regions could help tip the scales in Obama's favor in a couple of key swing states, allowing him to edge out McCain, but a decisive victory alongside strong Democratic gains down the ticket would be preferable for many reasons. There is little that Obama is likely to say or do to drive these voter groups away, so in many ways just getting them to the polling stations to vote is more important than any speech he gives between now and election day. Pay close attention to how much of what he says connects to encouraging people to vote.

The problem for the Republican Party is the mirror opposite of the Obama campaign's: there is little John McCain or Sarah Palin can say or do to attract the support of large numbers of the aforementioned demographic groups, so their hopes rest on those groups voting in numbers as low as possible. Fortunately for them, the Republican Party has a lots of experience with successful voter suppression going back decades. Under the guise of preventing "voter fraud," a problem no one can prove is much of a real issue, Republicans pass laws and expend significant resources on preventing the "wrong" people from voting.

The "wrong" people are, naturally, rarely if ever white. Republican campaigns for voter suppression can be traced directly to efforts by white supremacists and white politicians to prevent African-Americans from voting. The earliest methods were more overtly discriminatory, like poll taxes and literacy tests, but the courts struck them down. Today voter suppression relies on challenges to voters because they change residence, because they fail to respond to misleading mailings, etc.

This year Republicans are actually targeting whites in significant numbers on the basis of home foreclosures — they anticipate that people who have lost their homes are more likely to vote Democratic. Students targeted by voter suppression efforts are also often white. Yet despite these efforts, racial minorities will remain the overwhelming losers. The Republican Party fails over and over to attract any significant numbers of minority voters by offering positive policies, so all that's left is to disenfranchise them through lies, loopholes, and antidemocratic activism. Authoritarians and fascists always benefit by reducing the number of people who have a voice in how they are ruled.

It is my belief that the election contest between Barack Obama and John McCain will, in the final analysis, prove to be a contest of Democratic efforts to expand voting through as many different parts of the population as possible, against Republican efforts to suppress voting in those parts of the population they regard as unworthy of having an equal say in government — particularly racial minorities. This also means that, in effect, a vote for the Republican Party is a vote in favor of voter suppression efforts against the "wrong" sorts of citizens — a vote for disenfranching minorities as well as a vote for perpetual war, for Christian supremacism, for white supremacism, for patriarchy, and worse.

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