24 November 2014

The latest polls seem to have created a tidal wave of euphoria among Obama supporters.

Excuse me if I don't get swept away along with it.

I still remember going to bed thinking Gore was elected in 2000 after the networks called Florida for him. In 2004, I read through exit poll numbers the afternoon of the election and discovered that John Kerry would defeat George Bush.

As a political consultant I've been in more campaigns than I would like to count where minority candidates underperformed final polling expectations.

I'm expecting a squeaker on November 4. 

Support for Obama looks too fragile to expect otherwise. We've yet to hear from Osama bin Laden, who weighed in, you'll remember, on the eve of the 2004 election. We've yet to see any last minute action by the White House that could change the national conversation in McCain's favor. 

There are some powerful unplayed cards still in the deck----the most powerful being vote suppression.

Let's not forget that tens of thousands of potential Gore supporters were removed from the Florida voting rolls just before the 2000 election by a state administration headed by George Bush's brother. Or that a shift of 65,000 votes in Ohio in 2004 would have elected John Kerry. Ohio's chief voting official that year was also Bush's Ohio campaign manager. Post-election investigations turned up plenty of accounts of how Democratic voters were either taken off the rolls or discouraged from voting by various suppression techniques.

These things can't happen again, you say?

Well, let's see.

The New York Times ran a story the other day which revealed that in many swing states twice as many voters have been dropped from the rolls as have been newly registered.

These states are illegally using Social Security information to verify voter registration, and dropping voters from the rolls within 90 days of the election---which also is against the law. The states in question include Michigan, Ohio, Colorado, Indiana, Nevada, North Carolina., Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana.

Another vote suppression technique is to send out bad information to target groups, such as out-of-state students. The Republican clerk of El Paso County, Colorado recently informed local college students that if their parents lived outside of Colorado and claimed them as dependents they couldn't register or vote in Colorado. Nailed on it, the clerk finally admitted it wasn't true. But the same story was given to students in Virginia and South Carolina.. 

An old favorite in the vote suppression tool kit is to spread erroneous information anonymously, such as the fliers distributed in black neighborhoods of Philadelphia recently warning residents that undercover cops would be at polling places looking for people with unpaid traffic tickets.

One of the most effective ways to stop people from voting is a game called “vote caging.” This is when letters are mailed to registered voters asking them to verify their addresses. If they don't respond they may either be taken off the rolls or have their votes challenged on election day. This technique is particularly effective with low income groups and voters who are mobile, such as students.

During the past few weeks Michigan and Ohio Democrats have been fighting off Republican-led efforts to cast doubts about voting eligibility for people facing mortgage foreclosure. 

And in Nevada, Ohio, Wisconsin and elsewhere Democratic voters have been receiving something that looks like an absentee ballot, mailed by a no-name Ohio organization. How many Democrats will use them, thinking that they are real? 

John McCain and the Republican apparatus have been complaining lately that ACORN, a voter registration group, is engaged in wholesale illegal registrations. That's the smokescreen. The real story is what seems to be a concerted nationwide effort by Republicans to undo this year's record registration drive and to drive away from the polls a decisive number of those who might vote Democratic.

Hard to believe?

I've been in campaigns where we passed out coffee and other goodies to workers standing in long lines to vote because somehow enough machines didn't show up in Democratic precincts, and where platoons of lawyers tried to deny ballots to qualified voters. I know these things happen and that they often work. Both parties have done their share. 

But in recent years Republicans have been managing vote suppression on a grand scale at the highest levels of state and federal government. Keep in mind the recent Justice Department report that condemned former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and others in the department for firing U.S. attorneys who wouldn't aggressively charge voter fraud where they couldn't find it. Playing politics with the voter rolls is not a game the Republicans invented, but they have been particularly effective with it over the past few election cycles. 

I can read the current public opinion polls that forecast an Obama sweep. But based on past experience, I see many hurdles yet before this race is over.

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Joe Rothstein is a veteran national political strategist and media producer and editor of USPoliticstoday.com. He can be contacted at joe@ipdgroup.com.