No Comment — August 1, 2012, 3:33 pm

The Gray Lady’s Voter Suppression Quandry

In the midst of a recent deposition under oath in a lawsuit in which he was seeking to recover money he believed he was owed by the Florida G.O.P., former state party chair Jim Greer used vivid language to describe the situation inside the party when he stepped down. As the Tampa Bay Times summarizes it, he:

denounced some party officials as liars and ‘whack-a-do, right-wing crazies’ as he described turmoil in the months before his resignation. Greer said some GOP leaders were meeting to discuss ways they could suppress black votes while others were constantly scheming against each other.

Greer, again under oath, detailed a December 2009 meeting with party general counsel Jason Gonzalez, political consultant Jim Rimes and Eric Eikenberg, then-governor Charlie Crist’s chief of staff, at which “the political consultants and staff were talking about voter suppression and keeping blacks from voting.” Florida then went on to enact some of the nation’s most aggressive anti-voter legislation, hiring consultants to prune allegedly ineligible voters from the rolls and threatening civics teachers with prosecution for attempting to register young new voters. The Justice Department is challenging the legislation as a violation of federal voting-rights legislation. The G.O.P. has put forward similar legislation in many battleground states, for purposes it rarely attempts to disguise. In remarks to the Republican National Committee, for instance, Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai was perfectly candid about the objective of the legislation: It would “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”

The G.O.P.’s aggressive tactics in the lead-up to the 2012 elections have clear outcomes: reducing the number of eligible voters and discouraging or outright intimidating voters on the periphery, especially blacks and Hispanics. In a tight election, such tactics could well skew the results a few percentage points in the Republican Party’s favor. They also underscore the Republican Party’s turn toward its right-wing fringe and away from groups, like Hispanics, who form an increasing share of the electorate. Instead of recognizing America’s changing demographics, the Republicans are attempting to lock in the old demographics by electoral legerdemain.

In defending itself, the G.O.P. has thrown up a smoke screen about the “voter fraud” against which these measures theoretically would guard. However, they have failed to present any serious evidence of such fraud. (In fact, the highest-profile recent cases of voter fraud all involve elected G.O.P. officials.) Fortunately for the G.O.P., though, America’s mainstream media has come to the rescue.

An article by Ethan Bronner in this morning’s New York Times shows just how bad writing on this subject can be. “Partisan rifts hinder efforts to improve U.S. voting system,” reads the headline. Yes, it all boils down to that old bromide: these two parties just can’t get along. “This has all become incredibly politicized in recent years,” reveals one election-law expert. Imagine that: The electoral process is politicized! The article presents a Democratic view and a Republican view and attempts to accommodate each with the utmost equanimity.

The problem, of course, is that the truth can’t be found by triangulating between Democrats and Republicans, so the story’s structure serves the interests of the Republicans—indeed, it implicitly legitimizes their tactics. In an interview on On Point, Bronner ultimately conceded the point under pressure, “It’s a little harsh to say that the only point of these things is to suppress voting for Democratic candidates,” he said, “but that clearly will be the effect.” Harsh? It’s not only the obvious truth, but one even Republicans can occasionally be caught admitting. Why should Bronner struggle so mightily to suppress it? And why does he seem to think it makes his writing more professional if he avoids “harsh” truth?

Voter-suppression campaigns disenfranchise and distort the voter pool, and they alienate citizens on the margins and undermine the democratic legitimacy of elections. These values are more worthy of protection than the perceived dignity of the G.O.P. In a piece about the Republican voter-suppression project for the Nieman Watchdog, Dan Froomkin, writes:

Modern American journalists strive for impartiality, but there is a limit. Mainstream journalists shouldn’t be afraid of being accused of taking sides when what they’re doing is standing up for basic constitutional rights. Indeed, the greater danger is that readers condemn them—or even worse, stop paying attention to them—for having no convictions at all, and no moral compass.

Impartiality, in the sense of refusing to subscribe to the programmatic thinking of a political movement, is surely a good thing for a professional journalist. But it’s a mystery why some reporters emphasize it in the face of misconduct by specific political actors. This attitude cheapens our nation’s political dialogue and enables maneuvers like voter suppression by the G.O.P.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

July 2016

The Ideology of Isolation

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

American Idle

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

My Holy Land Vacation

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The City That Bleeds

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

El Bloqueo

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Vladivostok Station

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
My Holy Land Vacation·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"I wanted to more fully understand why conservative politics had become synonymous with no-questions-asked support of Israel."
Illustration (detail) by Matthew Richardson
Post
Inside the July Issue·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Tom Bissell on touring Israel with Christian Zionists, Joy Gordon on the Cuban embargo, Lawrence Jackson on Freddie Gray and the makings of an American uprising, a story by Paul Yoon, and more

Freddie Gray’s relatives arrived for the trial in the afternoon, after the prep-school kids had left. By their dress, they seemed to have just gotten off work in the medical and clerical fields. The family did not appear at ease in the courtroom. They winced and dropped their heads as William Porter and his fellow officer Zachary Novak testified to opening the doors of their police van last April and finding Freddie paralyzed, unresponsive, with mucus pooling at his mouth and nose. Four women and one man mournfully listened as the officers described needing to get gloves before they could touch him.

The first of six Baltimore police officers to be brought before the court for their treatment of Freddie Gray, a black twenty-five-year-old whose death in their custody was the immediate cause of the city’s uprising last spring, William Porter is young, black, and on trial. Here in this courtroom, in this city, in this nation, race and the future seem so intertwined as to be the same thing.

Artwork: Camels, Jerusalem (detail) copyright Martin Parr/Magnum Photos
Post
Europe’s Hamilton Moment·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"We all know in France that as soon as a politician starts saying that some problem will be solved at the European level, that means no one is going to do anything."
Photograph (detail) by Stefan Boness
[Report]
How to Make Your Own AR-15·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Even if federal gun-control advocates got everything they wanted, they couldn’t prevent America’s most popular rifle from being made, sold, and used. Understanding why this is true requires an examination of how the firearm is made.
Illustration by Jeremy Traum
Article
The City That Bleeds·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Here in this courtroom, in this city, in this nation, race and the future seem so intertwined as to be the same thing."
Photograph (detail) © Wil Sands/Fractures Collective

Number of Turkish college students detained in the last year for requesting Kurdish-language classes:

1,146

Turkey was funding a search for Suleiman the Magnificent’s heart.

A former prison in Philadelphia that has served as a horror-movie set was being prepared as a detention center for protesters arrested at the upcoming Democratic National Convention, and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump fired his campaign manager.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today