Expect to hear that claim in the run-up to the election. Similar claims were made before the 2000, 2004, and 2008 elections.
During the 2000 presidential election, activists claimed that dogs and hoses were used to keep black voters from the polls in Florida. Claims that thousands of black voters were disfranchised, harassed and intimidated ran rampant. As I mentioned yesterday, the U.S.Commission on Civil Rights conducted a six-month investigation of the charges and found absolutely no evidence of systematic disfranchisement of black voters. The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice also found no credible evidence that any Floridians were intentionally denied the right to vote.
These findings failed to dispel the myth of massive disfranchisement that caused Al Gore the election. Politicians and activists persisted in circulating outlandish stories of nefarious Republican schemes to steal votes, stories that became more numerous and absurd during the months preceding the November 2004 election. Speaking before predominantly black audiences, John Kerry repeatedly suggested that a million black votes were stolen in 2000. Rep. Bernice Johnson (D., Texas) asserted that George W. Bush lost the popular vote in Florida, despite the fact that every official count showed that Bush clearly won. Nonetheless, in July 2004, Johnson led a group of a dozen congressmen who requested that then U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan provide U.N. election observers to monitor the 2004 election to prevent a repeat of “the nightmare of the 2000 presidential election.”
As the November 2004 election drew near, the mythologists issued dire warnings of Election Day calamities. When polls gradually made it clear that Ohio would be 2004′s ground zero, thousands of election lawyers and observers swarmed to the state. The mythologists railed against inevitable black voter suppression and intimidation. The media braced for a repeat in Ohio of the narrow popular vote margin and recount circus that occurred in Florida 2000.
But then, to the mythologists’ chagrin, Bush defeated Kerry in Ohio by 119,000 votes. The army of lawyers and observers reported no major problems. The predicted calamities failed to materialize: no stolen votes; no harassment and intimidation; no widespread confusion.
Since the U.S.Commission on Civil Rights is specifically charged with investigating deprivations of voting rights, its staff had been instructed to monitor the election and report back to the commission at its meeting the week after the election. The commission dispatched monitors to battleground locations. The staff reported . . . absolutely nothing.
The mythologists were undaunted. When initial claims of disappearing votes, voter intimidation and rigged “Republican” election machines proved false, they tried to make the most of the less titillating claims that long lines, inadequate voting machines and partisan election officials disfranchised voters.Senator Barbara Boxer asserted that 5,000 to 10,000 black voters in Columbus had abandoned long voting lines out of sheer frustration. Rep. John Conyers (D., Mich.) admonished that we should be as worried about voter disfranchisement in our country as in Iraq and Afghanistan. And Rep. Maxine Waters said she was “ashamed to say” that Ohio’s top election official, then Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, is black.
If there was a conspiracy to disfranchise Ohio voters, black or white, its execution was profoundly inept. Ohio voter turnout increased from 4.9 million in 2000 to 5.5 million in 2004. Estimated black voter turnout alone rose by 25 percent. The claims of disfranchisement proved false.
But the myth of a stolen election persisted. In 2008, activists again warned that Republicans would attempt to steal the election. But unlike the aftermaths to the 2000 and 2004 elections, after Barack Obama won on election night the claims of a stolen election evaporated. No conspiracy theories circulated. No media obsession with voter disfranchisement.
Now we’re only a year and a half from another presidential election. The claims of impending disfranchisement are sure to multiply.