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Robocalls to Suppress Black Turnout in Maryland Stoke the Voter Disenfranchisement Flame

Last week, Republican operatives in Maryland were charged with voter disenfranchisement related to robocalls made during the 2010 gubernatorial election. From CBS in Baltimore:

On Thursday, a grand jury indicted Ehrlich campaign manager Paul Schurick and consultant Julian Henson. They are charged with violating election laws with robocalls that told voters to “relax” because Gov. Martin O’Malley had won.

The robocalls were not news, though the indictment was. The foul election-night play had been reported immediately following the election, with GOP candidate Robert Ehrlich’s operative taking the fall:

Julius Henson, a political operative who worked for former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), took responsibility Friday for an anonymous election-night robocall in the state that suggested Democratic voters “relax” and stay home even though polls still were open.

Henson told reporters in Baltimore that Ehrlich, who lost Tuesday to Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), probably did not know about the call, which went to more than 50,000 voters. A spokesman for Ehrlich declined to comment.

But the now official indictment comes at a time when the Right faces outcry about voter disenfranchisement, mostly in the form of opposition to Voter ID bills which have already become law or are moving through state legislatures rapidly. The robocall indictment is being framed as fodder for Democrats eager to bolster the allegation that the Far Right is interested in limited minority turnout. From the Baltimore Sun:

The Ehrlich campaign’s alleged effort to keep blacks from voting last November could have the opposite effect for years to come, according to political observers who said indictments over the automated phone calls would become election-season fodder for Democrats.

Tantalizing details suggesting an organized strategy of black voter suppression emerged Thursday when Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich’s campaign manager and political consultant were charged with violating election laws.

The details filled out a narrative that the Democratic Party went to great pains in November to promote: Maryland Republicans are dirty tricksters. At a news conference then, top officials, including Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, rehashed a series of election episodes such as busloads of homeless Philadelphians being recruited to hand out misleading campaign fliers in 2006.

The charges carry potential prison sentences of five years, according to the Washington Post.

In an unrelated Washington Post piece by esteemed journalist E.J. Dionne, Jr., the claim of 2012 election tampering as it relates to minorities is made quite clearly:

The laws are being passed in the name of preventing “voter fraud.” But study after study has shown that fraud by voters is not a major problem — and is less of a problem than how hard many states make it for people to vote in the first place. Some of the new laws, notably those limiting the number of days for early voting, have little plausible connection to battling fraud.

These statutes are not neutral. Their greatest impact will be to reduce turnout among African Americans, Latinos and the young. It is no accident that these groups were key to Barack Obama’s victory in 2008 — or that the laws in question are being enacted in states where Republicans control state governments.

Again, think of what this would look like to a dispassionate observer. A party wins an election, as the GOP did in 2010. Then it changes the election laws in ways that benefit itself. In a democracy, the electorate is supposed to pick the politicians. With these laws, politicians are shaping their electorates.

For more on Voter ID read:

-With Voter Suppression, the Right Wing Rolls Out a Dubious, Nationwide Attack on Americans
-North Carolina Governor Expected to Veto Voter Suppression This Week
-NH House Passes Voter Suppression Bill as Two GOP Leaders Protest Anti-Worker Measures


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