The November Surprise

So the GOP never got around to springing the long-feared “October Surprise”. Does that mean we’re going to actually get through this election without any monkey business?

Apparently not. It’s starting to look more and more like they have a “November Surprise” planned: a systematic and well-planned effort to drive people — especially minorities and other Democratic constituencies — away from the polls on Election Day.

The rumblings on this started a few days ago. I noticed it when I saw George Will fulminating in the Washington Post op-ed page about how laws like the National Voter Registration Act (better known as “Motor Voter”, this is the law that lets you register to vote at the DMV when you renew your driver’s license, which makes registration much less of a chore than it used to be) have opened the doors to a wave of fraudulent registrations.

My reaction to Will’s bluster was bewilderment; this was the first I’d ever heard of any such problem. But Democratic blogger and political operative NewDonkey saw it for what it really was:

What’s happening here is an effort to soften up the news media and the public for a truly audacious, and perhaps even desperate, gambit by the Republican Party that appears to be planned for election day: wholesale challenges to minority voters in battleground states in an effort to either (1) intimidate or demoralize likely Democratic voters, or (2) lay the groundwork for one of those Bush-v.-Gore-enabled retroactive legal actions aimed at reversing an adverse result. More likely, the aim is (3) both.

NewDonkey backed up that assertion with links to stories from the New York Times (“Big G.O.P. Bid to Challenge Voters at Polls in Key State“, Oct. 23) and the Washington Post (“Some Fear Ohio Will Be Florida of 2004“, Oct. 26) that described Republican efforts that certainly seemed to indicate that something was up.

Now it would appear that the BBC has turned up the smoking gun:

A secret document obtained from inside Bush campaign headquarters in Florida suggests a plan – possibly in violation of US law – to disrupt voting in the state’s African-American voting districts, a BBC Newsnight investigation reveals.
Two e-mails, prepared for the executive director of the Bush campaign in Florida and the campaign’s national research director in Washington DC, contain a 15-page so-called “caging list”.
It lists 1,886 names and addresses of voters in predominantly black and traditionally Democrat areas of Jacksonville, Florida.
An elections supervisor in Tallahassee, when shown the list, told Newsnight: “The only possible reason why they would keep such a thing is to challenge voters on election day.”

So there is at least one city in the U.S. where the local Republican Party has a list of specific people they are planning to try and keep from voting when they show up at the polls. Apparently that’s legal in Florida.

How many other states is that legal in?

And if that approach isn’t legal, apparently they’ll just find another. Just this afternoon a court in Ohio threw out a Republican effort to have 35,000 new voter registrations from that state discarded. So these people will be able to vote, right? Maybe not — the state GOP says they’re planning on placing 3,400 Republicans as poll monitors across the state, and these monitors may challenge the eligibility of individual voters. So the real impact of the court’s decision may have just been to guarantee that these 35,000 people are going to be harassed by a partisan political flack when they try to cast their ballot. Who’s to say that the local Republican offices in Ohio don’t have their own enemies lists, like the one from Florida, all drawn up and ready to go?

So keep your eyes on the battleground states — we may be about to witness one of the most audacious and naked power plays in American political history.