A rally against voter supression at Centennial Park in Tampa Bay, Florida, on August 28, 2012. Photo by George Zornick
On the first full day of the Republican National Convention in Tampa Bay, Republicans were not running from their record of voter suppression. At a fundraiser Tuesday afternoon not far from the Tampa Bay Times Forum, GOP superstars lined up to pay their respects to one of the key architects of recent voter-suppression tactics—Cleta Mitchell, a Tampa Bay–based attorney who is head of the Republican National Lawyers Association.
Earlier this year, before the House Judiciary Committee, Mitchell proudly testified that the “burdens” of voter identification laws—that is, some people not being able to vote—were justifiable to prevent non-existent fraud. “Because the purpose of a voter identification, a photo identification, is to ensure and protect the integrity of the election, whatever burden may exist is offset by the need to protect the integrity of the elections,” she testified. And Mitchell is not a newcomer to the voter-suppression game—back in 2008, she was running “training sessions” for GOP poll-watchers so they could fight back against a supposed “long pattern of abuses in registration by groups such as ACORN and their Democratic allies.”
The guest list to her party included six Republican senators, including powerhouses Jim DeMint and Marco Rubio, as well as former presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who would address the convention hours later. (I staked out the entrance to the party and didn’t see the A-listers enter, though they appeared to be coming in through a secure parking garage. I did, however, spot conservative columnist George Will and Grover Norquist coming in).
Later that night, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley got one of the biggest applause lines of the convention so far when she boasted about her voter-suppression achievements back home. “We said in South Carolina that if you have to show a picture ID to buy Sudafed and you have to show a picture ID to set foot on an airplane, then you should have to show a picture ID to protect one of the most valuable, most central, most sacred rights we are blessed with in America—the right to vote,” she said.
But Haley’s timing was awful—the ground beneath voter-suppression efforts is falling away, in her state and elsewhere. On the same day Haley spoke, a trial was underway in South Carolina in which the state is suing Obama’s Department of Justice for blocking the voter identification law. And it isn’t going so well for the state. (Ari Berman has excellent coverage here).