By Jack Shafer
The opinions expressed are his own.
In case you haven’t heard, the 2012 presidential election is already over and the Republicans stole it. Both Rolling Stone and Mother Jones report this week that those wascally Wepublicans have already walked away with the ballot boxes.
The Rolling Stone piece (Sept. 15, 2011) finds evidence of an “unprecedented, centrally coordinated campaign to suppress the Democratic vote that elected Barack Obama in 2008.” Comparing the Republican efforts to suppress the vote to the Jim Crow-era poll taxes and literacy tests erected by Dixiecrats, writer Ari Berman claims that a “dozen states have approved new obstacles to voting.” By “obstacles” Berman means new laws requiring proof of citizenship in Kansas and Alabama; the repeal of Election Day voter registration in Maine; shortened early voting periods in Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, and West Virginia; and the presentation of government-issued ID before casting ballots in Alabama, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin, as well as other new voting measures.
As clampdowns go, these measures seem too anemic to support the Rolling Stone‘s hysterical headline, “The GOP War on Voting,” but it is no journalistic crime to over-promise and under-deliver on a piece, especially a political piece.
Mother Jones’s less wiggy article, by Nick Baumann, explains how Pennsylvania’s Republican state legislators are “pushing a scheme” to change the way the state’s Electoral College votes are cast from winner-take-all to winner by congressional district (two votes would go to the state-wide contest winner). The horror of the plan, Baumann writes, is that it’s legal. It’s also constitutional—Nebraska and Maine cast their votes this way, he writes, and it could cost President Barack Obama a second term in a close election.
Whatever might be said about these charges, they are certainly not “unprecedented.” Fears of a stolen election are as old as American politics and as contemporary as the last big contest. In 2008′s third presidential campaign debate, John McCain declared that ACORN was “now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.” In October 2008, Rolling Stone published a feature whose thesis was similar to the current piece, titled “Block the Vote: Will the GOP’s campaign to deter new voters and discard Democratic ballots determine the next president?” By the time the froth on both sides dried, nobody uncovered evidence of either an ACORN or Republican coup d’etat.