How voter suppression backfired on the GOP

Cheryl Ann Moore (53) who spent half her vacation day in frustration at the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation in downtown Philadelphia finally gets her voter ID. (Photo by Lucian Perkins/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Cheryl Ann Moore (53) who spent half her vacation day in frustration at the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation in downtown Philadelphia finally gets her voter ID. (Photo by Lucian Perkins/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

In Ohio, where Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted seemed to work feverishly to halt or sharply reduce early voting, which is primarily utilized by Democrats, and African-Americans in particular, and where Husted actually altered the provisional ballot affirmation form in a way that put the burden of noting the form of ID used on the voter, rather than the poll worker as Ohio law requires, African-Americans responded with record early voting turnout.

At the polls, individual voters said they worried that they had been part of the “voter purge” that Husted implemented, which knocked more than 30,000 off the rolls, many incorrectly. And State Sen. Nina Turner often likened Husted’s many attempts to curtail early voting to Jim Crow restrictions on black voters in decades past.

It seems that many black voters across the country agreed.

“Republicans thought that they could suppress the vote, but these efforts actually motivated people to get registered and cast a ballot,” Ohio State Sen. Nina Turner said. “It’s no surprise that the communities targeted by these policies came out to the polls in a big way—they saw this not just as an affront to their rights, but as a call to action.”

“From the tours we did in 22 states, it became clear to us that many blacks that were apathetic and indifferent became outraged and energized when they realized that [Republicans] were changing the rules in the middle of the game, in terms of voter ID laws, ending ‘souls to the polls,’” said Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, who also hosts MSNBC’s Politics Nation. “So what was just another election, even though it dealt with the re-election of the first black president, took on a new dimension when they realized that they were implementing the disenfranchisement of black voters.”

Sharpton and NAN held “souls to the polls” rallies across Florida the weekend before Election Day, in a push dubbed “Operation Lemonade” because pastors and voters sought to turn the “lemons” Republicans created by cutting Florida’s early voting period down to six days, into “lemonade” by getting out the vote.

“I’m very happy that South Florida voters staved off the voter suppression from Gov Rick Scott and the Republican led House and Senate,” said Bishop Victor T. Curry, pastor of Miami’s New Birth Baptist church, and that city’s NAN chapter president, who led the “Operation Lemonade” effort in Miami-Dade county. “Democracy WON!”

“We did a rally in Eatonville,” Sharpton said. “And I had a guy come up to me and call voter ID a poll tax. He said to me, ‘I’m 85 years old, I don’t drive so I don’t have an ID and don’t need one. It costs me money to get one, and its 27 miles from my house so I have to get someone to drive me there.’ When I started putting people like this on the air (on his daily talk radio show) and bringing them up on stage at rallies, we saw the energy increase immediately as a result.”

The same could be said of Ohio, and in both states, the substantial early vote among African-Americans appears to have been decisive for Obama.

“If they had left it alone, I think they would not have seen the long lines at the polls,” Sharpton said. “I think what they did gave us the spark that we needed in this election.”

Follow Joy Reid on Twitter at @thereidreport.