Backlash and Balloting

Voter suppression is indeed odious, but it is nothing new. But there are places – like Maine and Wisconsin — where you wouldn’t expect it to be seen and where its existence could cause a major backlash.

As the late, great political scientist Daniel Elazar argued, different U.S. states have different political cultures and thus people in those states tend to have distinctive views about politics, government, and citizen participation.

In “moralistic political cultures,” people want government to do things to improve people’s lives and tend to think that government can help. They have high standards for politicians and are very troubled by even the hint of corruption. And they have very strong citizen participation, with the top rates of turnout, something that’s helped by voting rules that make it easier to vote.

As this map shows, Maine and Wisconsin, shown in red, both have moralistic political cultures. [Source]
In Wisconsin, Americans for Prosperity, a Tea Party group funded by the Koch Brothers, is sending absentee ballots to Democrats in at least two Wisconsin state Senate recall districts with instructions to return the paperwork after the election date.” The flyers contain the words “Official Absentee Ballot Request.” Not only that, but “The mailing address for the applications is listed as “Absentee Ballot Application Processing Center, P.O. Box 1327, Madison WI 53701-1327.” A Google search [by Talking Points Memo] shows that this address is not any sort of government office, but has been used by the conservative group Wisconsin Family Action.”

And in Maine, College Republicans at the University of Maine-Farmington reserved buses on election day. But they did not employ them like previous Democratic student groups, which used them to take all comers to the polls. As the chair of the state Republican party explained:

“Guess what happened in 2010?” Webster said. “The buses didn’t run on Election Day because we had the College Republicans reserve them early and on Election Day we took them over and parked them in the Walmart parking lot.

 

We parked them for the day in the parking lot and we continued to drive people to the polls in our private-citizen cars and vans, but we didn’t use taxpayer resources,” Webster said. “We just reserved them early enough, before they got to them.”

If the voters in these states still exemplify moralistic political cultures, these activities will be seen quite negatively. And rather than helping achieve the political goals pursued, these tactics will cause voter backlash and hurt them.

 

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Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.