*Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War*
Perhaps the most over-quoted figure in American politics is not Huey Long, but the ancient Chinese philosopher/general Sun Tzu. Whether he ever existed or not, it’s too tempting to cite one of his bite-sized observations, as they all seem to fit the current electoral scene. I’d argue that the quote above, about winning before going to war, fits the move by the GOP in Florida and other states to purge the rolls of ineligible voters.
Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed a law this year passed by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature that’s aimed at curtailing voter fraud. It eliminates Sunday voting, imposes new record-keeping requirements on voter registration organizations, and a 48-hour deadline to turn forms into the state.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice demanded Florida stop the voter-roll purge, saying it violated the federal Voting Rights Act and the National Voter Registration Act, and that it was reliant on faulty Department of Motor Vehicle records to determine who is eligible to vote.
The Scott administration responded with a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder saying it would continue the purge, and is now demanding federal records as a part of that push.
If this seems like an arcane struggle over a set of obscure laws, that’s deceptive. It’s actually a critical piece of Republican strategy to, in the words of Sun Tzu, “win first, and then go to war.” Recalling the 2000 cliffhanger when many minority voters argued they were prevented from casting ballots, and President Obama’s 2008 victory in this perennially critical battleground state, by a margin of less than 3 percent, the GOP is looking to gain every advantage it can. Democrats are naturally pushing back.
Florida’s Republican Sen. Marco Rubio chimed in Wednesday at a breakfast meeting with reporters in Washington. He told us that Scott is not trying “to go after any particular profile of voter,” and insisted the goal of the entire effort is “to protect the integrity of the voting process.” Asked how many legal voters he was willing to tolerate being “kicked off” the voting rolls accidentally, in the course of cleaning up the lists, he said that’s not a valid choice – but that no illegal voters should be allowed to cast ballots.
When one reporter pointed out there is very little evidence of voter fraud that would warrant such a sweeping set of changes, Rubio – who is considered a top prospect to be Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate – grew animated. “How could anyone argue against a state identifying people who are not rightfully on the voter rolls and removing them from the voter rolls? They shouldn’t be voting,” he said.
Progressive groups like the Brennan Center for Justice, based at New York University, have been pleading for what they say is a more rational approach: “Policy makers should make voter registration more accurate and more accessible by modernizing the system, not by repeating the kind of discredited and problematic purge programs that have taken place in the past.”
Meanwhile, conservative activists are targeting the Justice Department lawyer working on the Florida voter-roll case, charging she worked on voter issues with the NAACP.
Win the war before you go to battle: challenge voters who may not be eligible to vote. So far, Florida officials have found around 100 people who are suspect. Consider that in 2008, more than 8.4 million voters turned out. And in 2000, just a couple of hundred ballots made the difference when the Supreme Court made the ultimate call.
It’s a clichÃ© but true: in a close election, as this one is expected to be, every single vote counts.