Rove’s Fox News Meltdown

Karl Rove’s incredulous response when Fox News called Ohio for the president on Tuesday night has attracted considerable scrutiny. Most pundits saw it as a garden variety case of wishful thinking. If someone wants something to be true strongly enough, he can believe it even in the face of overwhelming objective evidence to the contrary. But this explanation leaves some troubling questions unanswered.

Rove is a numbers man. He’s been a close student of political polling for three presidential election cycles, and as even his most vehement detractors concede, he is extremely intelligent and a consummate pragmatist. Ohio was by far the most heavily polled swing state during this election cycle. From the beginning of the campaign, the overwhelming majority of polls showed the president ahead. In the closing days his margins appeared to be increasing, with an average lead of roughly three percentage points. If the polls were correct, they foretold an almost certain Obama win in Ohio. Rove was surely following them closely.

He was also surely aware of well-documented biases that caused many polls to understate the President’s support. Some, for example, call only landlines, missing many Democratic leaning younger voters who have only cellphones. Most polls query respondents only in English, a practice that understates the likely participation of Hispanic voters. Many employ automated robocalls with limited repeat calls to non-respondents, which tilts samples toward Republican older voters, who are more likely to pick up their phones.

And then there was the vaunted Obama ground game. Long before the election, even Republican strategists acknowledged its significant advantages over its counterpart in the Romney campaign.

In an earlier post, Mark speculated hopefully that these factors might boost the President’s national popular vote margin by several percentage points relative to election-eve polls. Of course, many conservative pundits insisted that published polls were biased in the opposite direction, arguing that Romney supporters were more enthusiastic. But none offered persuasive objective evidence for that claim.

Rove might have hoped that Republicans would turn out in unexpectedly large numbers in Ohio, but it strains credulity to insist that he felt sure that Romney would prevail in an honest count of the votes there. Having witnessed Rove’s Fox meltdown live, and after having reviewed clips of it several times since, I find it hard to believe that Rove’s astonishment at the Fox announcement was feigned.

So if Rove REALLY thought Ohio was in the bag, we seem forced to choose between an implausible claim and a disturbing one: Either he is much less competent than anyone has reason to believe; or else he knew of some secret advantage that would tip the vote count in Romney’s favor by several points. Ohio, in any event, was the only swing state in which the president’s final margin—1.9 percent—was smaller than forecast by the final round of polls.

Voter Suppression and DWB

I got a ticket on Wednesday for changing lanes without signalling. (Yes, Chicago’s coffers are in need of a refill.) Because I’m no longer a motor club member, I no longer have a bond card, the thing you can give the cop instead of your license. So she took my license, and now I’m driving on the ticket.

But here’s the thing: I want to vote early, and to do so in Chicago I’m required to show a government-issued photo i.d.–like, oh, say, my driver’s license, which I won’t have back until I complete traffic safety school and mail them $167. And even if I do that today, there’s very little chance I will receive my license back in the mail before November 6, much less in time to vote early.

Now, as it happens I have a passport, so I’ll be able to get around this difficulty. But when I realized the impact my ticket could have on my ability to vote, it occurred to me that this is another way in which voter i.d. laws help suppress voting by minority-group members, the young and the elderly.

We’re all familiar with the traffic offense of DWB: Driving While Black or Driving While Brown. Nonwhite motorists are more likely to be stopped for moving violations than whites, and more likely to be ticketed when they’re stopped. The ones who, like me, don’t have bond cards–whether because they can’t afford motor club membership or they just never thought of it–will have to surrender their licenses; and then, unless they happen to have passports (also less likely, statistically, than among white people) they won’t be able to vote in states requiring voter i.d. So combine discriminatory policing with photo i.d. laws and you’ve got a perfect tool for keeping black and brown people from the polls.

The elderly, meanwhile, are more likely to be stopped for traffic violations because they’re actually driving badly; but once again, that shouldn’t deprive seniors of the franchise. And the same can be said for young drivers, who may be careless behind the wheel but are entitled to vote if they’re 18 or over.

So the next time someone tells you that voter i.d. laws are fine because “everyone has a driver’s license,” ask if s/he’s ever had to drive on a ticket. Then mention that this commonplace experience would mean the inability to vote, and see what s/he has to say.