The press is playing up both sides’ legal maneuvering that may delay until December before we know who wins this election. But the bottom line is this: Democrats are giving people the benefit of the doubt in registering people, while the GOP is trying to block poor people and blacks from voting. Republicans will argue that people need to obey the election laws. While that’s true of course, I’d rather be on the side trying to get greater participation, not stifling it. The GOP is adopting tactics reminiscent of decades of black disenfranchisement in the South. It’s not new to the election.

In 1981, the Republican National Committee sent letters to predominantly black neighborhoods in New Jersey, and when 45,000 letters were returned as undeliverable, the committee compiled a challenge list to remove those voters from the rolls. The RNC sent off-duty law enforcement officials to the polls and hung posters in heavily black neighborhoods warning that violating election laws is a crime.

In 1986, the RNC tried to have 31,000 voters, most of them black, removed from the rolls in Louisiana when a party mailer was returned. The consent decrees that resulted prohibited the party from engaging in anti-fraud initiatives that target minorities or conduct mail campaigns to “compile voter challenge lists.”

Undeliverable mail is the basis for this year’s challenges in Ohio. Republicans also sent mail to about 130,000 voters in Philadelphia, another heavily black and Democratic stronghold.

The civil rights groups and labor unions, which are backed by the Democratic Party, also charged that GOP plans to put challengers in thousands of precincts nationwide on Election Day are race-based. In several Florida counties, for instance, GOP challengers will disproportionately be based in black precincts.

Republicans said their plans involve putting challengers in precincts won handily by either Bush or Gore and has nothing to do with race.