Denying the right to vote

Get out the vote! That’s the cry, right? Boost your totals, get your people to the polls. Drive them there, carry them there. Voting is the cornerstone of democracy. We applaud when large numbers turn out in unlikely countries, braving violence to cast a ballot, a lone act of independence under oppressive regimes.

Locally we’ve seen tie elections and ones that have been won by slivers of population among a polarized electorate. Every vote counts. Unless you won’t let them count.

There is an insidious movement in many states today, that, according to the Brennan Center for Justice in New York City, may disenfranchise as many as five million voters in the 2012 elections. The Center has analyzed 19 laws and two executive actions that have been enacted in 14 different states, providing 171 electoral votes in the presidential election of 2012, (63 percent of the needed total to capture the presidency) that it says will make it significantly more difficult for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots.


The new laws come, Huffington Post points out, from mostly Republican state legislatures and are signed by Republican governors, but Rhode Island and West Virginia’s Democratic controlled legislatures have also passed them and they’ve been signed by Rhode Island’s independent governor and West Virginia’s acting governor who is a Democrat.

What do they say, these laws?

According to the Brennan Center, laws requiring voters to show photo ID to vote were signed into law in Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin. But 11% of American citizens, more than 21 million in all, don’t possess a government-issued photo ID.

Alabama, Kansas and Tennessee passed proof of citizenship laws. Carry your birth certificate with you? Passport?

The report says that “Maine passes a law eliminated Election Day registration, and Ohio ended its weeklong period of same-day voter registration. Florida, Illinois, and Texas passed laws restricting voter registration drives, and Florida and Wisconsin passed laws making it more difficult for people who move to stay registered to vote….Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia succeeded in enacting bills reducing early voting.”

The Florida law says that third party groups conducting voter registration drives have to turn in all forms within 48 hours of completion, and must note the date and time of completion on the forms, along with a tracking code for the organization. The lawyers are rubbing their hands together…

Rick Perry’s Texas law says that anyone wishing to register voters has to have training.

A law in Ohio blocks county election officials from mailing absentee ballot applications to all voters and from prepaying postage on absentee ballots.

The report’s co-author Wendy Weiser says, “There is a battle going on for the right to vote…We are seeing push back in a variety of states and voter-led efforts in a variety of states. We do anticipate that even though there might be changes, this will have a significantly negative impact on voters in 2012.”

Political parties are always jockeying for position, seeking to gerrymander districts, barraging attack ads while trying to maintain an image. It’s all part of the game. But denying citizens the right to vote is a step too far, though its all too common in American history. We should be more concerned with getting citizens to the polls, making it easier for them to participate, regardless of the outcome. That’s the only way democracy can ever work. ++


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