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Jan 05 2012

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Disenfranchising Voters is Un-American

Buying elections on the one hand and keeping people away from the polls on the other isn’t what our democracy is supposed to be about.

By William A. Collins

William A. Collins

Love my voting,
Makes me grin;
But these new rules,
Won’t let me in.

You may not realize just what depths the Republican Party has been plumbing to regain the presidency next year.

By now it should be plain that its contingent in Congress has steadily voted to keep unemployment high and the Great Recession alive. The goal is to hang each of these millstones, recession and unemployment, around President Barack Obama’s neck until November. The health of our economy is of less interest to those folks.

Voting Rights Obstacles, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib.Likewise, allowing virtually unlimited campaign contributions from wealthy individuals and corporations is another part of the plan. Labor unions and workers cannot compete with that level of largesse. Such big money means that Obama must also snuggle up to Wall Street and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

But most egregious of all these schemes is the movement, in the states where Republicans hold sway, to deter prospective Democratic voters from even getting to the polls. Most states with tea party-inspired governors and legislatures have been working feverishly at this. The common theme is to require every voter to present a state-issued ID card.

The gimmick, of course, is to make these cards hard to come by. Generally they must be obtained at motor vehicle offices, frequently inaccessible on foot and notoriously frustrating. The targeted victims are the poor, the young, the old, and the black. The main GOP objection to these folks is that they suffer from a nearly uncontrollable urge to vote for Democrats.

New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice estimates that approximately 5 million eligible voters will be sufficiently deterred by this inconvenience so as not to get a card. That burden will fall most heavily on those without a car, without good physical mobility, or without available time off from work.

That, of course, is the whole idea. Since these poor generally don’t vote for Republican candidates, the goal is keep them out of the voting booth.

Some 25 percent of African-American voters don’t have a state ID, as opposed to just 11 percent of all voters, according to the Brennan Center. Given some of our recent tight presidential races, removing 5 million low-income voters from the pool could easily turn the election. Not to mention all those governors and legislators now rubbing their hands with glee over the benefit to themselves the next time out.

There are other wrinkles too. Louisiana has subverted the Motor Voter Law by simply not distributing enough registration forms to DMV offices, and by failing to designate social service bureaus as registration sites. Florida has new rules as well, designed to suppress absentee voting, mostly by the elderly. These regulations are so stringent that the League of Women Voters (LWV) will no longer participate.

Then in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker, who may face a recall election in 2012, signed a bill putting an end to same-day voter registration. Still other states are curtailing their early voting rules.

The public justification for this hard-driving crusade is the supposed scourge of “voter fraud.” The LWV used to wave that banner itself when big city political machines essentially set up polling places in graveyards. But today there’s very little detectable fraud. Even the hyped-up case against the citizens’ action group ACORN turned out to be phony. ACORN, which fell apart because of these trumped-up accusations, was ultimately exonerated.

So please be depressed. This is what American democracy has come to: buying elections on the one hand and keeping people away from the polls on the other.

OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative, and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut. otherwords.org

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