Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Republican war on voting

We've long seen the Republican war on science (which Rick Perry is still waging vociferously). But Republicans are also waging an all-out war on voting.

That's the subject of this article at Rolling Stone:
As the nation gears up for the 2012 presidential election, Republican officials have launched an unprecedented, centrally coordinated campaign to suppress the elements of the Democratic vote that elected Barack Obama in 2008. Just as Dixiecrats once used poll taxes and literacy tests to bar black Southerners from voting, a new crop of GOP governors and state legislators has passed a series of seemingly disconnected measures that could prevent millions of students, minorities, immigrants, ex-convicts and the elderly from casting ballots. "What has happened this year is the most significant setback to voting rights in this country in a century," says Judith Browne-Dianis, who monitors barriers to voting as co-director of the Advancement Project, a civil rights organization based in Washington, D.C.

Republicans have long tried to drive Democratic voters away from the polls. "I don't want everybody to vote," the influential conservative activist Paul Weyrich told a gathering of evangelical leaders in 1980. "As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down." But since the 2010 election, thanks to a conservative advocacy group founded by Weyrich, the GOP's effort to disrupt voting rights has been more widespread and effective than ever. In a systematic campaign orchestrated by the American Legislative Exchange Council – and funded in part by David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers who bankrolled the Tea Party – 38 states introduced legislation this year designed to impede voters at every step of the electoral process.

Of course, these aren't "real" Americans, right? Heck, some of them aren't even white! And young people might be old enough to fight and die for their country, but surely not to vote. Besides, if we let the poor vote, well, they might vote to their own benefit, rather than to the benefit of America's billionaires. And we all know how terrible that would be!

So what are Republicans actually doing?
In Texas, under "emergency" legislation passed by the GOP-dominated legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Perry, a concealed-weapon permit is considered an acceptable ID but a student ID is not. Republicans in Wisconsin, meanwhile, mandated that students can only vote if their IDs include a current address, birth date, signature and two-year expiration date – requirements that no college or university ID in the state currently meets. As a result, 242,000 students in Wisconsin may lack the documentation required to vote next year. ...

The barriers erected in Texas and Wisconsin go beyond what the Supreme Court upheld in Indiana, where 99 percent of state voters possess the requisite IDs and can turn to full-time DMVs in every county to obtain the proper documentation. By contrast, roughly half of all black and Hispanic residents in Wisconsin do not have a driver's license, and the state staffs barely half as many DMVs as Indiana – a quarter of which are open less than one day a month. To make matters worse, Gov. Scott Walker tried to shut down 16 more DMVs – many of them located in Democratic-leaning areas. In one case, Walker planned to close a DMV in Fort Atkinson, a liberal stronghold, while opening a new office 30 minutes away in the conservative district of Watertown. ...

One of the most restrictive laws requiring voter IDs was passed in South Carolina. To obtain the free state ID now required to vote, the 178,000 South Carolinians who currently lack one must pay for a passport or a birth certificate. "It's the stepsister of the poll tax," says Browne-Dianis of the Advancement Project. Under the new law, many elderly black residents – who were born at home in the segregated South and never had a birth certificate – must now go to family court to prove their identity. Given that obtaining fake birth certificates is one of the country's biggest sources of fraud, the new law may actually prompt some voters to illegally procure a birth certificate in order to legally vote – all in the name of combating voter fraud.

For those voters who manage to get a legitimate birth certificate, obtaining a voter ID from the DMV is likely to be hellishly time-consuming. A reporter for the Tri-State Defender in Memphis, Tennessee – another state now mandating voter IDs – recently waited for four hours on a sweltering July day just to see a DMV clerk. The paper found that the longest lines occur in urban precincts, a clear violation of the Voting Rights Act, which bars states from erecting hurdles to voting in minority jurisdictions.

There's more in the full article. It's pretty clear exactly what Republicans are doing. Well, they took the presidency in 2000 despite the fact that George W. Bush lost the popular vote (and only became president, on a 5 to 4 decision, because the Supreme Court has been packed with Republicans). I suppose that's bound to give anyone ideas.

But how do they explain it? Some do admit to the truth, but mostly, Republicans pretend to be combating voter fraud. Well, we can all get behind that, right?
To hear Republicans tell it, they are waging a virtuous campaign to crack down on rampant voter fraud – a curious position for a party that managed to seize control of the White House in 2000 despite having lost the popular vote. After taking power, the Bush administration declared war on voter fraud, making it a "top priority" for federal prosecutors. In 2006, the Justice Department fired two U.S. attorneys who refused to pursue trumped-up cases of voter fraud in New Mexico and Washington, and Karl Rove called illegal voting "an enormous and growing problem." In parts of America, he told the Republican National Lawyers Association, "we are beginning to look like we have elections like those run in countries where the guys in charge are colonels in mirrored sunglasses." According to the GOP, community organizers like ACORN were actively recruiting armies of fake voters to misrepresent themselves at the polls and cast illegal ballots for the Democrats.

Even at the time, there was no evidence to back up such outlandish claims. A major probe by the Justice Department between 2002 and 2007 failed to prosecute a single person for going to the polls and impersonating an eligible voter, which the anti-fraud laws are supposedly designed to stop. Out of the 300 million votes cast in that period, federal prosecutors convicted only 86 people for voter fraud – and many of the cases involved immigrants and former felons who were simply unaware of their ineligibility. A much-hyped investigation in Wisconsin, meanwhile, led to the prosecution of only .0007 percent of the local electorate for alleged voter fraud. "Our democracy is under siege from an enemy so small it could be hiding anywhere," joked Stephen Colbert. A 2007 report by the Brennan Center for Justice, a leading advocate for voting rights at the New York University School of Law, quantified the problem in stark terms. "It is more likely that an individual will be struck by lightning," the report calculated, "than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls." ...

This year, [Kansas Secretary of State Kris] Kobach successfully fought for a law requiring every Kansan to show proof of citizenship in order to vote – even though the state prosecuted only one case of voter fraud in the past five years. The new restriction fused anti-immigrant hysteria with voter-fraud paranoia. "In Kansas, the illegal registration of alien voters has become pervasive," Kobach claimed, offering no substantiating evidence.

Kobach also asserted that dead people were casting ballots, singling out a deceased Kansan named Alfred K. Brewer as one such zombie voter. There was only one problem: Brewer was still very much alive. The Wichita Eagle found him working in his front yard. "I don't think this is heaven," Brewer told the paper. "Not when I'm raking leaves."

Kobach might be the gop's most outspoken crusader working to prevent citizens from voting, but he's far from the only one. "Voting rights are under attack in America," Rep. John Lewis, who was brutally beaten in Alabama while marching during the civil rights movement in the 1960s, observed during an impassioned speech on the House floor in July. "There's a deliberate and systematic attempt to prevent millions of elderly voters, young voters, students, minority and low-income voters from exercising their constitutional right to engage in the democratic process."

This doesn't affect most of us, I suppose. We're not elderly people who no longer drive and have trouble getting around. We're not students, who haven't developed the habit of voting in the first place (and whose concerns are therefore ignored by most politicians). And we're not urban low-income voters who use a bus or subway to get around and who aren't overly served with government offices, anyway - especially with Republicans in power.

So you might think, "What's the problem?" Heck, in many areas you can even get a free ID. Of course, you have to go to the DMV - and maybe not in a Republican district, where the offices are open long hours and well-staffed, while those in Democratic districts face long lines, if they're open at all. Besides, in Wisconsin, at least, they try very hard to keep that free option a secret. (And note that, as stated above, a quarter of their DMV offices are open only one day a month. Convenient, huh?)

The thing is, Republicans are deliberately targeting demographic groups which lean Democratic. They're deliberately trying to suppress the vote. Think about that. In many areas, they're even trying to make it harder for groups like the League of Women Voters to register American citizens.
Since January, six states have introduced legislation to impose new restrictions on voter registration drives run by groups like Rock the Vote and the League of Women Voters. In May, the GOP-controlled legislature in Florida passed a law requiring anyone who signs up new voters to hand in registration forms to the state board of elections within 48 hours of collecting them, and to comply with a barrage of onerous, bureaucratic requirements. Those found to have submitted late forms would face a $1,000 fine, as well as possible felony prosecution.

As a result, the law threatens to turn civic-minded volunteers into inadvertent criminals. Denouncing the legislation as "good old-fashioned voter suppression," the League of Women Voters announced that it was ending its registration efforts in Florida, where it has been signing up new voters for the past 70 years.

Whatever your political leanings, is this the kind of democracy you want? Is this the kind of nation you want, one which discourages its citizens from participating in the democratic process?

Already, we're seeing Republicans deliberately sabotaging America's faith in our own institutions - for their own political advantage. They cheer when the approval rating of Congress drops - even when they control the House of Representatives themselves - because as the party that's "anti-government," it's to their advantage.

Heck, maybe that's why the Bush administration was so incompetent, just because Republicans want us all to think, as Ronald Reagan stated, that "government is the problem." I don't know. With Republicans, incompetence hardly needs to be feigned, I'd think. (Even with Democrats, often enough.)

But is this really the kind of America we want, one where our citizens have no faith in American institutions? One where we dissuade our citizens from doing their civic duties? One where, instead of encouraging voting, we actively discourage it?

That's the kind of America Republicans want, one where billionaires like the Koch brothers run everything and the rest of us just wait patiently for whatever might "trickle down" (hoping it's not a golden shower). But it's definitely not the kind of America I want. How about you?

1 comment:

Chimeradave said...

I was definitely blown away by parts of this article. Thanks for sharing it.