I am sure many people did not realize Tuesday, Nov 8th was a polling day. It was one of those voting days that passed with little fanfare in sharp contrast to the circus we will see next year. Knowing little about the candidates and no pressing issue for me on the ballot, I almost decided to skip it all together. I changed my mind and followed my wife into the polling site. I decided to register support for an alternative to the Republicans and Democrats. But most important to me this year, I wanted to exercise my right to vote in the face of state by state efforts to stop me.
NAACP President Benjamin Jealous: Stand For Freedom
Across the country there is a coordinated campaign to limit people’s access to the ballot box. The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law published a study outlining the attacks on voting rights and how they could impact 2012. I think the Executive Summary does a great job in outlining voter suppression efforts. The full document is an excellent resource to see what is going on in your state and to have a deeper understanding of the national picture.
There are five tactics being used to suppress votes. They are requiring ID, requiring proof of citizenship, making voter registration harder, reducing early and absentee days and making it harder to restore voting rights.
To many some if not all of these measures may sound reasonable, but first read this excerpt from the summary:
- These new laws could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.
- The states that have already cut back on voting rights will provide 171 electoral votes in 2012 – 63 percent of the 270 needed to win the presidency.
- Of the 12 likely battleground states, as assessed by an August Los Angeles Times analysis of Gallup polling, five have already cut back on voting rights (and may pass additional restrictive legislation), and two more are currently considering new restrictions.
Five million people are a lot of citizens to disenfranchise for possible voter fraud. I say possible because I cannot find evidence of national voter fraud incidents or a rash of local voter fraud cases. When is the last time you heard about large or small numbers of ineligible voters showing up at polls? The lesson we learned from the Gore/Bush election nightmare is that counting votes is the biggest problem, not illegal votes.
I’m not going to cover all five of the tactics, but I do want to comment on voter ID and registration initiatives.
Voter ID proposals are not new. There is a federal requirement for new voters who register by mail to show ID before voting and many states have additional ID requirements. But the level of restriction and specificity of IDs recently proposed and in some cases passed is new. The measures call for exclusion of many commonly used forms of ID like student IDs and social security cards. They also neglect to outline a process for eligible voters without the specific IDs to cast a ballot that would be counted. How many people does this tactic affect? An estimated 11% of citizens and a larger percentage of low income, young, minority and older citizens do not have state issued IDs.
An example of what making voter registration harder can do is found in Florida. The new law passed in May requires groups who want to conduct registration drives to preregister with the state. Every volunteer or employee participating in the drive must sign an affidavit under penalty of perjury. The law also requires any registration collected must be physically received by election officials within 48 hours of signature or the organization faces penalties and fines. To track the turnaround time the law mandates each registration must have the time and date of completion. Groups must also place their government issued organizational code on each form they receive from election officials and submit a monthly report to the state. These requirements are so burdensome that the League of Women Voters placed a moratorium on voter registration. Yes, the League of Women Voters.
These are but two examples of how the five tactics are being used to shape the electorate and ensure specific interest expand influence and power within the government with the intention of ensuring laws are passed that benefit them.
During a meeting to kick-off organizing for Stand For Freedom, a march and rally in New York city to defend voting rights, NAACP President Benjamin Jealous put into perspective the significance of these attacks. He pointed out that the laws put in place in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s laid the foundation for Jim Crow. The current round of voting laws is another facet of the wide ranging attacks on the poor and working class. These voter suppression efforts support attacks on all our rights to organize and participate in self-government. They lay the ground work to legislate permanent suppression of a myriad of rights. These anti-voting initiatives are a strategy to demoralize our resistance to inequity and our insistence on a fair and real democracy.
Jealous put it best, “They are coming after our right to vote because they are coming after everything else.”
On December 10, 2011 tens of thousands will turnout for Stand For Freedom, a NAACP and SEIU 1199 initiated march and rally in New York city to push back on these attacks and to support the right to vote. We will gather at the NYC headquarters of the Koch brothers, leading funders of the state by state offensive. We will march to Dag Hammarskjold Plaza near the United Nations at East 47th Street & 2nd Avenue for a 12 pm rally.
If you choose to vote or not you should defend your right and others to decide. If you believe in democracy the right to vote is fundamental. Don’t let this attack on our rights go unchallenged. Don’t wake up one day and find out that your intention to vote for a Dem, Rup, Green or your own new party won’t matter because you can’t vote. Help defend our right to vote.
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