Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mike Walker: Voter suppression – The Real devil in the details!

  Recently I was involved in a conversation on Facebook about voting rights. I had shared a link about Hank Sanders, a Democratic State Senator from Alabama, being denied the right to vote and I commented that this situation was the result of Republican efforts to limit voting by certain minority groups. Senator Sanders represents the city of Selma in the Alabama State Senate and has been a leader in civil and voting rights in this southern state for decades. As it turns out, in the cited case, Senator Sanders was not denied access to a ballot for identity or racial purposes, but was allowed to file a provisional ballot pending the resolution of a dispute regarding his place of residence. A good friend rightly pointed out my error and I apologized. I had failed to do my homework.

  The provisional balloting process, however, can be quite a cumbersome and embarrassing process - including pulling the voter aside, essentially interrogating him or her, making the voter mark a different ballot which is then segregated from other voters’ ballots, forcing the voter to sign a statement and subjecting the voter to a list of verbal instructions and explanations. The instructions for poll workers to administer a provisional ballot number 25 pages. And of course it holds the voter’s ballot in limbo.

  But this issue has been driving me NUTS for quite a while now and I want to talk about it in a little more detail. ARE Republicans trying to limit access to the ballot box for certain groups? If so, how are they doing it, and why are they doing it.

  In one single year, 2011, 37 states (all led by Republican governors) initiated legislation designed to reduce voter turnout at the ballot boxes in their states. Several methods were used such as requiring proof of citizenship, ending “early voting” and Sunday voting in many areas, new laws cutting off voting rights for those with criminal records, and ending same-day voter registration. The most often cited method however, is requiring government issued photo ID’s to be presented at the polling place.

  The American Civil Liberties Union recently published a detailed description of this trend toward voter suppression:

       “During the 2011 legislative sessions, states across the country passed measures to make it harder for Americans – particularly African-Americans, the elderly, students and people with disabilities – to exercise their fundamental right to cast a ballot. Over thirty states considered laws that would require voters to present government-issued photo ID in order to vote. Studies suggest that up to 11 percent of American citizens lack such ID, and would be required to navigate the administrative burdens to obtain it or forego the right to vote entirely.”

  Now all of this sounds very innocent on the surface. Of course we want the person in the voting booth to be the actual person on the voter list. Naturally we want only citizens casting ballots, and we ALL want every vote to be legal and above reproach. The most commonly given reason for all these new laws is to combat “rampant voter fraud.” Apparently thousands of people are pretending to be someone they aren’t just to cast one extra vote for their candidate. But why would a person go to all that trouble and risk imprisonment for one extra vote? I live in Alabama and, to be honest, one or one hundred thousand votes will not give Obama any portion of the state’s electoral votes, so why do it? Are there thousands or millions of people doing this? Robert Schlesinger, writing for US News and World Report in October of 2011, referenced a study in Rolling Stone and made the following statement:

       “‘Out of the 300 million votes cast [between 2002 and 2007] federal prosecutors convicted only 86 people for voter fraud,’ Rolling Stone reported. A 2007 study by the Brennan Center found the instances of voter fraud to be literally infinitesimal. ‘You’re more likely to get killed by lightning than commit in-person voter fraud,’ says the Brennan Center’s Michael Waldman. Which only makes sense: That thousands of people are casting illegal votes in others’ names while evading determined detection (always managing to choose people who weren’t going to vote anyway) doesn’t pass the smell test.”

  So why the rush to pass voter ID laws? Why the big push to establish additional hurdles for voters? Recently, Mike Turzai, the Republican majority leader in the Pennsylvania Senate, made a recorded statement in which he publicly said, “Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania…DONE!” All evidence points to the fact that these laws are being offered to reduce the number of likely Democratic votes being cast in the 2012 presidential election. The poor, blacks and Latinos, young people, the elderly, and students are the ones being targeted. These are the people who state legislatures KNOW have less access to credentials than their more affluent and whiter fellow citizens. It’s been estimated that as many as 10 million Latino citizens could be denied access to the voting booths because of this issue. And the VAST majority of these targeted groups fall into the 47% of Americans that Mitt Romney has written off. You remember, the folks that don’t make enough money to pay taxes, the scumbags who think they are entitled to food, shelter, and basic healthcare! How DARE these people think they have a right – an ENTITLEMENT – to VOTE!

  Unbelievably, when the founding fathers set up our system of government, they did NOT specify or define a “right to vote” in any of our founding documents. That right was quickly adopted by white men who owned property and who could afford to pay poll taxes. Over the years, blood has been shed and lives sacrificed to make sure that every US citizen over the legal age has the RIGHT to cast a ballot. Does the color of my skin give me a more prominent “right to vote” than my black neighbor? NO! Does my genitalia give me a priority “right to vote” over my wife? NO! Does the adjusted yearly income on my IRS 1040 give me a more powerful “right to vote” than the guy who cuts my grass? NO! So why should anyone have to obtain a government picture ID to have the “right to vote?” The answer is of course, they should not.

  Governor Romney thinks that people aren’t “entitled” to food, to shelter, or to healthcare. Apparently his Republican supporters also would deny the “entitlement” of casting a ballot to many of those in the now infamous 47%.

  I find all of this sickening, disgusting, and CERTAINLY un-American! We should be joining hands to defend the rights of our fellow citizens to vote, because they ARE entitled to do so. We should NOT be joining hands to block their access to the voting booth because they are too poor, too Hispanic, too Black, too old, or too young. Voting rights are sacred in this great nation. They have been sealed in blood and consecrated in honor. Stand up, Americans, and let your voices be heard on this.

  Peace, my friends.

  About the author: Mike Walker, retired educator in the Montgomery Public Schools System, is living his golden years inspired by the words of Albert Einstein, “Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions.” He likes to stir up the status quo. Visit his blog: Southern Liberal Man.

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