Last December, the NAACP released a report titled Defending Democracy: Confronting Modern Barriers to Voting Rights in America. The report reveals “direct connections between the trend of increasing, unprecedented African American and Latino voter turnout and an onslaught of restrictive measures across the country designed to stem electoral strength among communities of color.”
Benjamin Jealous, NAACP President and CEO, said, “It’s been more than a century since we’ve seen such a tidal wave of assaults on the right to vote. Historically, when voting rights are attacked, it’s done to facilitate attacks on other rights. It is no mistake that the groups who are behind this are simultaneously attacking very basic women’s rights, environmental protections, labor rights, and educational access for working people and minorities.” He added, “Voting rights attacks are the flip side of buying a democracy. First you buy all the leaders you can, and then you suppress as many votes as possible of the people who might object.”
I should add that African American and Latino voters aren’t the only people who are being targeted by the “block the vote” effort. Young people and the elderly in some states may also face hurdles if they hope to exercise their right to vote in the November elections.
From the NAACP report:
“The heart of the modern block the vote campaign is a wave of restrictive government-issued photo identification requirements. In a coordinated effort, legislators in thirty-four states introduced bills imposing such requirements. Many of these bills were modeled on legislation drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—a conservative advocacy group whose founder explained: ‘Our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.’”
In a Nation article titled The Koch Brothers, ALEC and the Savage Assault on Democracy, John Nichols addresses the issue of ALEC’s involvement in the “block the vote” effort:
For the Koch brothers and their kind, less democracy is better. They fund campaigns with millions of dollars in checks that have helped elect the likes of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Ohio Governor John Kasich. And ALEC has made it clear, through its ambitious “Public Safety and Elections Task Force,” that while it wants to dismantle any barriers to corporate cash and billionaire bucks’ influencing elections, it wants very much to erect barriers to the primary tool that Americans who are not CEOs have to influence the politics and the government of the nation: voting.
That crude calculus, usually cloaked in bureaucracy and back-room dealmaking, came into full view in 2011.
Across the country, and to a greater extent than at any time since the last days of Southern resistance to desegregation, voting rights were being systematically diminished rather than expanded.
ALEC has been organizing and promoting the assault, encouraging its legislative minions to enact rigid Voter ID laws and related attacks on voting rights in more than three dozen states.
With their requirements that the millions of Americans who lack driver’s licenses and other forms of official paperwork go out and purchase identification cards in order to cast ballots, the Voter ID push put in place new variations on an old evil: the poll tax.
Some states are becoming extremely selective about the types of voter ID’s that they will accept at the polls. Take Texas, for example: In the Lone Star State, you’ll be allowed to vote if you present a military ID or a concealed-gun license—but not if you present your college ID.
Democrats have argued that the enactment of these new restrictive voter laws was politically motivated. They have claimed that groups that tend to vote Democratic—the elderly, the young, minorities, and the poor—include many people who lack photo ID’s.
Last October, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University released a report about the new voting laws and how they could affect the 2012 elections. Here is an excerpt from the report’s summary:
State governments across the country enacted an array of new laws making it harder to register or to vote. Some states require voters to show government-issued photo identification, often of a type that as many as one in ten voters do not have. Other states have cut back on early voting, a hugely popular innovation used by millions of Americans. Two states reversed earlier reforms and once again disenfranchised millions who have past criminal convictions but who are now taxpaying members of the community. Still others made it much more difficult for citizens to register to vote, a prerequisite for voting.
These new restrictions fall most heavily on young, minority, and low-income voters, as well as on voters with disabilities. This wave of changes may sharply tilt the political terrain for the 2012 election. Based on the Brennan Center’s analysis of the 19 laws and two executive actions that passed in 14 states, it is clear that:
- 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.
Is this what our legislators and others who have been elected to represent us should be working on—writing and enacting laws that will make it more difficult for some citizens to vote?
From the ACLU’s Oppose Voter Registration Fact Sheet:
VOTING IS A FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT, NOT A PRIVILEGE
- Nothing is more fundamental to our democracy than the right to vote.
- The right to vote is protected by more constitutional amendments – the 1st, 14th, 15th, 19th, 24th and 26th – than any other right we enjoy as Americans.
- There are additional federal and state statutes which guarantee and protect voting rights, as well as declarations by the Supreme Court that the right to vote is fundamental because it is protective of all our other rights.
We have heard a lot about voter fraud in the past couple of years. So…one has to ask: “How big a problem is voter fraud in this country?” An editorial that appeared in the New York Times last fall says that there is actually little voter fraud in America—and that “none of the lawmakers who claim there is have ever been able to document any but the most isolated cases.” The Times editorial also suggested that Republicans are passing these restrictive voter laws in order “to give themselves a political edge by suppressing Democratic votes”
Would you describe these attempts by politicians to disenfranchise voters in this country as un-American? Do you think it’s an attack on democracy?
Voting Law Changes in 2012 (Brennan Center for Justice, New York University School of Law)
ALEC Exposed: Rigging Elections (The Nation)
The GOP War on Democracy: How Conservatives Shamelessly Disenfranchise People Who Vote Democrat: Across the country, state legislatures and governors are pushing laws that seek to restrict access to the voting booth (Alternet)
Students hit by voter ID restrictions (Politico)
GOP War on Voting: AG Holder Joins the Fight (Rolling Stone)
The Myth of Voter Fraud (New York Times)