Monday, January 16, 2012

On MLK Jr. Day: Republicans Seek to Suppress Voters

What’s a Republican to do?

As the South Carolina Primary approaches, Republican Presidential candidates are falling over themselves trying to prove that they are the most viciously anti-gay candidate. Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich have all signed the NOM Pledge to end Marriage Equality in any state that chooses it.

And yet, Gallup Polls report that “…a majority of Americans (53%) believe same-sex marriage should be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages.”

In August, at the Iowa State Fair Mitt Romney openly argued that “Corporations are People.” And yet, Hart Research Associates found that 87% of Democrats, 82% of Independents, and even 68% of Republicans support a constitutional amendment to eliminate “corporate personhood.’

The New York Times has found that the majority of Americans – including Republicans and those earning over $100,000 annually – support slashing Executive pay at companies receiving bailouts. Meanwhile, Republicans continue to mumble on about supporting free enterprise and opposing limits on pay.

At every campaign stop, the GOP candidates have promised to repeal “Obamacare;” and yet, the provision of that act that guarantees that individuals with preexisting conditions can be covered by insurance is supported by 63% of the American public, who agreed that insurers “absolutely must” cover such people in a recent Wall Street Journal poll.

With the Republican Party so completely out of touch with Americans on issues of health care, the economy, growing wealth disparity, corporatism, and social issues – how can they expect to win the 2012 Presidential election?

By suppressing voter participation.

Since the GOP can not win the majority of votes based on issues, they have turned to making it difficult – or impossible – for the most ‘contrary’ demographic groups to vote at all: racial minorities, the poor, the elderly, and college students. Since the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. devoted his life seeking the right to vote for all people, it seems appropriate on the holiday on which he is honored to expose these Republican efforts across the states.

Denise Lieberman, senior attorney with the civil rights organization, Advancement Project," stated:

“Heading into 2012, we are seeing the largest assault on the right to vote since the post-Reconstruction Era. This is an unprecedented attack on voting that could affect more than 5 million voters in 2012; in states that represent nearly two-thirds of the electoral votes needed to win the presidency. Twenty new laws and executive orders in 14 states stand to turn back the clock and make it harder to vote. In 2012, two-thirds of the states introduced legislation that could impede voters and more is on the horizon for 2012.”

The GOP Plan:

1) Require Government Issued Voter ID Cards with Photos

New in 2012, a non-expired, state-issued photo ID is needed in Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin. In Texas, 34 counties lack the required “Department of Public Safety Offices” to issues the required IDs. Four of those counties have Hispanic populations greater than 75 percent.

Additional legislation has been filed in North Carolina, Nebraska, New Jersey, Maine, Minnesota and Missouri. It is particularly hypocritical in New Hampshire, where Republicans fought against the federal “Real ID” photo/drivers license program, but voted to implement the same obstacle to suppress votes, a bill that was vetoed by the Governor. In defiance, election officials in the Town of New Boston, NH, posted a huge “Photo ID required” sign at the entrance to the polls last year, in spite of the fact that no such requirement exists.

Those who do not drive are the least likely to have such an ID: minorities, lower-income people, seniors who no longer drive, those with revoked licenses, and students (College ID cards are not valid). NYU Law School has estimated that up to 11% of all otherwise eligible voters – 21 million Americans - do not have the requisite ID.

In order to get an official ID, the poor have disproportionate hurdles to overcome: In addition to fees, individuals are asked to provide birth certificates, passports, or other documents. While many Americans have these, those who have been thrown out of their homes, women or young people who fled after having been involved in abusive situations, those who have lost their homes to foreclosure and have documents in storage units, those who have lost documents in fires in substandard housing, those living in nursing homes, and those lacking personal autos to run to government offices to obtain the documents – are far unlikely to be able to assemble the required documents in a timely fashion. In addition, Arizona, Alabama, Kansas and Tennessee now require proof of citizenship, a tactic meant to intimidate Hispanic and other naturalized citizens.

2) Restrict New Voter Registration Drives

Florida and Texas now have enacted strict time periods for these drives, and impose stiff fines for honest errors. Similar legislation is now pending in Michigan.

For those states that permit same-day registration, the GOP tactic is to turn back the clock. In recent years, the trend has been for states to make voting easier, not harder. Since most election boards are operated by local citizens, these citizens are able to provide a 'check’ on unlikely but potential fraudulent votes. But this year, that trend is being reversed: Ohio and Maine (a state with a long history of same-day registration) eliminated same-day registration. The same legislation is pending in North Carolina.

3) Ban Felons From Voting

If you are convicted of a felony in Kentucky and Virginia, you lose your right to vote for life. In Florida and Iowa the Republican Governors have tried to emulate this by issuing Executive Orders eliminating the rights of former felons to regain their right to vote. 48 states (all except Maine and Vermont) prohibit felons from voting while in prison. This sets up a dangerous process: all a state must do is find someone guilty of a felony, and they lose a major avenue to challenge the very laws and policies under which they convicted.

In the United States, 5.3 million people are unable to vote due to a felony conviction. At least one-quarter of these convictions were for non-violent drug offenses, crimes for which black men are twelve times more likely to be convicted and jailed with a felony record than their white counterparts. There are more black men in prison today than there were black men enslaved in 1850 (source). The War on Drugs has been the single most effective tool at disenfranchising black voters.

4) Ban College Students from Voting

In 1979, the US Supreme Court ruled in The United States vs. Symm that college students may vote in the communities where they attend school. That decision states, "there is no requirement that a student, in order to establish that he is a resident of the place where he wishes to vote, establish that he intends to remain there permanently or for any particular period of time."

In the "swing state' of New Hampshire, College students often represent 15% or more of the vote in college Towns such as Keene (Keene State College), Hanover (Dartmouth), and Durham (UNH). Bill O’Brien, the Republican speaker of the New Hampshire State House, told a Tea Party group earlier this year that students are “foolish” and tend to “vote their feelings, voting as a liberal, because that’s what kids do.” In the statehouse, he shepherded new laws to prohibit students from voting from their college addresses, in direct violation of the Symm decision. In Wisconsin the state declared College-issued photos invalid, forcing college students wishing to vote to scramble to apply for new drivers licenses (requiring them to then re-register their autos, and obtain new inspections) – all at great expense – to vote.

In Selma, Alabama, in 1965, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King told marchers,

"Voting is the foundation stone for political action…The basic elements so vital to Negro advancement can only be achieved by seeking redress from government at local, state and Federal levels. To do this, the vote is essential."

Yes, the vote is essential... and Republican efforts to disenfranchise voters is antithetical to the America I was raised to believe in.


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