Posts Tagged ‘Voter Suppression’

The anti-democracy movement in America

October 16, 2017

Democracy means rule of the people. The Gilens-Page study of 1779 legislative initiatives in 1981-2002 showed that chances of success were strongly correlated with the desires of the affluent, but not at all with average citizens.

For example, polls show z majority of Americans want Wall Street banks to be brought under control, according to Martin Gillens, a co-author of the city.  They want a higher minimum wage, better unemployment benefits and more spending on education.  On the other hand, they are less supportive of abortion rights and gay marriage than the economic elite.   But the political system follows the economic elite, not them.

In other words, the United States is a democracy in that we have freedom of speech and contested elections, but in terms of outcomes, we are an oligarchy, ruled by the rich.

This is not an accident, a matter of how things happen to play out. It is the result of a deliberate campaign that has been going on for decades.   It is not something that began with Donald Trump and it will not end when he is out of office.

The anti-democratic movement has three elements:
• Use the power of money to dominate political discourse.
• Use the power of money to dominate politics and government
• Restrict the right to vote and other democratic rights..

I recently read a good book, DARING DEMOCRACY by Frances Moore Lappé, author of Diet for a Small Planet, and a young friend, Adam Eichen, that ties all this together.

I do have a few reservations about it, particularly the fact that they let Democrats off too nightly, which I’ll get to at the end.  But I’ll first summarize their main contentions.

∞∞∞

The famous Powell Memo—written in1971 by future Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—called on U.S. business to mobilize to counteract anti-business sentiment in the news media and the educational system.

Right-wing billionaires responded by funding the Heritage Foundation and other right-wing think tanks.

They of course have a perfect right to present their point of view.  The problem was that these organizations are dedicated to political warfare, and get to be treated as equivalent to groups who, whatever their unconscious biases, are serious scholars and researchers..

When I was a newspaper reporter, and had to write about something I didn’t know much about, the first thing I’d do was phone experts on various sides of the issue.

When I phoned the Brookings Institution, the person I’d reach would give me a carefully worded opinion, quoting sources and taking into account arguments on both sides.

When I phoned the Heritage Foundation, I’d talk to some young guy who had talking points down pat, but couldn’t back them up. Yet by the rules of my game, I had to treat them as equal authorities.

The Cato Institute, funded by the Koch brothers, consisted of sincere libertarians, who sometimes came down on the side of peace and civil liberties. But when their views closed with corporate interests, the Koch brothers purged the staff.

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Voter registrations disappear in Georgia

June 19, 2017

Greg Palast

The intrepid Greg Palast, who has been reporting since before 2004 on vote-rigging and voter suppression in the USA, said that 10,000 newly-registered Korean-Americans and 40,000 newly-registered African-Americans have simply vanished from Georgia’s voter registration rolls.

The registrations were the result of drives conducted respectively by Georgia’s Asian-American Legal Advocacy Center and the New Georgia Project.

When the two organizations complained, they were raided by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.   In the end, no charges were filed, but the raids themselves were disruptive and intimidating.

Voter registration in Georgia is the responsibility of Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, a Republican,   She is a candidate for Congress in Georgia’s 6th District, running against Democrat Jon Ossoff.   Voting is tomorrow.

It’s entirely possible that she could win with a margin of victory smaller than the number of purged voters in the district.

LINK

Will new Jim Crow scam tip Georgia’s Ossoff-Handel race? by Greg Palast.

How much was the election rigged?

November 9, 2016

Greg Palast reported on how millions of registered voters, mostly African-Americans and Hispanics, were removed from the voting rolls in Ohio, North Carolina and other states.

He reported how there still are electronic voting machines that can be hacked, and how, in Ohio, a new safety feature on these machines was deliberately turned off.

So there is no question that there was vote rigging.  The question is whether this was what gave Donald Trump and the Republicans their margin of victory.

Voters were removed from the rolls by a system called CrossCheck.  The system checks to see whether people of the same name vote in different jurisdictions.  Palast said as many as one in six African-American voters lost their right to vote through CrossCheck.

I happen to know through Google that there are a number of men named Philip Ebersole throughout the country.  Assuming that all or most are registered voters, my voter registration could be canceled without me ever knowing about it until I came to vote.

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Election fraud charged in Democratic primaries

May 13, 2016

lawsuit-book-and-paperAn organization called Election Justice USA has filed a lawsuit charging election fraud in New York state’s primary election.  A reporter for Counterpunch obtained the complaint and the exhibits.  Here is what was charged:

According to Stewart McCauley, who helped collect the data and analyzed it by affidavit for Exhibit I, EJUSA has found that “[t]here are four broad methodologies that were used” to disenfranchise New York voters, the first two of which were also present in Arizona.

“Two by hackers (possibly), and two that had to have been carried out by BoE [Board of Elections] officials and/or employees:

1) Logging in (most likely after identifying the voter’s candidate of choice) to the BoE database remotely and tampering with registration records, including back-dating of changes

2) Crudely forged hand signatures to alter party affiliation via paper forms

3) BoE “nuclear” approach: actively purging eligible voters through a variety of methods, including intentional bouncing of maintenance letters (but note that the majority of our respondents/plaintiffs could not legally be removed as it has been less than five years since they registered)

4) BoE officials and employees actively neglecting to register new voters.”

Source: Counterpunch.

The whole U.S. civil order rests on public acceptance of the outcomes of elections as legitimate.   It is possible for a reform candidate to mobilize people power to overcome the built-in advantages that the rich and powerful have in the electoral process.  But that is only true if citizens can register to vote and the votes are counted.

The right to vote, and have your right counted, is the only way you have of ensuring your other rights are respected—short of revolution.

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Voter suppression in Brooklyn, USA

April 21, 2016

Democratic election officials in Brooklyn aremay be using the same tactics to purge voter rolls as used by Republicans in Florida, Wisconsin and other states.  Investigative reporter Greg Palast has the story.

Greg Palast

Greg Palast

Francesca Rheannon, whom you may know as the host of Writers’ Voice radio, did the civic thing by volunteering to work the polls in a town east of New York City.

“I just got off my 17 hour shift as an election official. In my election district, out of 166 Democratic voters, 39 were forced to file affidavit ballots. The last [election] I worked in, exactly ONE voter needed an affidavit ballot.”

That’s nearly one of four voters. Why? Their names had gone missing from the voter rolls.

An affidavit ballot (called a “provisional” ballot in most other states) is a kind of placebo ballot.  You get to pretend to vote – but the chance it will actually be counted is …well, good luck.  If your name is wrongly removed, kiss your vote – affidavit or not—goodbye.

Rheannon’s experience was hardly unique.  In Brooklyn alone, over 125,000 names were quietly scrubbed from the voter rolls in the five months leading up to the primary.

To put it in prospective, the number of voters purged equals about half of the number who got to vote. Scott Stringer, the New York City Comptroller will now audit the Elections Board–now that the election is over. Hey thanks, Scott.

Neal Rosenstein, the lead voting rights attorney for the New York Public Interest Research Group, which plans legal action, notes that part of the problem is that partisan hacks sit on the Elections board in New York—hacks from both parties.

Brooklyn is under the control of the Kings County Democratic Party, one of the last of the big city machines.  Would they attack their opponents’ voter registrations? 

I don’t have to guess: in my wasted younger days, I was in the Brooklyn County elections office with the hacks where we were assigned by the Party to challenge voters’ signatures en masse.  (I wouldn’t and nearly lost my state job.)

Am I saying the machine “fixed” the election for Hillary Clinton?  Without further investigation, it would be irresponsible for me to pronounce judgment.  Some of the purged may have moved, some have died.  But those who waited in line only to fill out affidavit ballots are unlikely to be deceased.

If the Machine had been aware of the mass purge underway, would they have stopped it? As they say in Brooklyn, Fahgeddabouddit.

Source: Greg Palast.

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Can we have a fair election?

May 6, 2015

In a capitalist democracy, there are two sources of power—money power and people power.

These days money power is flourishing—partly because of court decisions that say spending money is free speech under the First Amendment, and that corporations have First Amendment rights, but more simply because of the enormous concentration of wealth.

reagaon-couldnt-vote-todays-gop-vot3r-suppression5_n1At the same time, Republican state legislatures are rigging the election process through gerrymandering, and figuring out ways to disqualify voters, especially blacks, Hispanics and students, and make it more difficult to register to vote.

An analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice indicated that the reduction in the number of votes as a result of voter suppression laws in 2014 was greater than the margin of victory in the North Carolina and Virginia Senate races and in the Kansas and Florida Governorship races.

The Brennan Center can’t prove that the suppressed voters would have voted for the losing candidate, but that’s not the point.  Voting should be regarded as a basic American right.  If it isn’t, we Americans might as well go back to being ruled by hereditary monarchs and aristocrats.

Elizabeth Drew wrote that it is telling how few Republicans participated in the 50th anniversary of the Selma, Alabama, voting rights march.

Investigative reporter Brad Friedman reported electronic voting machines are an even more insidious threat to voting rights, because your vote can be canceled without your knowledge.   He told how easy it is to tamper with electronic voting machines without detection.  Internet voting is even worse.

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The silence of the Democrats

November 19, 2014

It is not hard to understand the Republican motive for wanting to make it more difficult for poor people, minorities and young people to vote.

ap219250776125Neither is it hard to understand the motive for wanting to remove minorities from voting rolls by fair means or foul.  I don’t respect the motive, but I understand it.

What I do not understand is why the Democrats are so passive about this.  Why aren’t Democrats fighting against the obstacles that keep their constituent groups from voting, and fighting to get their supporters registered and to the polls?  It’s almost as if they don’t care about winning.

Remembering Heinlein’s Rule, I never attribute to malice what can adequately be explained by stupidity and inertia.

But if I were more cynical than I actually am, I would say it as if the Democratic leaders fear being identified with poor people, minorities and the young more than they want their votes.

If I were even more cynical than that, I would say it is as if Democratic leaders would rather lose than increase the influence of poor people, minorities and the young within their party.

Voter purge may have decided Senate election

November 19, 2014

Statistician Nate Silver called the 2012 elections with almost pinpoint accuracy.  But this time around he underestimated the Republican margins of victory by an average of 4 percentage points.

Greg Palast, an independent reporter, wrote that the explanation may be less in Silver’s forecasting methods than in the systematic disqualification of Democratic-tending voters by Republican state governments using a system called CrossCheck.

CrossCheck is a system for comparing the names of voters in different states.  The assumption (if it were in effect in New York state) would be that if there is a record of a Phil Ebersole voting in Pennsylvania, Ohio or some other state as well as here in Rochester, N.Y., which is quite likely, they are all the same person voting in multiple states.

Just stop and think a minute about how crazy an idea this is.

Driving to anywhere in Pennsylvania would take two to five hours one way.  The political consultant Dick Morris said on Fox News that up to 1 million Americans are doing this.  That is, up to 1 million Americans have taken the trouble to register and vote in multiple states and then to go vote on election day.

This is—how shall I put it?—stark raving lunatic mad.

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How difficult is it, really, to get voter photo ID?

November 13, 2014

Getting photo ID for voting is damned difficult if the process is set up intentionally to make it hard for you.

pennsylvania_voter_id_rally-thumb-640xauto-6483-thumb-640xauto-6766Richard Sobel, a researcher for Harvard’s Institute for Race and Justice, looked at what some people in Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas went through as they tried to get photo ID.  He wrote a report on what he found, which was published in June.

steve-frank67FAC2A7-A14C-4F72-D3C8-71613E397404He said “free” ID cost $75 to $150 if you figure in the cost of getting birth certificates, naturalization documents and other documents, the cost of travel, and time spent traveling and waiting.   Sometimes there were legal fees as well.

Sobel noted that this is considerably more than the poll taxes that were outlawed by Twenty-Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1964.  I don’t see how any requirement to pay money in order to vote can considered anything but a poll tax.

Here are some examples from his report of what would-be voters ran into.

In Pennsylvania

According to a September 13, 2012 letter to The Morning Call in Scranton, a Pennsylvania resident seeking a “free” voter ID had incurred costs of $94.61 so far, which were likely to eventually reach $133.61. The potential voter traveled 34 miles round trip to and from the PennDOT agency in Bethlehem, an estimated hour of travel time.

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Voter suppression will decide control of Senate

October 13, 2014

2008-10-12-foreclosevoteSource: Candorville

If the Republicans gain control of the U.S. Senate, it will be because of the success of Republican state governments in discouraging voting by minority groups and by young people.  They hardly bother any more to disguise the real purpose of the new voting laws.

If the Democrats retain control, it will be because of the struggles of members of minority groups and young people to overcome these barriers.  It is too bad that President Obama and the national Democratic leaders do so little to repay that loyalty.

LINKS

Republicans Are Trying to Make Sure Minorities and Young People Don’t Vote This November by Stephanie Meneimer for Mother Jones.

Voter ID laws in Kansas and Tennessee dropped 2012 turnout by over 100,000 votes by Philip Bump for the Washington Post.

 

A pre-emptive counter-revolution in the USA?

October 8, 2013

tumblr_luwdnp4plT1qzlfumo1_1280

Eric Hoffer wrote in The True Believer that people do not revolt because they are poor and miserable.  If that there the case, the world would be in a constant state of revolt.  No, Hoffer wrote, people revolt when something to which they think they have a right is taken away from them, or when hopes are raised that things will get better.  Having a lot of highly educated young people without jobs is a spark that sets off the tinder.

If that is the case, the American people are ripe for revolt right now.   Although we are wealthier and more free than much of the world’s population, our economic security and political rights are being eroded.  The younger generation knows it is worse off than the generations that came before.  And the hope of change generated by Barack Obama has proved to be an illusion.

Historically the powers that be in the United States headed off revolt by responding to the discontented and bringing them into the system.   This happened with the labor movement in the 1930s and the civil rights protests of the 1960s.  But I think this time is different.

The electoral process is being altered to increase the power of money and to shut out minority groups, poor people, young people and others who might upset the status quo.  The legislative process is being altered so as to give veto power to the opponents of progressive reform.  The administration of government is becoming interlocked with corporations and shielded from public view.

Protest and dissent are being criminalized.  The U.S. government has the legal and institutional basis to impose a police state.  And the United States is being locked into NAFTA-like trade agreements which give corporations rights that override national law.

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Another problem with voter ID

August 22, 2013

voterid

The problem with voter ID laws and all the other laws intended to restrict voter registration is that they will be selectively enforced.   Republicans in voter-suppression states will not try to disqualify every married woman whose married name does not fit her identification documents.   Rather they will have this available as a tool to disqualify someone whom they wish to disqualify for other reasons.

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The Constitutional remedy for voter suppression

July 30, 2013

      Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, some of the Republican-controlled state governments are going all-out to find ways of discouraging voting, especially by people in categories likely to vote Democratic.

There is a remedy for this already in the Constitution.  The Fourteenth Amendment states that when adults not convicted of a crime are denied the right to vote, then that state’s congressional representation should be diminished accordingly.  Here is the wording.

…When the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial Officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion or other crime, the basis of such representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

This by the way is the only provision of the Constitution that makes a distinction between the rights of men and the rights of women.  Susan B. Anthony objected to it for this reason, and she quarreled with her good friend Frederick Douglass for supporting it.  All this was resolved by the Nineteenth Amendment, stating that the right to vote cannot be abridged on account of sex.

This provision was never enforced.  In the years from 1880 to 1960, voter suppression in the South was much worse than it is now.  The laws and policies that kept black people from voting also kept poor white people from voting.  Fewer people voted in the 1928 presidential election in the 12 states of the former Confederacy than voted just in New York state; if this provision had been taken seriously, these states would have had less representation in Congress than New York.

I doubt the Roberts Supreme Court would be willing enforce it now.  Still, it would be interesting to see what would happen if voter suppression increases and somebody files a lawsuit.

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GOP becoming the party of disenfranchisement

January 24, 2013

Republican-controlled legislatures in key states that voted for Barack Obama are considering proposals to rig their electoral system against Democrats, urban voters and members of minority groups.

Richie_MAPRepublicans in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio want to allocate their states’ electoral votes by congressional district, instead of giving all the electoral votes to the Presidential candidate who wins a majority statewide.  While this doesn’t seem unfair on the surface, the result in the previous election would have been to give a majority of these states’ electoral votes to Mitt Romney instead of Barack Obama.  That is because the congressional districts are drawn so as to dilute Democratic, urban and minority representation and give the advantage to Republican, rural and white voters.

Such proposals are only surfacing in states carried by Obama.  Republicans are content with the winner-take-all system in states where Romney won a majority of the vote.

Each state’s electoral votes are equal to their representation in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.  The Virginia state senate has reported out a bill that would award the state’s electoral votes by congressional district, and the two remaining votes not to the candidate who won a majority of Virginia voters, but the one who won the largest number of districts.  Under this system, Obama, who won 51 percent of Virginia’s vote, would have got only 4 of Virginia’s 13 electoral votes.

Meanwhile the voter ID laws and all the other voter suppression measures remain on the books.   It is true that what the Republican leaders are doing is not nearly as bad as the literacy tests, the poll tax and the other ways in which African-American voting was suppressed in the Jim Crow era.  It is true that nobody is being murdered for exercising the right to vote.  But the present vote-rigging and vote-suppression laws are intended to serve the same purpose—denying representation to minority voters.

This represents intellectual bankruptcy on the part of the Republican Party.  If they had a plausible plan for achieving peace and prosperity, they would win votes of African-Americans and urban dwellers.  By adopting their present tactics, they let the Democrats off the hook.  All the Democrats have to do to win the urban and minority vote is to not be Republicans. (more…)

Still fighting for the right to vote

November 9, 2012

2012-11-02-theHole

Attempts to suppress and discourage voting by minority groups, poor people and young people did not affect the outcome of the election.  But that doesn’t mean that voter suppression didn’t occur, or that it didn’t matter.

On election day, I walked to my polling place, which is about five minutes from my house.  I signed in without showing any kind of photo ID.  I was immediately able to vote, on a machine-scanned paper ballot, so there would be a paper trail if anybody questioned whether the machines operated correctly.

In other places, people had to stand in line for six or more hours to vote.  Some were removed from voter registration lists for arbitrary reasons.  Never mind that it didn’t change the outcome of the election.   American citizens have a right to vote.

Voting is a right, not a privilege.  If you think differently, ask yourself what you’d say to the family of Medgar Evars or the other people killed in the American South during the 1960s for demanding the right to vote.  If you still think  it is a privilege, ask yourself who has the right to decide whether you yourself has the right to vote.

The Republican Party is doing a lot of soul-searching about why they do so badly among African-American and Hispanic voters.  I imagine the attempt to deny minorities their right to vote probably energized them to support President Obama more than they otherwise would have done.

But this doesn’t make it harmless.  Voter suppression may well determine the outcome of state and local elections that are outside the national spotlight.  The U.S. Civil Rights Commission should investigate and do what’s necessary to protect voting rights.  It’s too bad this battle has to be fought again in a new generation, but evidently it does.

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Don’t forget to vote

November 6, 2012

2008-10-26-votescare

Click on Candorville for more cartoons.

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Will we have an honest election in 2012?

September 26, 2012

Dark red states have passed voter suppression legislation. Pink states have voter suppression legislation pending as of August.   Click on the Spreading Suppression link below for an interactive map giving the particulars for each state.

While I think Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are more alike than they are different on the issues that matter most to me, there is one subject on which the Republican Party is clearly in the wrong—the attempt to subvert the democratic process by creating arbitrary obstacles to voting, aimed at black and Hispanic people, college students and others likely to vote Democratic.

This is more serious than the Bush v. Gore decision, because it is not just a one-time thing.  It threatens to become a permanent change in the way we Americans choose our elected representatives.  It is a limited and partial (so far) return to the practices of the Old South of a century ago, when poll taxes and so-called literacy tests were used to to suppress voting by black people and poor white people.

Elizabeth Drew, writing for the New York Review blog, reported on what’s going on.

The Republicans have been making particularly strenuous efforts to tilt the outcomes—in most of the “swing states”: Florida, Ohio, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin.  The Republican leader of the House in Pennsylvania, previously considered a swing state, was careless enough to admit publicly that the state’s strict new Voter ID law would assure a Romney victory in November.  In fact a state document submitted in court offered no evidence of voter fraud.  On September 18, Pennsylvania’s supreme court sharply rebuked a lower court’s approval of the law, questioning whether the law could be fairly applied by the time of the election.  This battle continues despite the fact that the Romney campaign in mid-September suspended its efforts in Pennsylvania because polls show that Obama was substantially ahead.  Even if the state’s electoral votes are not in question the outcome could still decide whether a great many people will be allowed to vote in November, and could also affect the popular vote.

Eight states have already passed Voter ID laws—requiring a state-approved document with a photograph in order to register or vote, a form of identification that an estimated 11 percent or over 21 million of American citizens do not possess.  But these laws are just part of an array of restrictions adopted to keep Democrats from voting.  Some use other means to make registration difficult, or put strict limits on the number of days before the election that votes can be cast , or cut back the hours that polling places can stay open.

In the aftermath of the 2004 election, which was characterized in Ohio by lines at voting places in black districts so long as to discourage voters, Ohio Democratic officials made voting times more flexible; after the Republicans took over the state they set out to reverse that.

Iowa, Florida, and Colorado tried to purge the voting rolls of suspected unqualified voters, but their lists turned out to be wildly inaccurate.  Florida officials compiled a list of 180,000 people whose qualifications were questioned, but after voting registrars checked (some protesting the unfairness of the purge) only 207, or 0.0002 percent of the state’s registered voters, were found to be unqualified to vote.  Nearly sixty percent of the 180,000 names had Hispanic surnames, another 14 percent were blacks.  Officials said that whites or Republicans were unlikely to be on the list.

While a combination of outraged citizens and legal challenges led all three states to ostensibly give up on the idea of purging voters, Florida and Iowa officials have said that they intend to pursue those who haven’t been proven innocent.  As a result, hundreds of thousands of citizens don’t know if they’ll be allowed to vote—which, like a number of the restrictions, could be a disincentive to even subjecting oneself to what could be a hassle or humiliation at the polling place.  Florida also enacted a voter ID law, which was struck down by a federal court. 

Ever on the lookout for ways to keep Democratic supporters from the polling places, the state cut short the number of days for early voting, and established rules that in effect barred outside groups such as the League of Women Voters from conducting registration drives. Though this restriction was later overturned by a federal court, voter registration groups said that important time had been lost while they contested the new restrictions on their activities.

In Ohio—the swingyest of the swing states, now in Republican control—secretary of state Jon Husted is trying to block voting on any weekend before the election; and he has appealed the ruling of a federal district judge ordering him to allow voting even during the last weekend before the election.  Husted also made the extraordinary proposal that voting hours in Ohio be extended solely in white districts, but this preposterous idea couldn’t withstand a citizen outcry.  Two Democratic county election officials from the Dayton area (one the few predominantly Democratic counties in the state) who objected to Husted’s proposal to permit no weekend voting were fired.

Elizabeth Drew noted that many American citizens will go to the polls in November not knowing whether they will be allowed to vote or not.

Having covered Watergate and the impeachment of Richard Nixon, and more recently written a biography of Nixon, I believe that the wrongdoing we are seeing in this election is more menacing even than what went on then.  Watergate was a struggle over the Constitutional powers and accountability of a president, and, alarmingly, the president and his aides attempted to interfere with the nominating process of the opposition party.  But the current voting rights issue is even more serious: it’s a coordinated attempt by a political party to fix the result of a presidential election by restricting the opportunities of members of the opposition party’s constituency—most notably blacks—to exercise a Constitutional right.

This is the worst thing that has happened to our democratic election system since the late nineteenth century, when legislatures in southern states systematically negated the voting rights blacks had won in the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

While she and other writers focus on the Presidential election, voter suppression tactics are likely to be more effective, and more dangerous, in state and local election contests that don’t attract much attention and election tampering is less likely to provoke a big outcry.

Click on Voting Wrongs for Elizabeth Drew’s full report on voter suppression for NYRblog.

Click on Spreading Suppression for an interactive version of the above map showing the status of voter ID laws and other voter suppression legislation in the various states.

Click on The Ballot Cops for Mariah Blake’s report on voter intimidation in The Atlantic.

Click on Machine politics: the real threat of voter fraud for my earlier post on voting machines susceptible to hacking.

The new battle over voting rights

August 6, 2012

Click to enlarge

The Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1870, stated that no American could be denied the right to vote on account of race.  But white supremacists in the South figured out new ways to disenfranchise African-Americans.  One was a poll tax, which most black people and many poor white people could not afford to pay (the poll was outlawed by the 24th Amendment in 1964).  Another was a “literacy” test, with an exemption for those whose grandfathers had been registered voters.

Wasn’t it reasonable to require voters to be literate?  Wasn’t the right to vote so precious that it is worth saving your money to exercise?  All good questions, but besides the point, because these were not neutral requirements aimed at producing a better electorate.  They were subterfuges intended to prevent particular groups of people from voting.

So it is with today’s new voter ID laws.  You can make the argument that voting is a privilege that should be earned and not granted automatically.  But if you believe that (I don’t), then the requirements for earning that privilege should be equally difficult for all segments of the population.  The new voter ID laws don’t do that.  Republican lawmakers want to discourage voting by members of certain groups that tend to vote Democratic—poor people, minorities and students.  The new laws have the same purpose, although they are less stringent, than the literacy tests and poll taxes in the South in the days of white supremacy.

I have had a driver’s license since I first got a car in 1959, and I had no trouble obtaining a stamped copy of my birth certificate when I applied for a passport.  But if I hadn’t had a car to begin with, it would have been hard to get to the DMV office to apply for a license.  If I had been poor, it would have been hard to afford the license fees.  If at birth I hadn’t been delivered in a hospital by a physician, I don’t know what I would have done for a birth certificate.

Things that are easy for me as a middle-class person are not easy for everyone—especially when lawmakers are intentionally trying to make things difficult.

There are two sources of political power in the United States.  One is the mobilization of money; the other is the mobilization of people.  While legal barriers to the first are coming down, legal barriers to the second are being erected.

If you’re a liberal or a Democrat, it is important to get people registered despite the hurdles, and to overturn the laws.  This could be a good basis of grass-roots organizing.  You shouldn’t count on the federal courts to overturn these laws, because not all the judges support basic Constitutional rights.

Click on UFO Sightings Are More Common Than Voter Fraud for a report by Mother Jones, with charts and many good additional links.

Click on Voter ID Laws Could Swing States for a report by Politico on how voter ID laws could change the outcome of the coming Presidential election.

Click on The Challenge of Obtaining Voter Identification for a report by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University on the difficulty and expense of obtaining photo ID, especially for Americans who don’t own automobiles or weren’t born in hospitals.

Click on Lead plaintiff in Voter ID lawsuit gets birth certificate, still can’t vote if you think the Candorville cartoon is an exaggeration.  This is a report on a 93-year-old woman who has voted in Presidential elections since 1960, but is disenfranchised by Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law.

Click on Think Getting “Free” ID Is Easy? Think Again for stories collected by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of American citizens and formerly registered voters who’ve been disenfranchised under voter ID laws.

Click on Pennsylvania Is Key to Republican Vote-Blocking for a report by the Washington Monthly on how voter ID laws could swing Pennsylvania from Obama to Romney.

Click on Gutting the Right to Vote for a report by Counterpunch on Pennsylvania’s voter ID law.

Click on Florida looks ready to repeat many of the same mistakes in how it conducts its elections for a Slate report.

Click on CANDORVILLE daily comics by Darrin Bell for more cartoons.