voter ID

Experts Discuss the Politics of Voter Suppression

The right to vote is the most fundamental cornerstone of a functioning democracy. Yet right-wing  governors, legislators, and election officials around the country have been working to make it harder for Americans to exercise that right, through voter ID laws, restrictions on voter registration, cutting back opportunities for early voting, and other suppressive measures.
 
On Wednesday, the AFL-CIO held a panel discussion with three voting rights experts, who discussed the impediments many voters face and proposed ways to boost voter participation as we approach the November elections. The conversation was moderated by AFL-CIO executive vice-president Arlene Holt Baker, and the three panelists included Tova Andrea Wang, writer of the recently published book The Politics of Voter Suppression: Defending and Expanding America’s Right to Vote, Clarissa Martinez of the National Council of La Raza, and Carmen Berkley of Generational Alliance.
 
Discussing the GOP’s assault on voting rights, Tova Andrea Wang read this statement from a legislator: “I don't have a problem making [voting] harder. I want people in Florida to want to vote as bad as that person in Africa who walks 200 miles across the desert. This should be something you do with a passion.” Wang then asked the audience to guess what era they believed this assertion was made in. Most estimated the late 1800s. The audience was incorrect—the statement was made in 2012, by Florida Republican State Senator Michael Bennett. Wang further explained that parties have been manipulating election practices for almost 150 years, and politicians continue to repackage the same voter suppression tactics to fit the current times. Over the course of history, forces have repeatedly tried to block voters. But in the past couple of years, we have seen these forces re-emerge with particular ferocity, as more and more states attempt to introduce voter identification laws and implement other voter suppression tactics.
 
Wang alluded to restrictions on early voting in Florida and Ohio and the illegal purging of voter registration lists as massive hindrances to voter participation.  According to the NAACP, in Florida, more than 32 percent of those who voted early on the last Sunday before Election Day were African American, and nearly 24 percent were Latino. Many African-American churches in Florida and Ohio organize citizens to vote on the Sunday before the election, and by eliminating this possibility, states are making it harder for minorities to cast their ballot. Wang also mentioned how Florida's Gov. Rick Scott’s staff combed through the information of 80,000 registered voters to find out who was not an American citizen, and thereby ineligible to vote. Scott found only one individual on the list who was not an American citizen—more evidence that voter fraud is virtually nonexistent. 
 
Wang accentuated the importance of early registration and same-day registration as ways to increase participation. She stated that when North Carolina used early voting and same-day registration in the 2008 election, participation in the African-American community skyrocketed from 59% in 2004 to 72% in 2008.
 
Clarissa Martinez and Carmen Barkley continued the discussion, touching upon the barriers that Latino voters and young voters face. Martinez emphasized the need to combat suppression tactics and ensure that Latino communities are not confused with the election process. She advocated for the criminalization of deceptive practices and misinformation, which affect Latinos and recently naturalized citizens who may be unsure of how to navigate the voting process. Berkley, a campaigner for young people’s voting rights, stressed that since there are 46 million people under 29 who are eligible to vote this election, it is crucial to raise awareness and educate young people about the voting process. Many young people do not have a government issued ID or do not know the last four digits of their Social Security number, making them unqualified to vote in some states. Berkley stated that it is vital that we inform first-time voters in high school by using social media and creating online voter guides.
 
All panelists emphasized that we cannot let our legislators continue to cherry-pick who can vote by implementing suppressive laws that have proven to affect minorities and young people—a liberal-leaning demographic. The right to vote needs to be preserved, not stifled.

 

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UPDATE: State legislation shines national spotlight on voter ID

"On voting rights in America, the arc of the universe has indeed been long, centuries long, from the three-fifths compromise in the Constitution to the poll tax to the literacy test. But it has always bent toward justice. These new laws seek to bend the arc backward again, to take away from people their effective right to vote."
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Big Government the Right Likes: The Kind That Keeps People From Voting

This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

The Republican Party claims to be the party of small government -- with the obvious exceptions of denying marriage equality and massive government oversight of women's medical decisions. But there is another kind of big government that the party has overwhelmingly, enthusiastically gotten behind: expensive and intrusive attempts to make it harder for Americans to vote.

A trio of federal court decisions in Florida, Ohio and Texas last week ripped the lid off the increasingly successful right-wing campaign to limit opportunities for low-income people, minorities and students to vote -- especially, and not coincidentally, in swing states. These decisions, from even-handed and moderate federal judges across the country, show just how far the Right has gone to use the power of government to disenfranchise traditionally disenfranchised groups.

In Florida, a federal judge permanently blocked a law that had made it almost impossible for good government groups to conduct voter registration drives -- which had led groups like the venerable League of Women Voters to all but shut down operations in the state. In Ohio, a federal court ordered the state to reopen early voting in the three days before November's election, which Republicans had attempted to shut down. Early voting on the weekend before the election was enormously successful in 2008 -- especially among African Americans -- and the judge found that Republicans had no legitimate reason to want it to stop.

And finally a federal court, which is required to review changes in election policy in states and counties with a history of voting discrimination, ruled that Texas' new voter ID law couldn't go forward because it "imposes strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor, and racial minorities in Texas."

The effort that Republican governors and legislatures across the country have gone through in the past two years to make it more difficult for citizens to vote is truly remarkable. They have been willing to buck both the law and the spirit of our constitutional democracy to bar groups of people from participating in it. And they have been willing to set up extra layers of government and bureaucracy -- things they claim to despise -- in order to keep people from the polls.

There are plenty of areas of genuine disagreement in our politics, but the right to vote shouldn't be one of them. In an interview with The Atlantic last week, Rep. John Lewis, a hero of the Civil Rights movement, said "there should be public outcry" and a "sense of righteous indignation" at what is happening to our elections. He's right.

It's astounding that nearly 50 years after the Voting Rights Act banned racial discrimination at the polls, it's still needed as a shield against such egregious violations of its principles. And it's astounding that the self-proclaimed party of small government wants to use government's power to keep people from exercising their fundamental right to vote.

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Nikki Haley Amplifies the GOP’s Assault on Voting Rights

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley took to the stage at the Republican National Convention Tuesday night, asserting her unwavering support for voter identification laws that make it harder for Americans—particularly minorities, students, and the elderly—to  exercise their constitutional right to vote.

The Justice Department is currently suing to stop South Carolina’s new voter ID law from taking effect, charging that it discriminates against traditionally disenfranchised groups. The voter ID laws particularly violate Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which outlaws discriminatory voting practices and gives the federal government open-ended oversight of states and communities with a history of voter discrimination.
 
In an attempt to defend the voter ID measures in South Carolina, Haley affirmed the alleged necessity of voters showing a picture ID: “…if you have to show a picture ID to buy Sudafed and you have to show a picture ID to set foot on an airplane, then you should have to show a picture ID to protect one of the most valuable, most central, most sacred rights we are blessed with in America - the right to vote.”
 
Haley’s statement was met with a fervent standing ovation from the Republican audience.
 
What Haley failed to mention is the overwhelming evidence proving that the implementation of voter ID laws will severely hinder many minorities from casting their vote—a right that is preserved by the Constitution. The Constitution does not protect a citizen’s right to buy Sudafed or fly on an airplane.
 
Under the South Carolina law, anyone who wants to vote but does not have one of the five acceptable forms of photo ID must acquire a new voter registration card that includes a photo. A birth certificate can be used to prove identity. But the Obama administration says the law is vague about how the new cards would be distributed, raising the issue that voters might have difficulty obtaining a new card in time for the November 6 election.
 
Another concern arising from these voter ID requirements is that many African Americans born in the era of segregation do not have accurate birth certificates or any birth certificate at all. Effectively, by requiring people to obtain a photo ID, which necessitates a birth certificate, states like South Carolina are encoding the segregation era into current voting laws.
 
 
Proponents of this law claim that it is a preventative measure that will end cases of voter fraud. Yet these claims are unfounded, as there have been no proven cases of voter misrepresentation fraud in South Carolina. During this week’s trial over South Carolina’s voter ID law, state Senator George “Chip” Campsen III even testified that he could not find cases of voter impersonation in South Carolina.
 
This law is an infringement on the constitutionally granted voting rights of minorities—a demographic that has historically maintained a liberal outlook and voted for Democratic candidates. These voter ID laws solve a problem that doesn’t exist in order to keep progressive-leaning voters from the ballot box.
 
 

 

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Next Up: Leash Laws for Unicorns

Jon Stewart takes on the “Wizards of ID” and their voter suppression laws.
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