The war on minority, young and poor voters rages on as Republican controlled states continue to restrict the right to vote. Laws have been passed in more than a dozen states - and with the Supreme Court decision striking down a key element of the Voting Rights Act - more Republican controlled states are entering the picture.
The laws passed include requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote, restricting voter registration drives, curtailing early voting, disenfranchising ex-felons and mandating government-issued photo identification to cast a ballot. The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law (a nonpartisan law and policy institute that seeks to improve our systems of democracy and justice) has stated, "These new laws make it significantly harder for more than 5 million eligible voters to cast ballots" and notes, "These new restrictions fall most heavily on young, minority and low-income voters, as well as on voters with disabilities." Further, the Center says, "States with restrictive voting laws now comprise 70 percent of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency - including crucial swing states like Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin."
In an effort to make the right to vote a continuing right of all American people, the Democrats introduced in 2011 the "Voter Empowerment Act," aimed at expanding voting rights for all Americans - Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike. Representative John Lewis, a civil rights hero, said, "The ability to vote should be easy, accessible and simple. Yet there are practices and laws in place that make it harder to vote today than it was even one year ago. The sponsors of this act believe we need to take action or risk losing the liberties we have enjoyed. We should be moving toward a more inclusive democracy, not one that locks people out."
Some of the new federal standards proposed in the bill would allow for registering to vote at government institutions such as the DMV, allowing people to register to vote online, easily update their voter registration information when they move and adopting Election Day registration nationwide (states with same-day registration have the highest voter turnout in the nation). It would guarantee 15 days of early voting before Election Day, granting the right to vote for ex-felons after they've served their time, ban deceptive ads aimed at suppressing voter turnout, and prevent election officials from working for political campaigns (i.e. Katherine Harris of Florida).
Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center said, "The Democratic leadership is taking voting reforms very seriously. This legislation addresses the real problems in our system of elections, not the fictitious ones."
Since the 2010 election, Republicans have breathlessly hyped the phantom menace of "voter fraud" in order to pass new voting restrictions that will reshape the electorate in the GOP's favor, needlessly politicizing American elections and ignoring the real deficiencies in our electoral system. And to date the actual cases of voter fraud are so small as to be statistically immeasurable as a percentage of the votes cast.
Examples of voter suppression include 9 million voters who could not vote, according to MIT, because of "problems" with their voter registration (13 percent), long lines at the polls (11 percent), uncertainty about the location of their polling place (nine percent) or lack of newly required "proper" ID (seven percent). An additional 51 million eligible Americans are not registered to vote representing almost one in four voting eligible citizens disproportionately representing low-income voters, people of color, and younger Americans. Of the 146 million Americans registered to vote in 2008, 131 million voted - a turnout rate of 90 percent. So the biggest problem in U.S. elections isn't that people aren't voting, but that they are not registered to vote.
States like Florida have cracked down on voter registration drives, forcing non-partisan groups such as the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote to completely abandon their voter registration efforts. In North Carolina, Republican lawmakers came up with cutting the early-voting window in half, ending Sunday voting and eliminating same-day registration. States are imposing restrictions on university and college students, refusing them the right to vote in the state where they live and attend school - a violation of federal law.
Following the 2010 election, 25 laws and two executive actions were put into effect in 19 Republican controlled states to make it harder to vote. But the efforts backfired as the federal courts (now emasculated by the Supreme Court) blocked 10 of the laws as young minority voters - the admitted target of the Republicans - formed a larger share of the electorate in 2012 than they did in the 2008 election.
As we moved into 2013, 55 new voting restrictions have been proposed in 30 Republican controlled states, with the majority - not surprisingly - of these restrictions being implemented in the South. Following the Supreme Courts disastrous decision regarding section five of the Voting Rights Act (almost unanimously approved by Congress), more Republican controlled states have stepped up their efforts to prevent the poor, the young and elderly from having access to the election process.
The Republicans claim - through their spokesperson Reince Priebus - that they are sincere about reaching out to minority voters and bringing minority communities into the party's tent. If that is true then the Republican Party needs to tell their state representatives that they are going in entirely the wrong direction.
The Republican controlled legislature and the Republican governor of North Carolina wasted no time in passing and signing into the law the most disgusting voter suppression laws seen in this nation since the early 1950s. The voter ID component of the bill is so onerous that IDs held by public, municipal employees including city, county and state are not satisfactory as proof of identification. The state-issued IDs for students at state colleges and universities or state-issued IDs held by anyone on public assistance are also not valid forms of identification. In violation of federal law, the new regulations will not allow students from out of state who attend colleges or universities in N.C. to vote in N.C. The state's figures indicate over 300,000 residents do not now have an acceptable form of identification.
The reason for this - and other "new" rules - is because of the massive "voter fraud" that took place in North Carolina between 2000 and 2012 - a total of two (2) alleged cases of voter impersonation. It should be pointed out that three people died during the same period by eating Pop Rocks in the state. The state has also drastically cut the early voting and absentee voting periods, instituted polling location restrictions so onerous that thousands of people will not be able to vote - for example one northwestern city has had polling locations slashed to just one that will serve nearly 10,000 people and offers a total of 35 parking spaces. In addition, polling locations will not be allowed to remain open until everyone on line has been allowed to vote - the polls will close at 7 p.m. no matter what. The cost - that will burden N.C. taxpayers - is estimated at $20 million to implement the new restrictions.
It is unfortunate that so many people do not fully comprehend what is taking place in the way of voter suppression - particularly in the area of voter ID. They have bought into the nonsense told them by the propaganda heads of the Republican party - the likes of Limbaugh, Beck, and Hannity, along with other shouting heads that actually know nothing but parrot the words handed to them by the party. Demanding identification for voters is not the problem - in fact, virtually no one could categorically say such an idea is a bad one. What is a problem is the mandate that voters must present a special state voter ID card. The usual forms of ID - driver's license, state-provided ID, passports, or other forms will not be accepted (it might be suggested that voting ID requirements for Arizona be researched). In order to meet the new state laws, voters will have to obtain the special Voter ID card and the majority of states with the new laws have either cut back severely on motor vehicle office hours and staffing (in some cases closing locations in mostly minority areas) or made it impossible to obtain the ID anywhere except at the county seat. These actions make it increasingly difficult for seniors, the handicapped and the poor to obtain the newly required voter ID. So defending new voter ID regulations shows a complete lack of knowledge as to what Republicans are doing in the arena of voter suppression.
It is shameful a nation that preaches democracy around the world is now evidencing itself as one of the great frauds in the world as we see more and more attempts by the Republicans to block the rights of American citizens to go to the polls and have their voices heard. As I have maintained previously, we need federal laws governing both registration and voting because it has become evident the Republicans are working diligently to disenfranchise as many of "those" people as possible. When states cannot operate in a fair and equitable manner in the treatment of its citizenry then the federal government must step in to protect the constitutionally guaranteed right of every citizen to vote. We should take pride in our efforts to make voting easier for every American - not throw up partisan roadblocks hiding being the canard off "voter fraud."