Fight Tea Party Voters With Fresh Voters

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The Nation

Fight Tea Party Voters With Fresh Voters

Candidates are in their districts, making nice to likely mid-term voters. They're a precious bunch, more scarce than general election voters, and typically more polarized in their views. What if there were more of them and more low-income people, particularly women, in the mix?

In a country where 131 million people voted in the 2008 presidential election, a few million more voters from under-represented groups sprinkled, state after state, by the tens or hundreds of thousands, just might make a difference. Securing their voting rights is a smart, effective way to find out.

In a handful of swing states where voting rights groups have sued and won in recent years, the result is impressive: hundreds of thousands of low-income people, two-thirds women, registering since 2008.

In Missouri, where John McCain beat Barack Obama by less than 4,000 votes, nearly a quarter-million voter registration applications have been filed by Missourians while applying for state public assistance benefits since August 2008.  In Ohio, where George W. Bush beat John Kerry by nearly 119,000 votes in 2004, low-income Ohioans filed 100,000 voter applications in just the first six months of 2010.

Project Vote, Demos, The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the local civil rights groups who sued these states and won (forcing turnarounds at state public assistance agencies) have been waging a lonely fight to implement the National Voter Registration Act. The 1993 law requires a range of state agencies, not just motor vehicles, offer voter registration services.

That fight became a little less lonely in June, when, for the first time, the Justice Department announced it would start enforcing the NVRA's voter registration mandate.  This April, 40 million Americans applied for Food Stamps.  If 10 percent of those people registered to vote - a smaller percentage than seen at Missouri public assistance agencies after settling its NVRA suit - the nation's voter rolls would grow by several million.

The numbers from Missouri and Ohio dwarf the size of the largest tea party rallies. Already, right-wingers fear these voters and NVRA compliance, commenting on websites that poor people should not vote for any number of ugly reasons. Now it's up to other candidates to pay attention to voters who've until now been overlooked.  Instead of obsessing about the tea partiers -- give those newest voters some good reason to use that vote!

Laura Flanders

Laura is YES! Magazine's 2013 Local Economies Reporting Fellow and is executive producer and founder and host of "GRITtv with Laura Flanders." Follow her on Twitter @GRITlaura.

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