The Republican 'Voter Fraud' Fraud
All over the US, GOP lawmakers have engineered schemes to make voting more difficult. Well, if you can't win elections fairly…
Presidential candidate and angry white man Newt Gingrich seems nostalgic for the good old Jim Crow poll tax days: he has called for people to have to pass an American historical literacy test before they can vote. His colleagues on the anti-democratic right have not gone quite so far, but 38 states, most of them controlled by Republicans, are concocting all kinds of ingenious ways to suppress the vote. A new report from New York University's Brennan Center for Justice says that more than five million people – enough to swing the 2012 presidential election – could find themselves disenfranchised, especially if they're poor or old or students or black or Latino.
Hyper-conservative governors and legislators, working with templates produced by a shady cabal called the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec), have pushed through laws to cut the number of voting days, impede groups registering new voters, demand proof of citizenship and otherwise make it more difficult to cast a ballot. Alec, partly funded by the John Birch-er billionaire Koch brothers and affiliated with Liam Fox's Atlantic Bridge, is on a mission to shrink not just government (which it regards as a cancer on capitalism), but democracy itself. Ion Sancho, elections supervisor of Leon County, Florida, and veteran of Florida's 2000 presidential election fiasco, says: "Every state that has a Republican legislature is doing this, from Maine to Florida. It's a national effort."
In the 2008 election, Barack Obama benefited from extended voting hours and early voting days, as well as rules allowing citizens to register and vote on the same day. It's pretty obvious why: students, the elderly, and hourly-wage workers who can't queue for hours without making the boss angry, tend to favor Democrats. Florida – which became a byword for Banana Republicanism and electoral corruption 11 years ago – has been positively zealous in attempts to restrict voting rights on the grounds that easy voting leads to waste, fraud and abuse. One lawmaker pitched a hissy fit, claiming that dead actors (Paul Newman, for one) constantly turn up on voter rolls and that "Mickey Mouse" had registered to vote in Orlando. State senator Mike Bennett wants to make voting "harder"; after all, he said, "people in Africa literally walk 200 or 300 miles so they can have the opportunity to do what we do, and we want to make it more convenient? How much more convenient do you want to make it?"
Florida Republicans addressed the problem of "convenience" earlier this year by cutting early voting days from 14 to eight, cutting budgets for expanded polling places and eliminating Sunday voting: African American (and some Latino) churches had successfully run a post-sermon"Souls to the Polls" operation, getting out the vote in 2004, 2006 and 2008. Florida has also attacked civic-minded people trying to register new voters. Jill Ciccarelli, a teacher at New Smyrna Beach High School, wanted to foster a sense of citizenship amongst her pupils, so she helped the ones who were old enough register. She didn't know she was breaking the law. Now, all individuals or groups must file a "third party registration organisation" form with the state, and instead of having ten days to deliver the paperwork,they must now do it in 48 hours. Failure to comply could draw felony charges and thousands of dollars in fines.
The nonpartisan League of Women Voters, promoters of civic responsibility since 1920, has now abandoned its Florida voter drives: LWV is suing the state, saying that Florida's clampdown on the franchise violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Florida's response? Governor Rick Scott, a Republican elected in 2010 and steeped in Koch-flavored Tea, wants to largely exempt Florida – a former slave state with as rich a racist history as Alabama or Mississippi – from the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Florida's not out front on this: many states, including those fat with electoral college votes such as Texas, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Indiana, Tennessee and Ohio, have passed harsh restrictions on who can vote and how. More than a dozen states demand that people show an approved photo ID card. Surely, the middle-class reasoning goes, every red-blooded American has a driving license? But hundreds of thousands – many elderly, disabled or just plain poor – do not. Representative Terri Sewell, a member of Congress from Alabama, told the New York Times that her wheelchair-bound father had used his United States social security card as proof of identity when voting. Now that's been outlawed.
In Texas, student ID cards are no longer be valid for voting; neither are ID cards issued by the federal Veterans Administration. All those students and war vets need to do is go buy a gun: concealed weapons permits are acceptable at the polls.
Republicans all sing from the same hymnal on this one: voting must be tightly controlled to prevent fraud. Never mind that there is no fraud. Indeed, the Brennan Center found that voter fraud is so "exceedingly rare" that "one is more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit voter fraud." Mickey Mouse was not allowed to register. Paul Newman did not vote from beyond the grave. Hordes of undocumented Mexicans have not stuffed ballot boxes (though a great many new, legal Latino voters have registered in Florida, Texas and other large states).
But why let the facts get in the way of rigging an election? Some conservative sages have let the veil slip long enough for us to see what's really going on. Former Arkansas governor-turned-paid-Murdoch-mediaite Mike Huckabee likes to say that if people have friends who don't plan to vote the rightwing line, "Let the air out of their tires on election day. Tell them the election has been moved to a different date."
Huckabee protests he's just joking. But Matthew Vadum, a Fox News favorite and part of the paranoid right's brain trust, isn't being remotely funny when he says "registering the poor to vote is un-American." Nor was American Legislative Exchange Council co-founder Paul Weyrich back in the 1980s, when he said, "I don't want everybody to vote. Our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down."
Obviously, democracy is no fun if just anyone can play.
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