Sunday, September 11, 2011

Republicans Tell Americans: No, You Don't Have the Right to Vote

I've written a great deal on the blog about how changing population demographics in America threaten the future of the Republican party. If the GOP is going to make an effort to appeal to only to the very rich and to white "Christian conservatives," then it is eventually going to be swamped by the increasing majority of Americans who are not part of the Republican party's narrowly-defined base. For example, in 2010, that most Republican of years, Democrats in California swept the election at all levels. Why? According to a recent study of voter registration trends in that state, "The ethnic populations are dominating -- or at least representing a much larger share of the younger voters -- and they are less likely to be registering as Republicans."

The Republican party is well aware that the percentage of Americans making up their party's base is shrinking, and they're attacking the problem in a number of different ways. Unfortunately, none of these efforts involves moderating their extremist, frequently bigoted views, or actually trying to appeal to the interests of minorities. Thanks to the conservative Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, Republican-friendly groups now dominate independent expenditures on elections. The Republican leader of the Wisconsin state Senate openly admits that the GOP's union-busting efforts are designed to help Republicans win, saying that if, "the money is not there under the auspices of the unions, certainly what you’re going to find is President Obama is going to have a much difficult, much more difficult time getting elected and winning the state of Wisconsin."

Republicans have also been very successful in gerrymandering legislative districts to their advantage. They particularly love the part of the Voting Rights Act that makes it illegal to deliberately re-draw a legislative district to lower the minority share of the votes. Republican are only to happy to pack all the minority voters in a state into the smallest possible number of districts. That of course guarantees that Republicans will win every other district. And of course even with the minority vote in America carefully contained, Republicans don't want more minorities in the country, so they've adopted the most hard-line anti-immigrant policies possible. Then of course there's the simple tactic of running on the platform, "government doesn't work," then deliberately running the government as badly as possible. George W. Bush, I'm looking at you.

But even with all of these weapons at their disposal, Republicans are still worried enough about their ability to unfairly manipulate elections that they've had to dust off one of the oldest, saddest tactics of all: suppressing voter registration.

The New York Times has a good summary of the situation: "Less than a year before the 2012 presidential voting begins, Republican legislatures and governors across the country are rewriting voting laws to make it much harder for the young, the poor and African-Americans - groups that typically vote Democratic - to cast a ballot."

"Spreading fear of a nonexistent flood of voter fraud, they are demanding that citizens be required to show a government-issued identification before they are allowed to vote. Republicans have been pushing these changes for years, but now more than two-thirds of the states have adopted or are considering such laws. The Advancement Project, an advocacy group of civil rights lawyers, correctly describes the push as "the largest legislative effort to scale back voting rights in a century." "Anyone who has stood on the long lines at a motor vehicle office knows that it isn’t easy to get such documents. For working people, it could mean giving up a day’s wages."

Republicans like to pretend that the new voter ID laws sweeping the country are a response to a real problem with voter fraud. According to Republican Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, his state's new voter ID law is necessary to “ensure the sanctity of the vote.” But as the Times article linked above points out, "Kansas has had only one prosecution for voter fraud in the last six years. But because of that vast threat to Kansas democracy, an estimated 620,000 Kansas residents who lack a government ID now stand to lose their right to vote." 

In some cases however, Republicans are honest enough to admit that the new laws are not at all a response to a voter fraud problem. In Indiana, Jerry Bonnet, general counsel for the secretary of state, has admitted that the state had little evidence of in-person voter fraud before lawmakers passed a 2005 voter ID law there. And the effect of the new Indiana law? Well, in 2008, a dozen elderly nuns were turned away from the polls for lack of picture IDs.

An editorial in USA Today has pointed out that there is little difference between the new voter ID laws and the Jim Crow tactics that kept blacks from voting in the south for generations. "There is also ample reason to doubt the sincerity of states that say they will provide IDs. When Georgia imposed an ID law in 2005, courts barred the state from charging for them, calling such fees a poll tax - an unconstitutional tactic once used by segregationists to keep blacks from voting. But given the true motive behind such laws, it's likely that states will find other ways to make the IDs hard to get." Former President Bill Clinton agrees, recently saying, "There has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and all the Jim Crow burdens on voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today."

And guess what? Having made it a requirement to get a photo ID to vote, Republicans are wasting no time in making it as difficult as possible to acquire an ID, particularly in areas with a high percentage of elderly voters, young voters, students, minorities and low-income voters.

And finally, I'm sad to say that the cynicism behind Republican voter suppression goes beyond just being a tactic to win elections. It's actually a point of their philosophy.

You might think this article from the hyper-conservative American Thinker, Registering the Poor to Vote is Unamerican must be satire. Sadly it is not. "Registering them to vote is like handing out burglary tools to criminals.  It is profoundly antisocial and un-American to empower the nonproductive segments of the population to destroy the country."

I'm not sure what to say about the above quote. But the first thing that occurs to me is how odd it is to equate being poor in America with being "unproductive." Are the retail clerks in America's Wal-Marts, virtually all of whom live below the poverty line despite being employed full-time, "unproductive?" Perhaps we should return to the days when only the owners of large tracts of land qualified as voters.

So to review, Republicans won't trust you to vote if you're young, old, non-white, poor, Muslim, homosexual, urban or an elderly nun living in Indiana. According to Sarah Palin, only those 18% of people living in small towns are part of "real America." I guess pretty soon Republicans will only need about a dozen limousines to transport the remaining Americans for whom they don't have complete and utter contempt.

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