Voting Whites

Artist Steve Greenburg’s cartoon speaks the truth: all this fervor over voter fraud is really about the old guard’s desire to ensure no one other than white males, preferably those who own land or have some other capital, has access to the ballot box.

Artist – Steve Greenburg

We do have a voting problem in the US, but fraudulent voting isn’t it. Our actual voting problem is that too few eligible voters actually cast their votes. We should be studying ways to increase voter participation. In Oregon, for example, they piloted program providing iPads to allow people with disabilities to vote:

these voters used iPads, brought to their homes or nursing homes by election workers, to call up their ballots, mark them on-screen and print them out on a portable wireless printer. The voters or assistants then either mailed in the printed ballots or dropped them off at election stations.

Ideas like this one are what we need; we need to enfranchise people not disenfranchise them. We need to automatically registering all eligible voters and create a federal statute prohibiting the dissemination of fraudulent information to deceive people into not voting. Instead, the GOP state legislatures and governors are pushing laws that seek to restrict access to the voting booth, laws that will disproportionately harm people of color, low-income people, and young and elderly voters. I find it more than a little ironic that the right wing, a group with fervent opposition to any type of national identification card, is now all in favor of  imposing photo identification requirements at the state level.

The Brennan Center for Justice reports that

Studies show that as many as 12% of eligible voters do not have government-issued photo ID. That percentage is even higher for seniors, people of color, people with disabilities, low-income voters, and students. Many citizens find it hard to get government photo IDs, because the underlying documentation like birth certificates (the ID one needs to get ID) is often difficult or expensive to come by. At the same time, voter ID policies are far more costly to implement than many assume.

Although not among the groups the GOP hopes to keep from the polls, other than being a liberal anyway, I now all-too-well the difficulties such laws create. I registered to vote the day I moved to the desert. When my voter id, which noted my voting districts, arrived I discovered that my name wasn’t right. The card read Dessertdemocrat. So, I filled out a change form with my correct name and sent it in. Another card arrived with the same incorrect name. This process went on for months until I finally said, “What the hell, I don’t have to show id so who cares.” And all was well until Desertstate imposed its voter id law in 2004. When I went to the polls that year, I ran into a problem: I was registered as Dessertdemocrat, but all my identification was in my actual name. I explained the problem to the volunteers; they sympathized, probably because I am white, and told me I had to fill out a provisional ballot. Long story short, I ended up at the Country Clerk’s office and explained the problem. They didn’t seem to believe me, but when they pulled up my original voter registration there was my name Desertdemocrat, and there were the 119 requests to get my name right.

If I hadn’t argued with the volunteers at the polls, I would not have been able to vote; and if I hadn’t been able to go to the country clerk’s office and show them their error, I wouldn’t have been able to vote in the next election. Now, imagine I wasn’t an outspoken, confident about my rights, and willing/able to fight the system; or imagine I was all those things but didn’t have the “proper” id? Too few vote now. Imagine . . .

The good news is that the Justice Department has stepped in. It has blocked South Carolina’s new law requiring voters to show photo IDs at the polls; it has the power to do so because South Carolina is one of several states required by the Voting Rights Act to get federal approval for any new voting laws–others include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia. Speaking at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library & Museum on December 12, 2011, Holder said of the DOJ’s enforcement of The Voter’s Rights Act

“Our efforts honor the generations of Americans who have taken extraordinary risks, and willingly confronted hatred, bias and ignorance – as well as billy clubs and fire hoses, bullets and bombs – to ensure that their children, and all American citizens, would have the chance to participate in the work of their government. The right to vote is not only the cornerstone of our system of government – it is the lifeblood of our democracy.”

I am confident the DOJ will block proposed laws in those states requiring preclearance, but we all need to be clear what these laws are about: protecting America’s voting whites.

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