Thursday, October 6, 2011

Voter Disenfranchisement Laws Making a Comeback Across America?

There is increased concern over some of the voting laws being put on the books across the nation.  Some states like Wisconsin, Tennessee and South Carolina are instituting strict voter ID requirements that target minority voters making it harder for them to vote.

The officials in many of these states claim that these laws are being enacted to fight against voter fraud.  The claim is that with a large population of illegal immigrants it is even more important now than ever to make sure all the people voting on election day in fact are legal votes.  But the fact is the combination of stricter laws and a depressed economy has resulted in many immigrants returning to their countries of origin.  In addition, there has been no evidence of rampant voter fraud, much less any kind of voter fraud in the U.S.  According to Ari Berman, a frequent reporter on these laws for Rolling Stone magazine, "a voter is more likely to be struck by lightening than they are to impersonate another voter at the polls," in addition he says "the Department of Justice looked into 300 million votes cast between 2002 and 2007 and failed to prosecute a single person for impersonating an eligible voter at the polls."

Despite that, states across America are enacting these strict ID laws that negatively affect students, the elderly and disabled in addition to voters of color.  In Chattanooga, 96-year-old Dorothy Cooper was denied a voter ID despite having a rent receipt, copy of her lease, voter registration card and birth certificate.  All because she didn't have a copy of her marriage license to explain the change in last name.  Cooper never learned to drive, so she does not have a driver's license to use as ID.  In Wisconsin, GOP leaders pushed for a bill that would make university-issued photo IDs and government-issued passports ineligible as photo ID for voters.  The same is happening in South Carolina.  Though they will accept passports as sufficient to gain a voter ID, for many passports are not accessible because of the exorbitant passport fees ($110 as of recently).  And as any New Yorker, or Dorothy Cooper, can tell you, not everyone drives.  (Check out this Mother Jones Map of the Day: Preventing Students From Voting.)

In Colorado, they are even making it harder for soldiers to vote.  Secretary of State Scott Gessler put out an order to not send ballots to soldiers out of state who are legally registered voters but did not vote in 2010.  Technically these soldiers will still be able to vote if they fax or email for ballots.  But as you can imagine, when you are fighting overseas the last thing on your mind is to remember to send out in time for a voting ballot.

Not surprisingly, a lot of these laws are being enacted in so-called battleground states and seem to be specifically targeting traditionally Democratic voters.  But it doesn't matter who is being targeted.  What matters is that people are not going to be heard.  One of the best ways to change things is the power of the vote.  Organizations like the NAACP , United Methodist Women, New York Community Trust and the ACLU are doing what they can to prevent these laws from stopping fellow Americans from having their voices heard.  If you are not registered to vote, get registered (New York state voter registration information here), if you are registered, get out and vote and keep voting.  We fought too hard for these rights to give them up.

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