“Rock” the Vote… what did you think I meant? Well, OK, “Fuck” the Vote wouldn’t be so far from the reality. The campaign, waged largely through GOP-dominated state legislatures, is a baldfaced attempt to prevent people of color, poor people, young people and old people from voting. The progressive organization Center for American Progress has just issued a report, Voter Suppression 101: How Conservatives Are Conspiring to Disenfranchise Millions of Americans. Here’s a sample:
The right to vote is under attack all across our country. Conservative legislators are introducing and passing legislation that creates new barriers for those registering to vote, shortens the early voting period, imposes new requirements for already-registered voters, and rigs the Electoral College in select states. Conservatives fabricate reasons to enact these laws—voter fraud is exceedingly rare—in their efforts to disenfranchise as many potential voters among certain groups, such as college students, low-income voters, and minorities, as possible. Rather than modernizing our democracy to ensure that all citizens have access to the ballot box, these laws hinder voting rights in a manner not seen since the era of Jim Crow laws enacted in the South to disenfranchise blacks after Reconstruction in the late 1800s.
Talk about turning back the clock! At its best, America has utilized the federal legislative process to augment voting rights. Constitutional amendments such as the 12th, 14th, 15th, 17th, 19th, 23rd, and 26th have steadily improved the system by which our elections take place while expanding the pool of Americans eligible to participate. Yet in 2011, more than 30 state legislatures considered legislation to make it harder for citizens to vote, with over a dozen of those states succeeding in passing these bills. Anti-voting legislation appears to be continuing unabated so far in 2012.
Unfortunately, the rapid spread of these proposals in states as different as Florida and Wisconsin is not occurring by accident. Instead, many of these laws are being drafted and spread through corporate-backed entities such as the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, as uncovered in a previous Center for American Progress investigative report. Detailed in that report, ALEC charges corporations such as Koch Industries Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc., and The Coca-Cola Co. a fee and gives them access to members of state legislatures. Under ALEC’s auspices, legislators, corporate representatives, and ALEC officials work together to draft model legislation. As ALEC spokesperson Michael Bowman told NPR, this system is especially effective because “you have legislators who will ask questions much more freely at our meetings because they are not under the eyes of the press, the eyes of the voters.”
The Lone Star State also placed unnecessary new requirements on groups and individuals interested in helping register others. Texas lawmakers in May passed legislation requiring that people who help register voters, known as volunteer deputy registrars, must also be eligible Texas voters themselves. The new law has a number of unintended consequences. For instance, legal permanent residents who are in the process of obtaining their citizenship would be barred from learning the political process by helping register others. Many such immigrants are currently employed as deputy registrars; this new law would likely result in their firing.
From the outset, when America was founded, there was no shortage of people who thought democracy, even representative democracy, was a bad idea. By the time of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, over a decade after the nation won its independence, the battle was already underway, and it has not ceased since. From an electorate comprising white men of property voting in federal elections only for their Representatives (not for the President, and not for their Senators), the franchise has expanded to today’s more-or-less all-encompassing franchise of all adult American citizens, voting for all those offices. But the push-back has been continuous, especially in the South, and the reality for the aforementioned portions of the electorate (people of color, seniors, youth, poor) has been one of constant battles against illegal attempts to suppress their votes.
Today’s suppressors are the GOP, and they’re often unapologetic about it. E.g., Paul Weyrich, cofounder of Heritage Foundation, said straight out, “I don’t want everybody to vote.” You have to admire his candor, if not his elitist sense of privilege. In Texas, after a GOP-owned Legislature drew a districting map that only a mother could love, it was overturned by a federal court, but of course the Supreme Court, a thoroughly GOP-partisan institution by now, overturned that ruling in turn, directing a greater accommodation of the Legislature’s map. So the four new House seats awarded to Texas by the 2010 Census, rather than reflecting the ethnic composition of the 4 million new adults in Texas, will very likely be taken by Republicans.
A few years ago, a local African American leader (by no means in the local African American mainstream) led a troop of armed men to demonstrate outside various polling places, announcing his intention to see to it that African Americans were not denied the vote in that election. We all know what would happen if he were to mount such a demonstration today: police in full riot gear, with tear gas, tasers, pepper spray and rubber bullets would be sent to break up the assembly and jail its participants, and that would be that.
And if Republicans have their way, the evil deed will already have been accomplished long before Election Day, as legitimate voters in cohorts unlikely to vote for the GOP are premeditatedly denied their ability to register to vote.
I don’t know about you, but that’s not the concept of America I have in mind. I want everybody to vote… even Paul Weyrich, if he were still alive.
AFTERTHOUGHT: Reuters has a decent piece on the issue.
AFTERTHOUGHT: Coke, Pepsi, McDonalds and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, among other corp’s… not including AT&T… have agreed to drop their financial support of ALEC. It’s a start. It’s too little, too late for this election, but we have to start from where we are, not where we wish we were.