Saturday, August 18, 2012

American Sheep & Republican Electoral Travesty of 2012

Our ancestors fought and died so they would have the right to electoral self government, from the nation’s earliest days during the Revolutionary War.  Our fathers, uncles, brothers and sisters died in World War 2, Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan, not for vacuous principles, but for the very practical rights we enjoy, the most important of which is the right to democratically choose our leaders.  Within the past few years hundreds of thousands of people in Libya, Egypt and Syria have fought and died for the same rights.  Yet here in America for the 2012 presidential and congressional elections, which Republican politicians insist on describing the country as the bastion of “Exceptionalism,” one in four African Americans may very well be prevented from voting and one in 10 Americans across the board may not be able to vote for the president, senators or congressmen.

 The only thing exceptional about that is how utterly anti-democratic it is.  The vast majority of voters being disenfranchised belong to groups which disproportionally vote Democratic. What is most puzzling is that the vast majority of Americans stand by twiddling their thumbs doing nothing about this travesty, while the clock ticks down to the November election. In most other countries, people would be protesting in the streets by the thousands, demanding a stop to this massive disenfranchisement.

 Republican legislators governors in 8 states have passed laws which make it nearly impossible for many minority, elderly and college age citizens to vote in the forthcoming election.  Perhaps some are not aware of the reasons these voter suppression laws are a serious problem.  On the surface, requiring photo voter identification may seem reasonable.   But it turns out, that if such a law were passed, and photo voter IDs were to be a requirement consistent with our voting rights, the laws passed would have to be dramatically changed to address their systematic discrimination against some voters.  As they are, they are unconstitutional.

1.     According to a national study by the Brennan Center at NYU Law School, a photo identification requirement excludes 11% of all Americans, 25% of African Americans, 18% of over 65 voters and 18% of 18-24 year olds.

2.     You may ask “What’s the big deal with getting a photo ID?”  There are numerous problems making it nearly impossible to vote.

a.     In some states a birth certificate is required to obtain a photo ID that is a substantial expense for poor people.   It costs $21.50 for a copy in Ohio, for example. Poor and elderly people often cannot afford to pay for a birth certificate.  Basically, that makes voters pay a poll tax, which is prohibited.  Some rural elderly people were born at home and no birth certificates exist. Other citizens were born in another country many years ago and have no accepted birth certificate.  Many poor and elderly people have no means of transportation to the required state office, often in another town, or in another part of a large city, in order to reach the office to buy a certificate.  Many people work on jobs where they lose wages if they take off work to obtain a birth certificate and lose wages again to stand in very long lines to vote.  They often can't afford that.  If this were to be a requirement it should be paid for by the government.

b.     In some states other citizenship documents are required to get a photo ID.  13 million American have no practical access to citizenship documents, and 39% of people with lower incomes have no documents.  It costs $55 to obtain a US passport card the first time, which is prohibitive for poor Americans and again, amounts to a poll tax.

c.     College students may be required to register to vote in their home state though they live in a different state while attending college, which would require they fly home to register, and fly home again to vote.  Some states, like Pennsylvania, have outlawed mail registration. Anyone who has moved in the past year may be required to re-register, which is a special problem to students. Anyone who has changed their name, such as recently married women, may be unable to vote.  They tend to be younger people.  For 18% who have photo IDs, their address is not current.

3.  Access to polls has been reduced.  Voting hours have been reduced in most voter suppression states, so there is very little time before or after work to vote, which requires people paid by the hour to lose wages in order to stand in long lines to vote, which is a serious financial hardship for many poor White, Hispanic and Black voters.  Many African American people have historically voted the Sunday before the election on Tuesday, so Republican have blocked voting on that Sunday in some states. In some states, there are fewer voting machines per precinct in poorer areas than in wealthier white precincts, guaranteeing long lines.  If it rains electionday, many poor voters may have to wait in the rain for hours to vote while voters in affluent precincts will be accommodated more comfortably.  During the 2008 election some voters stood in line in the rain 11 hours to vote.

This election promises to be the most corrupt in the nation's history.  The lack of public response, the near silence from the citizenry is stunning.  We are standing by doing nothing, while the voting rights of from 1 in 4, to 1 in 10 are in jeopardy.  Where is the outrage?  It has been said, “You cannot make a man by standing a sheep on its hind-legs. But by standing a whole flock of sheep in that position you can make a crowd of men….let him loose among his fellows, and he is lost —- he becomes a unit in unreason.*” Have we become an utterly passive obedient populace, docile and indifferent sheep, accepting the unacceptably unconstitutional laws imposed upon us, devoid of backbone? 

[* Sir Henry Maximillian Beerbohm (1911)]

Weiser WR & Norden, L. (2012) Voting law changes 2012. Brennan Center for Justices, New York University Law School.  

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