Saturday, June 25, 2011

Voter Suppression: Thoughts on Independence Day

US Independence Day, is an apt time to give serious thought to attempts currently underway to abridge our most important right as Americans, the right to choose our elected representatives, including the president of the United States.  Thirty Republican-controlled State Legislatures within the United States have either already passed, or are in the process of pushing through legislation that would dramatically restrict the voting access of racial and ethnic minorities, college students, rural voters, senior citizens, people with disabilities, anyone who has moved within the past year, and those who are homeless

The US Constitution allows for election of the President, members of the House of Representatives and Senate by a process of election by the People (i.e. you and me).  In the case of the President, the use of electors for each state based on population is used instead of direct election of the president.  The Fifteenth Amendment (Amendment XV) to the United States Constitution prohibits each government in the United States from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen's "racecolor, or previous condition of servitude" (i.e., slavery). It was ratified on February 3, 1870.  the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which provided: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." Echoing the language of the 15th Amendment, the Act prohibits states from imposing any "voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure ... to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color."

 The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, recognizes the integral role that transparent and open elections play in ensuring the fundamental right to participatory government. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Article 21 states: Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his/her country, directly or through freely chosen representatives. Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot or by equivalent free voting procedures.

 As part of an effort to suppress voting, new photo identification laws that would suppress turnout of Hispanic and other minority voters are in the process of being passed.  In some states people who have moved or changed addresses or names (e.g.married women) will be unable to vote. Plans are being developed to systematically deny large segments of the United States electorate access to free and unfettered voting in the 2012 elections via organized state action led by the Republican Party and their wealthy donors.

Laws in several states, such as Arizona, would even make it difficult for President Obama’s name to appear as a candidate on the ballot. This has arisen from false claims that he is not a U.S. Citizen.  While those claims are absurd on their face, some states may nonetheless make it very difficult for the President to satisfy all of the criteria required to be a candidate for president. That is yet another way to attempt to rig the election.

Republican state legislators are screaming warnings about alleged voter fraud.  A 2007 thorough study by the Brennan Center for Justice of New York University concluded "It is more likely you will be struck by lightening than that someone will impersonate another person at the polls."

Within the United States, a variety of techniques are being greatly expanded again for the 2012 Presidential and Congressional elections, including:

Creating Unrealistic Hurdles to Voter Registration:  In Florida, a new law is making its way through the legislature that would make it nearly impossible to conduct voter registration drives, which greatly affects voter registration in Hispanic, racial minority and other low income areas.  Same Day registration is being outlawed in many states. 

Voter Deception: Deceptive practices include misinforming voters about whether they can vote, where to vote, when to vote and how to vote. A Common Cause report on the 2008 election pointed out that these practices have expanded from flyers and phone calls to include online practices. From the report,

"Most of these emails said that given the high turnout expected, Republicans were to vote on Tuesday, Democrats on Wednesday. An email went to the entire student body of George Mason University that appeared to be from the provost of the school making this same claim.”

Partisan Election Administration: In many states, the officials responsible for overseeing elections are themselves partisan elected individuals, some of whom also hold positions of responsibility in the same campaigns they are charged with overseeing. This creates a natural conflict of interest. The most well-known instance of this is Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris in the 2000 election, who was also co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign in Florida; she oversaw the removal of tens of thousands of names from the voter rolls based on admittedly-inaccurate lists, the vast majority of whom were minorities or from primarily Democratic precincts. Many Americans continue to believe George W. Bush was not legitimately elected president because of partisan interference with the electoral process in Florida.

Inequality in Election Day Resources:  By providing more polling places, poll workers and/or voting machines in some precincts than others election officials can create long lines that discourage people from voting, while making voting easy for others. In Ohio during the 2004 elections minority areas were provided with fewer resources than areas that tended to vote for conservatives, resulting in very long lines.

Felon Disenfranchisement , the policy of not allowing those with felony convictions to vote. The United States is one of the only democracies in the world with this system, and laws vary from state to state. It disproportionally affects African American men, with approximately 13% of the total population nationwide unable to vote, seven times the national average for other groups.

Voter Purges: Officials strike voters from the rolls through a process often shrouded in secrecy, prone to error, and vulnerable to manipulation.  Manipulation of the process can be a way to deny potential opposition voters access to the polls. Partisan election officials have been known to use the process to remove large numbers of targeted voters from districts that heavily represent the opposing party from the voter rolls.

What can you do?  (1) Write to your Senators and Congressional Representatives expressing concern about these limitations being placed on the voting (2) Write to Honorable Erich H. Holder, Jr., Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20530-0001 with a copy to your Congressional representative and Senators (3) Write a letter to the editor of your newspaper expressing concern about this infringement on voting my millions of Americans, (4) Email President Barrack Obama expressing your concerns:


Justin Levit (2007) The truth about voter fraud,  Brennan Center for Justice, New York University School of Law

Common Cause, Deceptive Practices 2.0: Legal and Policy Responses

Right to Vote, Human Rights Library, University of MInnesota;

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