Are you registered to vote? Are you sure?
Using a pretext of widespread voter fraud, Republicans in the 50 states have been on tear creating an array of new, restrictive voter ID legislation that makes it difficult, expensive and, in some cases, impossible to register and/or vote in some states.
In an analysis of just 19 of these new laws and two executive actions passed in only 14 states, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law concludes:
“These new laws could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.
“The states that have already cut back on voting rights will provide 171 electoral votes in 2012 – 63 percent of the 270 needed to win the presidency.”
(Some say the number of voters these laws would disenfranchise is as high as 21 million.)
Before I get into the weeds on this, you should know up front that the Republican claim of voter fraud is hollow. It is so rare that the Brennan Center notes, “one is more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit voter fraud.”
So there is no reason for these Republican-backed laws except to restrict and repress voting.
How is that being done? Through a combination of methods. This from National Conference of State Legislatures website. (Keep in mind that legislation is being passed, blocked, introduced, reintroduced, challenged in court, etc. at such a pace that the numbers change almost daily.)
"Thirty-one states require all voters to show ID before voting at the polls. In 15 of these, the ID must include a photo of the voter; in the remaining 16, non-photo forms of ID are acceptable.”
You might say requiring a government-issued photo ID to vote is not unreasonable and you might be correct. That is, until you know that at about 11 percent of Americans overall do not have photo IDs and that number shoots up to 25 percent among blacks.
Lack of photo ID – most commonly, a drivers license - is spread disproportionately among the poor, people of color, immigrants and – ahem, elders.
Some states with new ID requirements to vote now issue non-driving IDs, but it is not easy for people to gather the documents, such as birth certificates, marriage licenses, divorce decrees, etc. and there are always fees for copies of them. Plus, some elders, born at home or whose births were attended by midwives, have no birth certificates.
And women, if you live in one of these states, watch out when you apply for a non-driving ID. If you changed your name when you married and it, therefore, does not match the name on your birth certificate, be prepared to go through many hoops to prove that you, Mary Jones, are the same person as Mary Smith before your wedding day.
The website thinkprogress reported last fall on how these new restrictions are working out for some elders they spoke with in Tennessee:
”As predicted, the law is disenfranchising the poor, elderly, and minority voters, including a 96-year-old African-American woman, a 91-year old woman, and now, a 86-year old veteran.”
"Under the law, any resident without a photo ID is supposed to get one free of charge. But when [Darwin] Spinks asked for an ID, he was told he had to pay an $8 fee...He was sent from one line to another to have a picture taken, then was charged.
“I said, ‘You mean I’ve got to pay again?’ She says, ‘Yes,’” explained Spinks.”
So even when the state does not charge to issue the ID itself, it finds other fees to impose, violating the Constitutional ban on poll taxes.
There have also been accusations that in some Republican-controlled states,
Departments of Motor Vehicles have been closed down in minority neighborhoods requiring people to travel long distances to get their new IDs.
And, apparently, not all government IDs are created equal. On Super Tuesday last week, an 86-year-old World War II veteran who has voted in his community all his life was denied his right to vote because his VA identification did not meet Ohio's restrictive requirements. Paul Carroll was
“...turned away from a polling place this morning because his driver’s license had expired in January and his new Veterans Affairs ID did not include his home address.
“'My beef is that I had to pay a driver to take me up there because I don’t walk so well and have to use this cane and now I can’t even vote,' [said Carroll].”
Tennessee voting was back in the news again last week when former U.S. Congressman, Lincoln Davis, was denied his right to vote on Super Tuesday in the precinct where he has voted since 1964. He spoke about the incident last week with Keith Obermann:
In addition to purging voter rolls without telling residents, as happened to Representative Davis, and requiring a photo ID while making it difficult and/or expensive to get one, states have changed requirements for absentee voting, cut back on length of time for early voting and imposed restrictive registration procedures. Maine, for example, has repealed election day registration.
In some cases, students are no longer allowed to vote in the town where they attend college which means, mostly, they can no longer vote.
Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders discussed this issue not long ago with Rachel Maddow.
He points out a double political whammy – that just now when the Citizens United decision is allowing the haves of our nation to buy candidates and elections, simultaneous voter suppression efforts are depriving the have-nots (especially those who might disagree with the haves) of their much smaller right to be heard at the ballot box:
Voting rights are being attacked relentlessly in nearly every state generating a huge amount of reporting. Thinkprogress, which is one place is doing a good job of keeping up, has dozens of stories from around the nation on their website. Update the list by entering “voter suppression” in the site's search box.
This is like the contraception issue, isn't it? We thought birth control was settled in the 1960s. Now they – mostly Republicans – want to change that. We thought the vote was settled with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Now they - Republicans – want to disenfranchise millions of Americans.
And they are succeeding.
So. Be sure to let your state representatives know where you stand on the voting rights issue and most important:
• Check now that you are registered to vote in your state/town
• Check that you are still registered in the precinct where you believe you should vote
• Check that you have all the required credentials to vote
• If you need a non-driving ID, start now to meet the requirements to obtain one
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz: Jimmy