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Voter Suppression

 Make sure you know how to register to vote & where to vote in your area.Contact your local Election Board.

Voter suppression, also known as “blocking the vote” is used to intimidate targeted groups of people from registering to vote using both legal and illegal means.  The outcome of an election can be profoundly effected by voter suppression techniques.  The practices employed by voter suppressionists work to strangle the U.S. citizen’s sacred right to vote.  Voter suppression is a form of cheating.  And, I also believe that voter suppression is a manifestation of “class warfare” since its intention is the intimidation of minorities in our country.  It is a form of “profiling.” Hundreds of thousands or even millions of eligible voters could be prevented from voting on November 6th  in the name of protecting the election against voter fraud, a very rare felony in our society.    

 The Republican support of voter restriction is a reflection of their elitist attitude towards minorities, which they demonize as indolent.  They are the political party dividing the population into classes: 1%, 99%, and now, as of September 18, 2012, into 47%!!  The 47%, half  the country, are people, according to Mitt Romney, who are freeloaders who feel they are victims and believe they are entitled to help from the government, pay no income tax, and need to learn to take personal responsibility for their lives! These people are automatically Obama supporters since they want to have a co-dependent relationship with the Federal government.  This characterization is, of course, seriously wrong.  None-the-less, the attitude is that these people may commit voter fraud and need to be targeted.  Restrictive voting bills are being promoted in states with Republican governors and Republican controlled legislatures aimed at restricting voters who are primarily Democrats.

If the coming presidential election proves to be close or controversial, there will be multiple legal challenges in states such as Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Virginia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.  These pivotal states represent 218 electoral votes, 80% of the electoral votes needed to be elected.  Consequently, these states are crucial and have been the targets of many voter suppression attempts.  Post-election day, litigation is not unknown in our history.  Such litigation has doubled since the 2000 election when its outcome was eventually decided between Bush and Gore by the U. S. Supreme Count.  Going to court has, unfortunately, become part of our new political reality due to acrimonious polarization and the almost equal division between the two political parties.  In 2008 the U. S. Supreme Court upheld the Voter ID requirement in Indiana.  Since then there has been a spate of Republican efforts in state legislatures to change the election laws.  In 2011 the states with Republican run legislatures went to great links to make the voter laws more restrictive.

Sadly, legal attempts to create barriers to voting are not new in American history.  The states have the right to establish the qualifications to vote.  An early definition of a voter was a white man who owned property and paid taxes.  Throughout our history the impetuous has been to expand the political franchise.  It took a while and many struggles to get to universal suffrage (no restrictions due to  gender, race, social status, or wealth).  The following is a brief summary of the expansion of voters’ rights throughout our history born out of great social changes in our culture:

  • Abolition of property qualifications for white men (throughout the antebellum period).
  • 14th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution (1868)~ Vote extended to those born in U. S. or naturalized.
  • 15th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution (1870) ~ Vote extended to non-white men.
  • 17th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution (1913) ~  Direct election of Senators
  • 19th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution (1920) ~ Vote extended to women.
  • 1924 ~ Vote extended to Native Americans
  • 1961 ~ Vote extended to residents of the District of Columbia
  • 1971 ~ Vote extended to those between the age of 18 and 21.

Whenever the franchise expanded there has always been a reciprocal push back to narrow the franchise.  During the Reconstruction period after our Civil War, the 15th Amendment assured the vote to the freed blacks.  Unfortunately, in 1877 a series of laws were passed in southern states, the Jim Crow Voting Laws, to suppress black voting. Now is the rise of literary tests, poll taxed, and “whites only” primaries in defiance of the Federal law.  These state laws were so restrictive and so effective that in 1940 only 3% of blacks of voting age were registered to vote.

Voter suppression tactics were also aimed at the wave of immigration from Europe in the late 19th century. For example, California and New Jersey required immigrants to bring their naturalization papers to the polls.  Some states limited the length of time to vote causing an insurmountable problem since most immigrants had to work a ten-hour day.  New York City declared Saturdays and Yom Kippur days for registration in an effort to exclude the Jewish vote.

Finally, the “Voting Rights Act of 1965” (amended in 1970, 1975, 1982, and 2006) eradicated the Jim Crow Laws in the South. This act protects against all racial discrimination.  The law banned all use of tests and any device to qualify voters on the basis of literary, education, or fluency in English. And, it stopped racial discrimination in the choice of election judges and polling place officials.  The “Voting Rights Act of 1965” is considered the greatest most effective piece of civil rights legislation passed by Congress. The last vestiges of Jim Crow, poll taxes, survived another year and were finally banned in 1966 when the Supreme Court ruled that Virginia’s poll taxes were unconstitutional (Harper vs. Virginia Board of Elections, 383 U.S. 663 [1966]).

The next major piece of legislation concerning voting was the “National Voter Registration Act of 1993,” also known as the “Motor Voter” law.  All states are required to offer voter registration at offices where people apply for driver’s licenses, public benefits, or other government services.  This act also prohibited the removal of names from voter’s lists because they have not voted for some time.  States can remove people who have died or have moved out of state.

The next important act was the “Uniformed and Oversees Citizen’s Absentee Voters Act of 1986” (HAVA).  This law provides “provisional ballots” to members of the military, the Merchant Marine, and employees of the Federal government living overseas to vote in Federal elections.   This act guarantees that voters at home whose names do not appear on poll records can use “provisional ballots” to vote.  These ballots are usually used by first time voters, newly registered voters, and people who have recently moved.  Those who use provisional ballots must prove residency within a specific, usually short, amount of time after the election.  The act also states clearly that voting machines, ballots, and polling places must be accessible to the handicapped.  Also, help for people with limited English skills must be provided at polls.  As of January 1, 2006 each polling place had to have at least one voting machine for use by disabled people.

Ohioans will remember the scandal surrounding the Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell (Republican) in 2004.  The voting turnout was huge that year.  Voting machines were not fairly allocated among Republican and Democratic wards.  In some places in Ohio there were extremely long lines and a wait to vote into the wee hours of the morning.  Finally, late on election day, the Federal Court of Southern Ohio allowed distribution of paper ballots among the long lines of waiting citizens.  Blackwell also got into a lot of trouble for restricting the use of provisional ballots by refusing to accept them if the voter could not immediately prove that s/he was voting in the correct precinct.

Even in light of all these legislative acts to encourage voting, voter suppression has not come to an end.  There are many methods of voter suppression:

CAGING

Caging” is a method to limit the voter’s lists.  It is the practice of sending a direct mailing to addresses on a voting list and then compiling another list of the addresses of the undelivered mail.  This list is then used to purge the official voters’ registrations list on the assumption that the persons are no longer legally residing at their stated residents.  This forces the deleted persons to vote using “provisional ballots,” which must be confirmed after the election.  In many states  “caging” is illegal.  The practice has also led to much litigation

 INTIMIDATION

The Republican National Committee in New Jersey in the 1980s sponsored the creation of the “National Ballot Security Task Force” to patrol polling stations in search of voter fraud.  The task force was made up of off-duty police wearing blue arm bands carrying loaded service revolvers.  They patrolled African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods in Trenton and Newark.  The group was sued in New Jersey and forced to disband.

 In 2008 the Department of Justice sued “New Black Panther Party of Self Defense.” (This group was not affiliation at all with “theBlack Panthers)  During the presidential election this group carried police-style batons to intimidate voters outside of Philadelphia polling stations.

Another powerful group bent on intimidation, “True the Vote,” is based in Texas.  According to a report published by “Demos” (located in N.Y.C.) and “Common Cause” (located in Washington, D.C.)  entitled “Bullets at the Ballot Box: Protecting the Freedom to Vote Against Wrongful Challenge & Intimidations,”  True the Vote plans to intimidate “suspect” would-be voters as they approach the polls.  They claim to be protecting us from “the food stamp army.” This is a group of Tea Party persons who see themselves as patriots whose role is to protect the polls.  They are extremely well organized and well funded and plan to make their presence felt all over the country.    They claim that they want a “targeted” person to feel like s/he is “driving seeing the police following you.”  Their website is: www.truethevote.org.   The “Demos” and “Common Cause” report can be downloaded at:  http://www.demos.org/publication/bullies-ballot-box-protecting-freedom-vote-against-wrongful-challenges-and-intimidation.

 DISINFORMATION
Targeted at Specific Groups

 In 2008 Democrats and Hispanics in Nevada received robo-calls that they could vote the day after Election Day to avoid the crowds at the polls.  In Lake County, Ohio voters received official looking mailers stating that those who registered through Democratic-leaning organizations could not vote. In Michigan disinformation via phone calls told absentee voters to mail their ballots to the wrong address.  Beware of such calls and mailers.  When in doubt, call your local Election Board to find out the truth!

 PHOTO ID LAWS

In 2010 there was only two states requiring photo ID.  In 2011 thirty-four states considered requiring photo ID.  Eleven states have passed new stricter ID Laws. It has been estimated that 11% of Americans don’t have government-issued photo IDs.  If you already have a driver’s license or a passport or, if you live in Texas and you have a permit to carry a concealed weapon, you don’t have anything to worry about.  But, if you don’t, you will have to take various documents such as your birth certificate, your naturalization forms, or your proof of residence, to your local government office that can issue to you an official government-photo ID.  The people effected are the young, the old, the poor, black and Hispanic and primarily Democrats.  The ID laws don’t only effect minorities, but, for example, anyone who might loose their wallet or purse the night before the election would have to vote using a provisional ballet and will be required to prove ID within a short period of time after the election.

 The process of getting an ID can be complicated and long. Many people may have to take off from work to apply for an ID. They may have to drive a long distance. The disabled usually don’t drive and will have to ask someone to drive them to an office.  Many people can’t afford to get the documentation needed to obtain an ID.  Many people argue that since the photo ID requirement is costly, it is in effect a “poll tax” and is against the law.

 CHANGING EARLY VOTING TIMES &
ELECTION-DAY REGISTRATION LAWS

Here in Ohio, two members of the Montgomery County Election Board, Dennis Lieberman and Thomas Richie, Sr., were fired from the Board by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted after they voted to continue allowing early voting on weekends in Montgomery County.  They have filed a lawsuit in U. S. District Court in Dayton for unjust termination. Another lawsuit over Ohio voter rights was filed by the Obama campaign and a Federal judge in Columbus last month granted the Obama campaign’s request to give all Ohio voters the option of casting their ballots in person during the three days before Election Day.  Husted has not yet complied. Petitions have also been presented to Husted requesting him to open all the weekends of October for early voting.

 Weekend voting like this is often used by churches and other organizations to bus members to vote early.  This is helpful for people who work long hours or more than one job during the week.

John Husted is now considering supporting a bill which will require the showing of a voter photo ID at polling places in Ohio, which will be debated after the November election.  He also wants to, in the future, limit the number of documents Ohioans can show to get a ballot.  Along with a government-issued ID such as a driver’s license, Ohioans can now show such things as a utility bill with their current address, military ID or pay stub to prove who they are and obtain a ballot.

Thirteen states in 2011 introduced bills to end Election-Day-Voter Registration.  States who have Election-Day Registration have higher voter turnout.

In 2011 nine states considered bills to reduce their early voting period  and four other states wanted to reduce absentee voter opportunities.  The reason given for such cuts were the costs involved and the administrative burden, as well as the goal to reduce voter fraud.

 OTHER METHODS

Most people believe that convicted felons are banned from voting forever in the U. S.  However, felon voting rights are defined by the states.  Ohio allows ex-felons to regain voting rights once released from prison.

 In 2011 twelve states introduced bills to require proof of citizenship (U. S. birth  certificates, U. S. Passports, or U. S. Naturalization documents, certain tribal IDs, and other rare documents).  Some states require a driver’s license or a non-driver ID that declares that the person submitted proof of citizenship to get the ID.  Again, it takes time and money to attain these documents if required.  The cost of copying primary sources such as these can be prohibitive.

Third party registration groups (i.e. The League of Women Voters) have been criticized and limited in their work.  The reason for this is that Democrats register more often with such groups whereas Republicans usually vote individually.

SUMMARY

The people who support these restrictive laws claim that they are trying to protect the process from voter fraud and thus there will be cleaner elections. One of their primary fears is that illegal aliens will take advantage of the system and illegally vote. But, these techniques also disenfranchise qualified groups of people.  Voter ID is not in-and-of-itself a bad idea, but the problem with a universal rule requiring a government ID to vote is that access to the requisite documents can be difficult and expensive for individuals to obtain. In effect, the costs involved in collecting the information amount to a “poll tax.” To be fair the state governments would have to make access equal to all Americans.  The burden should be on the state and not on individuals.  Rhode Island has begun an interesting process to help all its voters have a free government ID by 2014.  Perhaps this can be done nationally, see: https://sos.ri.gov/elections/voterid/.

 Since there has only been eighty-six convictions of voter fraud out of 300 million voters, most of these laws are imposing a solution on a non-existent problem.

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