Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues., or Wed.., Oct. 8, 9 or 10
Republican or Green, Libertarian or Democrat, you should register and vote in next month’s elections.
It’s timely – October 9 is Illinois’ deadline to register to vote (after Tuesday, registration’s still possible until November 3, according to the League of Women Voters, but you’ll have to vote at the time you register).
And it’s important.
Voting rights are at risk nationally, especially for older, student, low-income, minority, disabled and other Americans. For years, the nation expanded its electorate by extending, in bipartisan ways, the right to vote to African Americans, women and young adults. Now, some states reduce a Constitutional right to a transaction like buying booze.
Since 2011, about 40 states have considered and 17 states have changed laws restricting voting. Despite a few court and Department of Justice rulings blocking some, 20 repressive laws and executive actions remain in effect in 14 states (including pre-2011 photo ID laws in Indiana and Georgia), according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School.
In Illinois, no such disenfranchisement has happened, but last month, Iowa District Judge Mary Pat Gunderson stopped the implementation of a new law restricting the vote because it would have “created fear that new citizens will lose their right to vote and/or be charged with a felony and cause some qualified voters to feel deterred from even registering to vote.”
Voter ID laws requiring voters to show a photo identification to cast ballots have mainly come from GOP lawmakers who claim they’re preventing “voter fraud,” but the intent is to influence elections’ outcomes.
Meanwhile, everyday Americans eligible to vote have been affected in primaries and states with voter ID restrictions. In Tennessee, 96-year-old Dorothy Cooper – who’s voted for decades – was denied a photo ID because she couldn’t produce her marriage license with her maiden name. In Indiana, a group of 10 elderly nuns was prohibited from voting. In Wisconsin, Air Force veteran Gil Paar’s military ID wasn’t acceptable. (Paar said, “I’ve always used my military ID to vote, but now it’s not good enough? I didn’t serve my country for four years so I, or any other folks, could be denied the right to vote.”)
“As many as 700,000 minority voters under 30 may be unable to cast a ballot in November,” according to a new study from St. Louis’ Washington University and the University of Chicago. Brennan breaks down otherwise-eligible U.S. citizens without photo ID: 6 million seniors, 5.5 million African Americans, 8.1 million Hispanics, and 4.5 million 18-24 year olds, plus 15 percent of U.S. households with income less than $35,000 a year. Some of those categories overlap, but Brennan says up to 5 million Americans could lose their right to vote.
That loss is comparable to the 1950s, when some states still had poll taxes, literacy tests or just the threat of violence if “unwanted” voters tried to cast ballots.
And the excuse that voter fraud requires new restrictions is hogwash. The independent News21 group at Arizona State University examined all 50 states since 2000 and found 10 cases of voter impersonation out of 146 million registered voters – 1 out of 14.6 million votes! Impersonation is what photo IDs prevent; it doesn’t address improprieties in absentee or fraud in registration – like what a handful of people apparently did for the progressive group ACORN in 2008, and recently with the conservative Strategic Allied Consulting firm.
Norman Ornstein, with the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said, “The evidence of significant voter fraud is zero.”
In Indiana, the late appeals court judge Terence Evans said, “The Indiana voter photo ID law is a not-too-thinly veiled attempt to discourage election-day turnout by certain folks believed to skew Democratic.”
In Pennsylvania, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, a Republican, candidly conceded that that state passed “Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”
Other conservatives and Republicans are starting to recognize that excluding voters rather than winning their support betrays the party of Eisenhower and Lincoln.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a conservative Republican, vetoed bills that would have toughened an existing voter ID law, and in Minnesota, where a voter ID constitutional amendment is on November’s ballot, leaders from the state’s three political parties denounced it: former U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale, a Democrat; former Democratic U.S. Congressman Tim Penny, with the Independence Party; and former Governor Arne Carlson, a Republican.
Carlson said, “Frankly, it terrifies me. Where does this constitutional amendment come from? A problem? Research? No. It comes from the [Right Wing oil multi-millionaires] Koch brothers.”
Protect your right to vote, register, and cast your ballot.
Links: News21’s database on voter fraud cases since 2000 – http://votingrights.news21.com/article/election-fraud/
Brennan Center study – http://www.brennancenter.org/content/resource/voting_law_changes_in_2012/
To check online whether YOU are registered to vote in Illinois, go to: