Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., April 22, 23 or 24
The April 9 election had a low turnout, but that doesn’t mean Americans think voting is unimportant.
Some apparently think voting is SO important, they’re trying to take it away.
Voter suppression – robbery, really – has taken a few familiar forms:
*voter ID laws let individual states require certain (but not all) government-issued identification to get ballots, with stricter criteria than federal law;
*Early Voting’s elimination prevents people from voting at their convenience instead of getting off work, waiting in long lines, etc.; and
*gerrymandering lets states redraw election district boundaries to one party’s advantage.
But what can’t be achieved through such schemes might be handled elsewhere, as the U.S. Supreme Court and some statehouses have become other places where thugs in suits and ties are sticking up citizens and taking the right to vote.
As Woody Guthrie sang, “Some rob you with a six-gun, some with a fountain pen.”
At the Supreme Court two cases are significant. One challenges the continued constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Its Section 5 requires 16 mostly Southern states with histories of discrimination to get permission from the U.S. Justice Department or a federal court before changing voting procedures. Passed in 1965, when poll taxes, literacy tests and other tactics were used to keep minorities from voting, the VRA protects voters from new laws that make voting difficult.
The VRA was re-authorized for 25 more years in 2006 – during the Bush administration – by a huge bipartisan majority. Its opponents say that at a time when an African American has been elected president twice, the law is obsolete. But skeptics suspect the real goal is to discourage, if not prevent, voting by “undesirables.”
“If Section 5 dies, then someone somewhere is going to get away with rigging elections,” said Erin Fuchs in Business Insider.
A ruling is expected in June.
“The flagrant and aggressive voter suppression efforts that occurred in many of the very states subject to Sec. 5 during the past election underscores that this critical measure is still necessary to protect the fundamental right to vote,” said Urban League president Marc Morial. “The Justice Department blocked discriminatory voting changes in South Carolina and Texas that would have disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of minority voters.”
The second Supreme Court case attacking voting had justices hearing arguments about Arizona’s Proposition 200, which adds burdens to prove citizenship. By adding to federal qualifications it takes away the ease of people registering to vote when they get drivers licenses, etc. – violating federal law.
Advocates of such stricter identification requirements say they want to prohibit undocumented immigrants from voting; opponents say mandating documents such as birth certificates bothers everyone.
“If Arizona’s brazen attempt to evade the mandates of the VRA is upheld, it will make it tougher for voters in Arizona to register, and other states with legislatures that are looking to suppress the vote will surely try to pass copycat legislation,” said Doug Kendall, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center.
Meanwhile, media too often legitimize the concern with floods of undocumented immigrants voting or voter fraud, while ignoring snafus such as polling-place lines that mostly occurred in minority precincts and “irregularities” in Florida and Virginia that seem as authoritarian as Iran or Venezuela are accused of being. (Actual incidents of voter fraud are so rare as to be meaningless. News21, part of the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education, thoroughly studied elections since 2000 and found 633 cases of voter fraud out of about 350 million ballots cast.)
Also in Virginia, its state senate wants to replace its winner-take-all system with one breaking down state electors by Congressional district.
“It’s something that a lot of states that have been consistently blue that are fully controlled red ought to be looking at,” said GOP National Committee chair Reince Priebus.
Supporters of changing how Electoral College votes are credited say the scheme would protect the interests of rural voters, neglecting to note that there are FEWER PEOPLE there.
In reality, that extreme change would dilute the clout of the popular vote by splitting states’ votes, and though extremists in Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin also are considering such subterfuge, GOP support isn’t uniform.
Both U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican and former Vice Presidential nominee, and Virginia’s Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell oppose it.
Richard Long of Campaign for America’s Future commented that the attacks on voting, whether at the Supreme Court or in state capitals, should shock Americans.
“The Republicans’ message after November’s shellacking was ‘If at first you don’t succeed, change the rules of the game so you can win the next time’,” he said.
[PICTURED: Illustration from Craig Newmark's craigconnects.org