by Joe Shea
April 12, 2012
TWO WHITE GUYS IN SUITS? NOT FOR THIS AMERICA
DUMMERSTON, Vt., Aug. 2, 2012 -- How do you win an election?
For the Republicans, it's easy. Prevent as many Democratic voters as possible from voting, and you can secure the margin of victory.
It's cynical thinking that has no place in a democracy, but for Republicans, it is the only way they can win an election. That, and spending hundreds of millions of dollars on attack ads funded by unnamed billionaires and corporations.
As the U.S. Census figures will show you, demographics are going against the GOP. The voting population is becoming younger, more educated, less doctrinaire and less white, and these are the people that vote for Democrats. As a result, this election might be the last chance for the older, whiter, less educated, more religious voters that make up the Republican Party to decide a presidential election.
So if your party has a presidential candidate such as Mitt Romney that has less than enthusiastic support from your base, and your party has succeeded in alienating wide swaths of the electorate, the only thing left to do is cheat.
And that's what's behind the Voter ID laws being backed by Republicans. It certainly isn't about preventing voting fraud, an act so rare in most jurisdictions it's nearly non-existent.
No, it's about making it more difficult to register to vote. It's about frightening off groups that want to hold voter registration drives. It's about requiring voters to have ID cards, and then making it difficult to obtain them. It's about curtailing early voting periods, and then making it difficult to get an absentee ballot.
Put up as many bureaucratic hurdles as possible, and you may be able to discourage or block enough people from voting - mostly the poor, the young, the elderly, or blacks and HIspanics that usually vote for Democrats - to ensure that Republicans get elected.
According to the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice, 1 in 10 eligible voters lack the necessary ID to vote. That figure includes 1 in 4 African Americans, and about 1 in 5 senior citizens. How would this affect an election? The Center estimates that more than 5 million people will have a significantly harder time casting a vote in the 2012 election, and that the states that have already cut back on voting rights account for 171 electoral votes in this year's election, or 63 percent of the 270 that are needed for victory.
The Center recently looked at 10 states that recently passed restrictive voter ID laws - Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin. Five of the laws are currently in effect (Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee). The other five are either awaiting federal approval (Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas), on appeal after being found unconstitutional under state law (Wisconsin), or not scheduled to go into effect until after 2012 (Alabama).
The Center found that about a half-million eligible voters will find it nearly impossible to obtain the necessary ID because they live in households without access to transportation and live more than 10 miles away from an ID-issuing office. Because many of these voters may not have driver's licenses - and nearly all live in rural areas with limited public transportation - it could be significantly harder for them to get an ID and cast a ballot.
If you have a way to get to the office that issues IDs, there's no guarantee it will be be open during regular business hours. Not surprisingly, the Brennan Center found that the area with the highest concentration of people of color and people living in poverty had the least access to an ID-issuing office.
Then there is the other problem: tracking down the birth certificates, marriage licenses, divorce decrees, and other documentation that some states now require to get a voter ID. Even though Voter IDs are free, the time and expense of coming up with these documents is beyond the reach of many potential voters.
That's why these Voter ID laws are being challenged in court around the nation. Clearly, they are all barriers that are being put up by Republicans to discourage voter participation. They are laws that are simply unworthy of a democracy.
If anything, voting ought to resemble how it is done here in Vermont. It's easy to register to vote, and registration drives at sites from schools to nursing homes are regularly done. Here, early voting takes place six weeks before an election, and voters can cast a ballot ahead of Election Day for any reason they offer.
No photo ID is required at polling places (which is a good thing in Vermont, which is one of the few states that issues driver licenses without photos). Granted, most towns are small enough that the Town Clerk knows who you are without an ID, but every voter's identity is still checked against the names and addresses on the voting rolls.
In short, the default position of the state of Vermont is to make it easy as possible to vote, and to run the elections accordingly. That's why participation in elections here is higher than most places. Democrats and Republicans benefit equally.
For democracy to work, voting must be a universal right not subject to the partisan whims of whomever is in power. When those in power decide to curtail that right, no matter what the excuse, our nation suffers.
Chief of AR Correspondents Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.