It is well known that blacks and low income people vote disproportionately for the Democrats. Blacks are likely to support President Obama’s re-election by a 90% to 10% ratio. Facing a choice, the Republicans in many states have decided that rather than trying to win the vote, they’ll suppress it. In the modern equivalent of poll taxes they are passing laws forcing people to show voter ID to vote, limiting early voting, or putting other barriers in the way of exercising ones right to vote.
The most egregious example is in Pennsylvania where at least one Republican has made no secret of what the motive of the law is. House Majority leader Mike Turzai spoke enthusiastically if perhaps too honestly to supporters: “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done,” he said, drawing applause. That’s the goal. Suppress enough Democratic votes so that the Republicans can gain the White House. If they can’t do it fairly, then twist the laws — cheat, in other words.
Estimates are that up to 43% of Philadelphia voters would not be able to vote according to this law. The Governor’s office says that “99%” of the citizens have appropriate ID, but that seems a number pulled out of thin air. Surveys and studies suggest that this law would disenfranchise the poor and minorities. Middle class (and clueless) whites (I myself am a middle class white, to be sure) often say “well, it’s easy to get a photo ID, you have to do that for just about anything.” First, that’s not true — James Holmes was able to amass a legal arsenal of weapons without needing to show a photo ID. Moreover the effort and time it takes is more costly and less likely to be endured by the poor and minorities.
Think of it – vast numbers of voters turned away at the polls for lack of ID. What would that do to the country? Would a Mitt Romney so elected ever be able to unify the country or even be seen as legitimate? It’s not like fraud’s a problem. Almost every study and estimate of voter fraud in the US show that it’s at record lows and almost non-existent. Political parties know that the cost of being caught acting fraudulently would pay a heavy price, it’s not worth it.
Up until this point such a tactic to try to steal an election has been something both parties have avoided. Since the voting rights act of the 60s the push has been to expand the voting base, recognizing that voters are more connected to the community and thus more likely to be productive members of society. If you vote, you’re less likely to be on welfare or unemployed. Voting is to be part of the civil society, you’re more likely to succeed if you vote.
Republican former Florida Governor Charlie Crist has called the suppression efforts of current Florida Governor Rick Scott “shameless,” noting that cutting early voting (especially Sunday when black churches often mobilized the vote) a clear effort to assure fewer people vote. The attack on minority voters and effort to win an election through suppression is the biggest threat to American democracy today. It is un-American and dangerous. It must be resisted, and if it shapes the election result, that result should not be respected. If suppression causes one person to be elected President instead of another, there should be an active and strong resistance, and politicians should do everything they can to thwart that person’s agenda. In this case only Mitt Romney stands to win on the basis of suppression.
That last statement is one of the sort I have never made. I’m a firm believer in cooperation and compromise between the two parties, and have argued with Democrats who have criticized President Obama’s pragmatic centrism. I believe that democracy is built on different sides “listening” to each other, and forging compromises neither side is completely comfortable with. That inability of one side to simply push its agenda into law is what makes democracy strong — we compromise, and we can undo anything we do. Up until now, I’ve criticized calls to see the other side as illegitimate — I was quick to recognize the legitimacy of George W. Bush’s 2000 election.
However, voter suppression crosses a line. It’s a fundamental threat to American democracy, and it’s inherently dishonest. The politicians pushing it KNOW that fraud is not a problem, and know that their goal is, as our “honest” Pennsylvania House Majority leader noted, simply an effort to stop minorities and the poor from voting. They fear they can’t win the election fair and square so they want to cheat. I honestly can’t believe the gall and disingenuous corruption behind these efforts. They have to be stopped.
Voter suppression measures have been passed in South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Kansas, Pennsylvania, West Virgina, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida and Rhode Island. Legislation is pending in Ohio, Virginia and Minnesota. Only Maine has reversed such actions — overwhelmingly through a public referendum. All of these efforts have been driven by Republicans claiming, without evidence, that fraud is a problem. But nobody really believes that’s the driving force — they’re trying to suppress votes likely to go to the other side. The most dangerous cases involve swing states like Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Pennsylvania.
This is one issue that cannot be brushed aside. There can be no compromise. Voter suppression is anti-American, dangerous to democracy, and must be resisted. If it shapes an election outcome, that election should not be recognized as legitimate.