So You Like Democracy

Ah, Democracy. Government by the people. Choosing someone to represent your voice. Thomas Jefferson saw the new American nation he helped create as a vital test for any similar popular governments in the future around the world. Lincoln expressed the same sentiment in his Gettysburg address. Democracy is adorned around the world especially in places long without out it. Myanmar and China are two positive examples of countries slowly transitioning to more democratic processes, while countries like Iran and Syria are violently suppressing democratic movements. So it’s surprising when I see things in democracies as ours that are contrary to the democratic spirit that we were founded on.

I’m speaking of course about all of the modern-day voter suppression techniques that are being employed by Republicans all around the states. The suppression tactics are no longer as blunt as they were 50 or 100 years ago. It use to be common practice to use things like poll taxes, property requirement, literacy tests, and Jim crow style laws to discourage minorities or undesirables from voting. Another tactic of suppressing the turnout of these voters is misinformation. “Hey, the election has been moved to next week rather than tomorrow!”, or having non officials turn people away from polls with claims like “This isn’t your polling place”. This basic voter intimidation is still being practiced today by right leaning groups like Truth The Vote, whom are vowing to send someone to every polling place in America to “monitor irregularities”.

The suppression of choice however is to shove measures through legislatures or courts. Last month the attorney general in Ohio was hell-bent on letting the Republican counties stay open longer for voting than democratic controlled ones, and when confronted, he changed his mind and said all counties must have the same rules. But he was also cutting the last 3 days of early voting, a period in 2008 where upwards of up to 80,000 people voted early in Ohio. A federal court put a stop to all of that nonsense. This same attorney general was also listed as a guest speaker at one of Truth The Vote’s events. Since 2010, new laws have been passed only by Republican legislatures in Ohio, Florida, Texas, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Iowa with voting restrictions. The measures in Texas and Florida and Ohio were found by the justice department and federal courts to be extremely discriminative and in violation of the voting rights act and therefore struck down. There are similar pending legal challenges in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Iowa.

In Florida, the governor’s office has been working to purge the voting rolls of millions of eligible voters, upwards of up to 90% of potential purged voters being black or latino. On top of that, new laws were passed that potentially made it a felony to register voters. Iowa recently declared an emergency for voting so that it can start purging voter rolls in fears of voter fraud as well.

Texas until recently had a new law requiring similar ID that could only be obtained during certain days of the week during limited hours, and 30% of the counties in Texas don’t even have a DMV to get the ID, forcing predominately latino and poor people to drive hundreds of miles round-trip to get the ID which may cost up to $20.00, equating to a poll tax.

In Pennsylvania, one of the strictest photo ID laws was approved by a judge that is estimated to disenfranchise almost 7% of the electorate. That is going to the state supreme court. The state has contracted a firm to educate the public about voter ID, which has promised to be non-partisan despite the fact that the firm is led by a major donor to the Romney campaign. A leader in the Republican party in Pennsylvania was filmed saying “We got voter ID passed, which will allow Governor Romney to win this state” Indeed the proponents of the law in Pennsylvania admitted in court that they know of no voter fraud case in the history of the state.

And of course that fact blows major holes in the logic for restrictive legislation, and is non-starter as a reason for restricting early voting days or hours. Republicans have been enacting this everywhere on the claim that either voter fraud is rampant, or they are so worried about voter fraud occurring that it is worth purging and disenfranchising millions of voters. In 2006, the Bush Justice Department went on a witch hunt looking for cases of voter fraud. They came up with 10 cases of felony voter fraud in the history of keeping track of records. Voter fraud is a crime either done by ignorant accident, or an irrational person, because the consequence of being caught and put in jail for 5 years and $10,000 is not an outcome to justify one extra vote in an election of millions of ballots unless you organize your entire town to do it with you. Often conservatives site voter registration fraud as a sign of voter fraud to come, like dead people’s names being registered or someone registering multiple times. Voter registration fraud is the most meaningless thing in the history of voting to worry about. Irregularities could be due to offices trying to meet registration goals, people forgetting they registered at another place or not understanding the system. The dead person cannot show up to the polls. The person that registers 30 times can only vote once. They must sign their name when they are at the polls, which for writing checks, signing almost any legal document, or agreeing to terms, is perfectly acceptable. But suddenly Republicans within the past 2 years decided that in order to simply vote, someone must have something they have never needed before.

It’s kind of pathetic how obvious these attempts to disenfranchise democratic leaning groups are. Look, many people in this country are already disgusted with political system. No more than 50-60% of the population of eligible voters is voting in the best case scenario, and we have been going around the world the past 60 years telling the world how great democracy is and sending our armed forces to fight wars and nation build when half of our citizens don’t give a shit about the process we preach. Republicans should be working with democrats to make voting the easiest right to exercise. There is no logistical reason to cut voting hours so thousands can’t vote after work, or on the weekends, or days leading up to the election. Any monetary expense incurred for staffing a poll is the necessary price of exercising a democratic society. Because I’m sure as fun as it was in places like Ohio in 2004 where some people had to wait almost 12 hours to vote, people have jobs and children and a life to lead that could be made better if they were able to voice their concerns in a democratic way and choose who is best for the office that can address those. But according to the Republicans that back these laws, if someone is really dedicated to voting, they should be able to sacrifice large amounts of their time and money.

And we need to take the political aspect out of setting voting rules and regulations. Most democracies have non-partisan election boards to come to fair conclusions on rules that don’t disenfranchise a specific group of voters, and strive to get every single eligible person to vote, even automatically registering people upon coming of age. As the satire king Jon Stewart pointed out, Rwanda is one of those loathed advanced countries with an independent voting board setting election rules. Voting itself is not a partisan activity. We should be encouraging our friends and family to vote as if there was no choice not to. To be apathetic to voting is to lack a sense of purpose greater than ones self and of civic duty that far too much blood was spilt to secure. But the Republicans say no to expanding the ability to vote at convenience.

It confuses me that instead of trying harder to convince minorities and the poor that their policies are good for them, Republicans are just trying to stop them from voting. Republicans are deeply confused about the meaning of democracy, for it is not about making voting some rigorous test or task, but about making the government truly a popular one of the masses, whom we hold it our duty to educate on the issues fairly. If the Republicans are so hell-bent on preventing actual voter fraud and want to require photo ID then fine, but it is their job to make sure that every citizen is educated on how to get it long before its needed and make it as easy as ordering it online or sending it to them automatically. Or how about targeting fraud with ballot machines being hacked or tampered with, something that would actually put an election in jeopardy. On top of that, it is ludicrous to suggest stringent and radical new voting procedures so close to an election, and to suggest that such rules are fair is ignorant. If you want to pass some stupid new rule that could disenfranchise millions, you delay its implementation to beyond this election and even the 2014 midterms if you want to even pretend to be non-partisan on the matter. If all of these “patriots” love democracy so much, they should stop trying to make it an exclusive club. So to the supporters of these laws and politicians, I leave you with a history lesson. Democracy is a popular government by and of the people, not a government you try to get elected only by people of your political affiliation.

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