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Voting Rights, Super PACs and the Media Cloud the Election | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

Voting Rights, Super PACs and the Media Cloud the Election

Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

Does Iowa matter? Maybe, maybe not. From the round-the-clock polling analysis, detailed delegate projections, and tweeting and retweeting, you’d think the political press corps was readying for the first leg of the Triple Crown. My advice for Tuesday and in the weeks to come: Don’t let the giddiness of the coverage distract from what will matter far more than whether Michele Bachmann beats Rick Perry for the fifth-place slot.

Instead, pay attention to three issues that could affect the outcome of the election, even though they have nothing to do with the campaigns themselves:

First, a surge in voting restrictions: In 2011, 14 states passed laws making it harder for certain Americans, particularly minorities and young people, to vote. The goal is to keep traditional Democratic constituencies from casting ballots, and methods include requiring voters to show government-issued IDs (which more than 1 in 10 Americans lack), reducing or ending early voting, and disenfranchising citizens with criminal records. In Texas, for example, a concealed handgun license is a sufficient form of voter identification, but a university ID isn’t. In Wisconsin, a voter without an ID needs a birth certificate to get one, but a voter without a birth certificate needs a valid ID to obtain one. In Tennessee, a 96-year-old African American woman was denied a free voter ID because she didn’t have a copy of her marriage license. NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous has described the efforts as the most coordinated attack on voting rights since the days of Jim Crow.

Indeed, a Brennan Center for Justice analysis found that as many as 5 million eligible voters will find it “significantly harder” to cast ballots. Of the 12 most likely battleground states, five have curtailed voting rights, and two are considering doing so. The 2012 election may well turn on how many traditionally Democratic voters are unable to cast ballots in critical states and on whether the Justice Department is able to fight back, as it did recently in South Carolina.

Second, the rise of super PAC spending: Among the most devastating consequences of the 2010 Citizens United ruling is the rise of organizations that are not required to disclose their donors but that can recruit and spend unlimited sums in direct support of candidates. Thus far, these super PACs have reported spending nearly $7 million. Fred Wertheimer of the watchdog group Democracy 21 told USA Today that the organizations represent “the most dangerous vehicles for corruption in American politics today.”

Editor’s Note: Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

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