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Suppressing the Vote | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

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

Suppressing the Vote

With Election Day around the corner, and concerns about another voting debacle of Florida 2000-proportions running high (especially given problems at primaries this year in Maryland, Ohio, Illinois and several other states) – Republicans in Congress are on the job and doing everything they can to further disenfranchise voters.

Rather than taking the necessary steps to strengthen, expand and improve the democratic process, the GOP has launched a new effort to create modern-day Jim Crow exclusionary practices through new voter ID requirements.

The House recently passed a bill along party lines requiring voters to present a photo ID beginning in 2008. Starting in 2010, voters would need to pay for a government-issued proof of citizenship – a virtual poll tax. This shameful legislation was passed just months after the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act when President Bush declared "the right of ordinary men and women to determine their own political future."

"If the [House] Bill passed the Senate and became law, the electorate would likely become more middle-aged, whiter and richer – and, its sponsors are anticipating, more Republican," the New York Times wrote in a recent editorial.

Demos, a national public policy organization, reports that the legislation would disproportionately impact people of color, individuals with disabilities, rural voters, people living on reservations, the homeless, and low-income people – all of whom studies show are less likely to carry a photo ID and more often have to change photo ID information.

Senate Democrats have asked that Majority Leader Bill Frist not bring the bill to the floor. In a letter to Frist, Senators Reid, Kennedy, Dodd and Obama wrote: "The burdensome and costly requirements of obtaining [citizenship] documents not only could prevent many eligible voters from participating, but… Worst of all, this bill recalls a dark era in our nation when individuals were required to pay a poll tax to cast their ballot and has been termed a 21st century poll tax." Frist's next move remains to be seen.

States, too, are getting into the voter suppression act. Georgia, Missouri and Indiana have passed similar ID requirements. The laws were overturned by the courts in Georgia and Missouri while in Indiana, the law was upheld by district court and is now under appeal. The right- wing pins hopes on appealing all the way to the Supreme Court where decisions by Scalia and the Supremes seem to fall in their "1 Man, 1 Vote – sort of" favor.

"This is the most sinister scheme I've ever seen," said former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes, "and it's going on nationwide." "Voter suppression doesn't happen with intimidation on election day," said Michael Waldman, executive director of The Brennan Center for Justice, "but rather through silent and sometimes secret government actions in the weeks leading up to an election."

If the Republicans are truly concerned about "the integrity of our voting process," as Rep. John Boehner claims, they should take a look at flawed voting machines that, according to the Washington Post, "scientists have shown they could manipulate… to report a vote total that differed from the actual total cast by voters." Or they could address the fact that the Diebold machines tested in Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, rendered a paper trail "nearly 10 percent of [which was] destroyed, blank, illegible, or otherwise compromised." Or they could explain why a Princeton professor was able to hack into a voting machine as an experiment. Or they could reform the administering of elections, so that partisan secretaries of state with lofty political ambitions such as Katherine Harris and Ken Blackwell are no longer running the show. Or they could try to stop the purges of valid voters from the voter rolls…

The blueprint for what to do is out there. Robert Pastor, director of a commission on electoral reform organized by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker, told the Washington Post, "The Carter-Baker commission identified 87 steps that need to be undertaken. Regrettably, almost none of them are being done right now. I would start by establishing statewide, nonpartisan election administration."

And Americans can start by voting Democrat this November, and then pressing a new Congress to give us common sense reforms that create a truly democratic, transparent and legitimate electoral system.

Just hope your vote is counted – correctly.

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