Billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch finally got their way in 2011. After their decades of funding the American Legislative Exchange Council, the collaboration between multinational corporations and conservative state legislators, the project began finally to yield the intended result.
For the first time in decades, the United States saw a steady dismantling of the laws, regulations, programs and practices put in place to make real the promise of American democracy.
That is why, on Saturday, civil rights groups and their allies will rally outside the New York headquarters of the Koch brothers to begin a march for the renewal of voting rights in America.
For the Koch brothers and their kind, less democracy is better. They fund campaigns with millions of dollars in checks that have helped elect the likes of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Ohio Governor John Kasich. And ALEC has made it clear, through its ambitious “Public Safety and Elections Task Force,” that while it wants to dismantle any barriers to corporate cash and billionaire bucks’ influencing elections, it wants very much to erect barriers to the primary tool that Americans who are not CEOs have to influence the politics and the government of the nation: voting.
That crude calculus, usually cloaked in bureaucracy and back-room dealmaking, came into full view in 2011.
Across the country, and to a greater extent than at any time since the last days of Southern resistance to desegregation, voting rights were being systematically diminished rather than expanded.
ALEC has been organizing and promoting the assault, encouraging its legislative minions to enact rigid Voter ID laws and related attacks on voting rights in more than three dozen states.
With their requirements that the millions of Americans who lack driver’s licenses and other forms of official paperwork go out and purchase identification cards in order to cast ballots, the Voter ID push put in place new variations on an old evil: the poll tax.
“We are in the midst of the greatest coordinated legislative attack on voting rights since the dawn of Jim Crow,” says NAACP President Benjamin Jealous. “Voter ID laws are nothing but reincarnated poll taxes and liter acy tests, and ex-felon voting bans serve the same purpose today as when they were created in the wake of the Fifteenth Amendment guaranteeing ex-slaves the vote—suppressing voting numbers among people of color.”
Voter ID laws represent only the beginning of the assault on voter rights. In states across the country in 2011, conservative governors and legislators who had swept to power in the 2010 election moved to restrict access to the polls in other ways. They ended election-day registration programs in state such as Maine, ending a practice that had allowed new voters to come to the polls, fill out a simple form and cast a ballot. They restricted early voting in states such as Ohio, making it dramatically harder for citizens to cast ballots in the run-up to an election. They scrapped weekend voting in Ohio, where working men and women had been able to cast ballots on their days off. They placed new restrictions on voting by students at colleges and technical schools, even going so far in Wisconsin as to move the primary election date to when most students were on summer break. They reduced the number of polling places in some states, making it harder for voters who lack transportation to get to the polls. And after they established the Voter ID requirements in Wisconsin, and said that citizens had to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get the proper paperwork, they tried to reduce the number of DMV offices.