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A Republican’s Worst Nightmare: The Poor Vote

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Republicans have spent the last 20 months hammering the American poor and unemployed at nearly every turn. From the economic stimulus, to extension of unemployment benefits, Republicans have tried only to stand in the way of offering any help to those who borne the worst of the Great Recession.

They have done so only for the most crass political reasons, hoping to retake control of Congress by energizing the votes of anti-government conservatives, but what if, instead of tea party types, Republicans are met at the ballot box by the very people they’ve been attacking? Yes, what if unemployed and low-income Americans come out in November and turn GOP dreams into nightmares?

Don’t think it can happen? Don’t be so sure.

With the nation suffering its worst period of long-term joblessness (workers unemployed for six months or more) since World War II, and its unemployment rate dangerously close to double digits, there are some 15 million out-of-work Americans out there, and an affiliate of the AFL-CIO labor union is launching a campaign to mobilize unemployed workers across the nation for the November midterm elections.

“Millions of people are unemployed and underemployed, and millions more are worried about the future. Twenty-five percent of Working America members who are working are afraid they will lose their jobs,” says Karen Nussbaum, director of Working America, the labor affiliate behind the voter drive. “Yet some politicians are willing to play politics with the survival of unemployed workers and their families. We’ll make sure that unemployed workers get out and vote, and that they know the records of the candidates on issues like extending unemployment insurance, investing in jobs and preventing outsourcing.”

That’s just the unemployed. How about the rest of the low-income Americans who can — and should — vote? The Americans who aren’t counted as unemployed because the economy has gotten so bad they’ve simply given up looking for work. Or those who are working, but working for such little pay that they live at, or below, the poverty line.

Demos, a Washington-based policy center, wants to get these millions of low-income Americans into the political process, as well. It’s not only wishful thinking, either. Demos points to an often-neglected provision of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) that requires states to provide voter registration services to applicants and recipients of public assistance benefits. NVRA is better known for the so-called “motor voter” provisions that enable Americans to register to vote at their state motor-vehicle departments.

But the time is ripe, Demos says, to ensure that voter registration is provided at public assistance offices: Many public assistance programs are experiencing significant growth, with participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP,” formerly food stamps), one of the largest programs, now at an all-time high, having increased dramatically over the past year.

“As the full effect of the economic downturn is felt throughout the country and increasing numbers of individuals turn to public assistance, the NVRA has never been more important for ensuring that low-income citizens have a voice in the democratic process,” Demos says on its website.

And the law is successful. In a report on NVRA, Demos notes:

  • Ohio’s Department of Job and Family Services reported more than 84,000 voter registration applications completed at its offices in just the first five months of data reporting following a settlement agreement with Demos and its partners, an average of almost 17,000 registrations per month. Ohio’s public assistance agencies reported an average of only 1,775 registrations per month in the two years prior to the filing of the lawsuit.
  • In Missouri, 235,774 low-income citizens applied for voter registration at the state’s Department of Social Services in the 21 months following a successful court action to improve compliance, an increase of almost 1,600 percent over the number of clients the state was previously registering.
  • In North Carolina, well over 100,000 low-income citizens have applied to register to vote through the state’s public assistance agencies since the State Board of Elections worked cooperatively with Demos and others to improve NVRA compliance, a six-fold increase over the state’s previous performance.
  • Similarly, the number of voter registration applications from Virginia’s public assistance agencies increased five-fold after Demos worked cooperatively with state officials to improve their procedures.
  • Voter registrations from Illinois’ Department of Human Services increased to an average of 5,266 per month under a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice, compared to an average of only 446 in the preceding two years, an increase of more than 1,000 percent.

    So, tea partiers, feel free to come to vote in November, but be warned: you may be standing in line behind a bunch of unemployed and poor neighbors even angrier than you.


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    About Scott Nance

    • TIM

      i hope republican’s fell; i hate an damn republican more than the skinheads hate blacks.

    • DNick

      So . . . did all this wishful thinking comfort you all the way up to the election results?

    • The worst nightmare should be for the undecided voters to decide that the GOP has not been out of power long enough. It is difficult to vote for the GOP premise, “Hey, we screwed it up and only we can unscrew it.”

      As Thomas Jefferson said, “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.” That would be taking a pass on voting.

    • Jeannie, I haven’t registered to vote anywhere because, as a non-citizen, I’m not eligible to do so.

      I do, however, work on a major social program, and I can tell you that beneficiaries of such programs often get confused as to the boundaries and connections between different forms of assistance.

    • zingzing

      archie: “A citizen that can function on his or her own.”

      which are we? elitists? or welfare hounds? which!?

    • Doc,

      Where did you register to vote? I don’t mean the address. 🙂

      Having voter registration facilities available at other local government offices probably misleads a lot of people into believing that they might get some additional benefit out of registering to vote; or that they might lose the benefits they have if they don’t register.

      I registered to vote at the motor vehicle department and there weren’t any signs saying that I would lose my license if I didn’t register to vote.

      : O You are really assuming a lot of things about people with out anything to back you up, no?

    • Getting the unemployed and poor to register to vote and having them actually show up and vote on election day are two different things. Having voter registration facilities available at other local government offices probably misleads a lot of people into believing that they might get some additional benefit out of registering to vote; or that they might lose the benefits they have if they don’t register.

    • Glenn Contrarian


      Arch…ya…GOT me…pardnuh!

      There’s SO many insults just begging to be said in reply to #8. I don’t give insults – think them, maybe, but I don’t give them. But I’m thinking AWFUL hard….

    • Arch Conservative

      The Democrat’s worst nightmare?

      A citizen that can function on his or her own.

    • Glenn Contrarian

      And how did white Republicans sweep in an election in a 70% black district in Memphis?

      Like this.

    • Glenn Contrarian

      Scott –

      Here’s a little quote from 1980 you might enjoy from Paul Weyrich. You see, he was the founder of the Heritage Foundation, and this was part of a speech he gave before 15,000 Baptist ministers. The audience also included Jerry Falwell and somebody named Ronald Reagan:

      “Now many of our Christians have what I call the goo-goo syndrome – good government. They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

      Republicans and conservatives believe in America…but they don’t believe in Democracy. Here’s a partial list of some of the tricks that the Republicans pulled to stop Democrats from voting. Of particular interest is Dave Nalle’s attempt in the comments below on the same page where he tried to point out lots of fraud by Democrats. I slammed his attempts and he didn’t – couldn’t – reply.

      I’ve issued a standing challenge to conservatives for well over a year (maybe two years now?) that for every fraudulent vote cast for Democrats through the efforts of ACORN, I’d provide proof of a thousand voters wrongfully disenfranchised by the Republicans and their supporters.

      I’ve never had any takers. I suspect they know better.

    • I hope you’re right, Scott. The Obama administration is enforcing “motor voter” regulations often ignored during the Bush years. It may not save Congress for the Dems, but it could reduce the damage.

    • Scott,

      I feel a lot better about losing ACORN after seeing your list of new voters.

      : )good article and excellent points.