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SPECIAL REPORT: For Left, Overcoming New Voting Restrictions Are Matter Of Principle, Equality — And Survival

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Deven Anderson sees the widening net of state laws across the country that restrict the right of Americans to vote as nothing more than a re-emergence of the Jim Crow era of the 19th century.

These new laws enacted in states as farflung as Florida, Texas, Kansas, Wisconsin, and Maine represent nothing more than 21st century equivalents of the poll tax or literacy test — the barriers of an earlier time that powerful whites set up to keep African-Americans away from the polls, this smart, young activist with a group called Black Youth Vote contends. 

From rolling back access to early voting, to requiring only very specific forms of identification to be allowed to vote, and more, state governments — largely those run by Republican governors and state legislatures — are making it harder for many Americans to vote.

When he hears conservatives say that they want to “take America back,” Anderson asks, “Do you want to take America to 1866?” which was the post-Civil War period when African Americans and other low-income voters were denied the right to vote.

With unemployment rates at 18 percent or higher, African-American men have a very real motivation to be involved in the direction of the country, he says.

“The situation is very dire. How can voice our discontent with these issues if we don’t have the right to vote?” he asks.

Robert “Biko” Baker, a prominent activist and director of the League of Young Voters Education Fund, agrees with Anderson. He calls it “a situation where young black people are systematically taken out of the civic process.”

“It’s not by accident, as Deven pointed out. It’s on purpose.”

Baker, however, also has these new voting laws on his mind for much more immediate and pragmatic reason: they may well help determine the outcome of next year’s elections.

In Wisconsin, where Republican Gov. Scott Walker and a GOP-dominated state legislature enacted a strict law in which voters must show certain forms of ID in order to vote, just 78 percent of young African-Americans aged 18 to 24 have the proper ID to vote.

“That’s sort of deep if you consider that in 2004, [Democratic presidential candidate] John Kerry won Wisconsin by [only] 14,000 votes.”

There is no doubt that if young African American and other voters are denied access to voting next year, Democrats will lose, Baker says.

“You can look at the numbers, we can cut the numbers, and we can take the young people of color for granted. But if young people of color do not vote in 2012, we will lose the White House,” he says.

The restrictions that these new state-level voting laws represent have only recently become a real issue of concern, opponents say.

‘One Of Our Toughest Fights’

Further, the most common form of these new restrictions are the ones which require voters to show specific forms of ID before being allowed to vote.

“This is one of our toughest fights because it sounds innocuous enough, right? And for the 88 or 89 percent of people who have the right type of ID, it’s hard for them to recognize that there are a heck of a lot of people out there who don’t,” says Megan Donovan, with the Fair Elections Legal Network.

The problem is that these new laws were “crafted very, very, very strictly: not just to say, ‘Show some ID so that we know who you are,’ but in order to vote you need to have X, Y, or Z – and that’s all that’s going to count,” she says.

Most commonly, these laws require a voter to present a valid state driver’s license or passport, and “by and large, they are very narrowly drawn to exclude a lot of common forms of ID,” such as student IDs, she adds.

These restrictions fall heavily on young people, Donovan says.

“It’s well-documented in a number of settings that when you start breaking down who doesn’t have these types of IDs, it’s falls disproportionately on minority voters, as well,” she says.

When the specifics of the voter ID laws differ, they do so “in telling ways,” Donovan says.

For instance, in Texas, an acceptable ID with which to vote is a gun license. “But if you have a student ID, that’s not going to count.”

In Wisconsin, student IDs technically are allowed, but its law “was drawn so carefully that all of the current IDs issued by the universities in Wisconsin don’t actually meet the requirement,” she says.

“Now there’s some work going on to try to make sure student IDs can conform with the new rules,” she adds.

Mandated IDs are not the only new form of voting restriction, however.

Some states, such as Florida, has imposed onerous new limits on
the ability of third-party independent groups to register new voters.

“In Florida, certain minorities and people who speak English as a second language are about twice as likely to rely on third-party groups to get registered to vote,” Donovan says. “New rules have made it very, very difficult for any of those registration drives to happen.”

The League of Women Voters, about as nonpartisan and civic-minded group as there exists, registered new voters for years in the Sunshine State with no serious controversy. However, shortly after state leaders pushed through their new law, the League announced that it likely would shut down its registration activities in the state.

‘Suppress The Vote, Win The Election’

Opponents of the voter ID laws agree that, in general, state Republican leaders crafted them in such a way as to discourage turnout among those voters who tilt toward the Democrats.

“The road to the Senate and the White House runs right through the affected states –- Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Nevada, Virginia –- even California,” says Guy Cecil, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), the arm of the Democratic Party tasked with electing Democrats to the U.S. Senate.

“The GOP strategy is simple: Suppress the vote, win the election,” he adds. “The loss of these votes would be more than enough to lose the Senate –- and the White House. If Republicans succeed, they will get just what they’re seeking –- complete and total control of Washington.”

The net effect is to leave Democrats, progressives, and opponents of these voter restrictions to fight back on effectively what are two fronts.

Groups like Donovan’s Fair Elections Legal Network are working to put up citizen referenda in states where they exist in order to repeal them, such as in Maine and Ohio.

However, there also is at least a tactit acknowledgement that those laws likely will still be in place by Election Day next year.

That means educating affected voters beforehand about their state’s law, and helping them obtain the ID that they need in order to go ahead and vote.

Deven Anderson says that his organization has created a program called “Foot Soldiers For Democracy,” to engage black men and youth as poll watchers and poll workers “to make sure your vote is cast correctly.”

It’s also using the Internet to host webinars so that voters and activists across the country have the tools and resources they need.

Baker’s group, similarly, invites voters to sign up for cell-phone text alerts to help them navigate the voter restrictions that they may face.

2012 Election Protection Project

The DSCC launched what it calls the 2012 Election Protection Project to help Democrats.

“We’re leading the effort to prevent this attempt to change the outcome of the 2012 elections,” Cecil says. “In Florida, the DSCC formally requested that the Department of Justice do what it could to stop this. We’re also keeping these developments in mind as we build our campaign strategy. The GOP’s efforts will make our voter outreach more important, and more expensive, in 2012 than ever before.”

Cecil casts Democrats as David in this fight against Goliath, saying the wealthy Koch brothers and their corporate allies bankroll the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, the little-seen but powerful conservative organization that has pushed these voter-suppression measures. 

“Republicans need to know that they’re not going to get away with changing election outcomes by preventing poor voters, young voters and African Americans from casting ballots,” he says.

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About Scott Nance

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    Possibly the most one-sided article I’ve ever seen on BC. Reads like a piece of pre-packaged propaganda.

    All Republicans are asking is that people be required to prove they are who they claim to be when they vote. That’s not an outrage, that’s basic common sense and every voter from both parties ought to support it.

    Dave

  • http://www.thewashingtoncurrent.com Scott Nance

    Dave,

    I’d agree with you except the very odd way the laws are drawn, particularly in your home state of Texas. A gun license but not a student ID?

    That doesn’t seem like common sense to me.

  • Arch Conservative

    “Possibly the most one-sided article I’ve ever seen on BC”

    and that’s no small feat!

    How anyone could suggest with a straight face that it is Republicans attempting to subvert Democracy after we witnessed the Democrats in the Wisconsin state senate fleeing to IL after not being able to get their way is ridiculous, even for someone like Scott Nance, whose middle name is ridiculous.

  • Stop the Elite

    Student ID’s are a joke that’s why they’re not accepted. This is classic leftist non-sense. If they can’t print up phony id’s on their home computer than they complain and claim disenfranchisement.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Dave –

    The perennial cry of the GOP: “Voter fraud! Rampant voter fraud! We MUST prevent and prosecute voter fraud!”

    Never mind that voter fraud is very, VERY rare to begin with. I keep asking you for statistics, but you NEVER provide any. So here’s some…and in ALL THE NATION from 2002 to 2005 (including the 2004 presidential election and the 2002 congressional election and the elections in ALL fifty states during that time), there were less than TWENTY cases of fruadulent voting!!!! Gee – TWENTY cases out of how many scores of millions of votes cast in those four years????

    Just to drive home the point, there was some additional GOP voting fraud paranoia in Maine:

    This year, on July 25th, the clueless ME GOP Chairman Charlie Webster asked Maine’s Republican Sec. of State Charles E. Summers, Jr. to investigate 206 out-of-state college students whom he believed committed “voter fraud” because they registered and voted in the Pine Tree State.

    Summers, after a two month investigation, was forced to admit that every one of the students was lawfully registered to vote in ME; that there was no evidence that any one of them committed voter fraud.

    The GOP cry about voter fraud is a strawman in the very truest sense…and you know it! You and the Republicans do NOT care about real democracy…and you know it! All you are doing is following the words of Heritage Foundation founder Paul Weyrich:

    “I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of the 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.”

    That was from a speech in front of Ronald Reagan, Jerry Falwell, and thousands of Baptist preachers.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    “Stop the Elite” –

    You can read my previous comment on how the GOP’s voter fraud claims are a strawman on a grand scale…

    …and you can read this from Slate that shows beyond question that GOP efforts at voter disenfranchisement are NOT a strawman, but are QUITE REAL.

    Oh, but I forgot – even though there’s close to zero voting fraud, and even though there’s solid evidence of large-scale voter disenfranchisement by the GOP, it’s the Republicans who are the REAL defenders of democracy, huh?

  • John Lake

    If persons with less than state standard ID’s are permitted to use these ID’s to vote, there might be instances of fraud, in which an individual may claim many addresses, or even several names, and vote each address or name. This clearly would be intentional fraud.
    If the student ID system were monitored by the state to assure security, the student ID would surely be acceptable.
    A citizen I am told who cannot afford a state photo ID can tell the agency, usually the same agency that supplies Drivers Licenses, that he needs the ID to vote, and the fee, in my understanding will be waived.

  • REMF(MCH)

    “All Republicans are asking is that people be required to prove they are who they claim to be when they vote.”

    Gordon Trenchard said the same thing….

  • Igor

    “All Republicans are asking is that people be required to prove they are who they claim to be when they vote.”

    Is that ALL?

    Who can prove that he really is who he claims to be? Drivers license? Birth certificate? All easily forged every day by crooks and schemers and easily available through the black market. Why, even our “Witness Protection Program” does it all the time.

    Even if we gave all the power over IDs to the Republican party itself they would immediately start issuing false IDs themselves for “worthy causes”. And the forgers would have false IDs available the next day for illegal immigrants, crooks, etc.

  • Arch Conservative

    SPECIAL REPORT: For Left, Overcoming Moral and Ethical Compunction Regarding Integrity and Legality of Voting To Be Portrayed As Matter Of Principle, Equality But Actually Just Matter of Survival

    FIXED IT FOR YA SCOTTY!

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Gee – now one must wonder just how outraged Dave and Arch and Clavos would be if it were the Dems who were committing this voter suppression and it was mostly Republicans who were affected – oh, they’d howl to the rooftops and get their guns! But since it’s affecting mostly Democrats, well, THAT’s okay! That’s REAL democracy, when the only people who face no obstacles to voting are the ones on YOUR side, huh?

    Such vast hypocrisy….

  • Clavos

    But since it’s affecting mostly Democrats, well, THAT’s okay! That’s REAL democracy, when the only people who face no obstacles to voting are the ones on YOUR side, huh?

    Such vast hypocrisy

    Not one of the three of us has said anything even remotely like that, but you have the unmitigated gall to assume you know what we’re thinking.

    And you can’t even read well.

    Talk about chutzpa!

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    I wouldn’t side with Arch if I were you, it doesn’t do you credit. Republican gerrymandering is an old and established practice, and the Democrats are no better.

    And I don’t give a rat’s ass which party wins the next election, or the one after that.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    And BTW, Scott, isn’t your proposition kind of drastic, if not lame, suggesting that the Democrats’ future is more contingent on those who can or can’t produce a valid ID rather than on their performance in office?

    I would have thought twice before submitting this article.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    Not one of the three of us has said anything even remotely like that

    Not that I’m saying it was you necessarily, Clav, but I do seem to recall some outrage not too long ago on the part of a few BC conservatives over some allegations that military absentee ballots were not being counted. The Franken vs. Schmanken dead heat in Minnesota, I believe it was.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    While I’m on the subject, if the current incumbent defends his seat in 2014, I strongly urge the GOP to find someone named Stein who’d be willing to run against him. Now wouldn’t that be fun?

  • Arch Conservative

    “But since it’s affecting mostly Democrats, well, THAT’s okay! That’s REAL democracy, when the only people who face no obstacles to voting are the ones on YOUR side, huh?”

    Gee Glenn, are they going to let you down off the cross to watch tonight’s debate?

  • Arch Conservative

    Oh and Dread..there is a big difference between not counting the votes of members of the military and not counting the votes of illegals, repeat voters and dead people who as we all know vote exclusively for the Democrat.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    …and not counting the votes of illegals, repeat voters and dead people who as we all know vote exclusively for the Democrat.

    Can you provide examples of this kind of electoral fraud, Arch? Real, egregious, systematic examples, I mean, rather than a handful of isolated, statistically irrelevant cases?

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Doc –

    Arch will never provide the proof. Why? Because he Just Knows it happens, and because he Just Knows it happens, that’s all the proof he needs.