Monday, May 30, 2011

The Republican Threat to Voting Update

Rick Scott Returns Florida to Reconstruction-Era Racist Voting Law

Remember the 2000 election debacle, when Florida became the laughingstock of the nation? It wasn't just punch-card ballots that caused our fair state such embarrassment. It was the wrongful purging of thousands of voters from the rolls because they were misidentified as felons.

That mishap brought to light the painful fact that Florida had the largest number of disenfranchised felons in the nation -- a disproportionate swath of whom were African-American. This was no accident. And Rick Scott knows it.

Yesterday, Scott and his Cabinet passed an archaic rule requiring nonviolent felons to wait five years after completing their sentences before applying to have their voting rights restored. This
means citizens won't be able to participate in the most basic tenet of our democracy, despite having paid their debt to society. Why such a bizarre punishment? Why, if they are free to move into our neighborhoods, get jobs, and pay taxes, can't they vote?  

Quick history lesson, courtesy of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University: Florida's felon disenfranchisement laws were first passed in the years immediately after the Civil War. Legislators, having just freed the slaves, didn't want black men -- nearly half the state's population -- to have too much political power. So lawmakers passed Black Codes, outlawing minor offenses they thought ex-slaves would be likely to commit. Prison camps filled up with black men convicted of petty crimes. Then legislators took away the voting rights of felons.

This was a common disenfranchisement tactic used throughout the South, and it worked. In 2004, about 19 percent of Florida's African-American population could not vote because of the felony restriction.

To their credit, Govs. Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist heard the outcry after the 2000 election and worked to reform the outdated laws. By 2007, there was no longer a waiting period for felons to apply for voting rights, and nonviolent offenders didn't even have to apply -- their voting rights were automatically restored when they completed their sentences.

But yesterday, Scott turned back the clock. Only two other states -- Virginia and Kentucky -- have such Jim Crow-style voting restoration rules, according to the Palm Beach Post.

Some might  say Scott just wanted to disenfranchise Democratic voters. Or that he's tough on crime. But half of the state's prison population is black. And Scott just made sure many of those citizens will never be able to vote against him.

The Republican Threat to Voting

By The New York Times | Editorial
Less than a year before the 2012 presidential voting begins, Republican legislatures and governors across the country are rewriting voting laws to make it much harder for the young, the poor and African-Americans - groups that typically vote Democratic - to cast a ballot.

Spreading fear of a nonexistent flood of voter fraud, they are demanding that citizens be required to show a government-issued identification before they are allowed to vote. Republicans have been pushing these changes for years, but now more than two-thirds of the states have adopted or are considering such laws. The Advancement Project, an advocacy group of civil rights lawyers, correctly describes the push as "the largest legislative effort to scale back voting rights in a century."

Anyone who has stood on the long lines at a motor vehicle office knows that it isn't easy to get such documents. For working people, it could mean giving up a day's wages.

A survey by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law found that 11 percent of citizens, 21 million people, do not have a current photo ID. That fraction increases to 15 percent of low-income voting-age citizens, 18 percent of young eligible voters and 25 percent of black eligible voters. Those demographic groups tend to vote Democratic, and Republicans are imposing requirements that they know many will be unable to meet.

Kansas' new law was drafted by its secretary of state, Kris Kobach, who also wrote Arizona's anti-immigrant law. Voters will be required to show a photo ID at the polls. Before they can register, Kansans will have to produce a proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate.

Tough luck if you don't happen to have one in your pocket when you're at the county fair and you pass the voter registration booth. Or when the League of Women Voters brings its High School Registration Project to your school cafeteria. Or when you show up at your dorm at the University of Kansas without your birth certificate. Sorry, you won't be voting in Lawrence, and probably not at all.

That's fine with Gov. Sam Brownback, who said he signed the bill because it's necessary to "ensure the sanctity of the vote." Actually, Kansas has had only one prosecution for voter fraud in the last six years. But because of that vast threat to Kansas democracy, an estimated 620,000 Kansas residents who lack a government ID now stand to lose their right to vote.

Eight states already had photo ID laws. Now more than 30 other states are joining the bandwagon of disenfranchisement, as Republicans outdo each other to propose bills with new voting barriers. The Wisconsin bill refuses to recognize college photo ID cards, even if they are issued by a state university, thus cutting off many students at the University of Wisconsin and other campuses. The Texas bill, so vital that Gov. Rick Perry declared it emergency legislation, would also reject student IDs, but would allow anyone with a handgun license to vote.

A Florida bill would curtail early voting periods, which have proved popular and brought in new voters, and would limit address changes at the polls. "I'm going to call this bill for what it is, good-old-fashioned voter suppression," Ben Wilcox of the League of Women Voters told The Florida Times-Union.

Many of these bills were inspired by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a business-backed conservative group, which has circulated voter ID proposals in scores of state legislatures. The Supreme Court, unfortunately, has already upheld Indiana's voter ID requirement, in a 2008 decision that helped unleash the stampede of new bills. Most of the bills have yet to pass, and many may not meet the various balancing tests required by the Supreme Court. There is still time for voters who care about democracy in their states to speak out against lawmakers who do not.

Florida's governor signs assault on democracy into law

Not surprisingly, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law on Thursday pernicious election changes designed to benefit Republicans and suppress voting by minorities, college students and low-wage workers. It is a blatant partisan effort to make it harder to register to vote and cast ballots, and it is up to the U.S. Department of Justice and the courts to stand up to this assault on democracy.

By shortening early voting from two weeks to eight days, the new law makes it harder for low-income working people who don't have flexible hours to vote. And early voting is barred three days before Election Day, ensuring that the weekend before the election, when casual voters are most engaged and most able to vote, there will be no opportunity. Republicans took aim at Florida's popular early voting process because it has favored Democrats and was utilized by African-Americans in 2008 as Barack Obama won Florida and the presidency. The other form of early voting, absentee ballots, which heavily favors Republicans, was untouched by the new law.

In another craven move by Republicans, voters who change their residences a lot such as renters, college students and the poor will now to be handed provisional ballots at the polls, which may or may not be counted. For the last 40 years, Floridians who moved out of the county of their registration had the convenience of changing their address at the polls, and with the state's new voter database, there's no chance of someone voting twice. But the rules were tightened to disadvantage Democratic voters.

The new law also suppresses voting by threatening groups that conduct voter registration drives. Groups will now face steep fines if they don't get new registrations submitted within 48 hours rather than 10 days. They also must register with the state, listing all volunteers who will be registering voters. And those volunteers must individually swear to uphold election laws. The paperwork is designed to be an administrative nightmare for organizations that utilize hundreds of volunteers with few resources. No wonder the League of Women Voters says it will suspend its voter registration efforts in Florida because of the new law.

Republicans claim that the changes are necessary to address voter fraud. That's a laughable contention, dispelled by the Florida Department of State, which reports that only 31 cases were referred to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for investigation between January 2008 and March 2011. There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Florida. Besides, voting by absentee ballot is most the susceptible to fraud, since no one sees whether the named voter is the one who fills out his ballot. Yet Republicans had no interest in putting new safeguards on absentee voting.

It's no shock that Scott failed to stand up to Republican legislators and veto this assault on the constitutional right to vote. It is disappointing that Secretary of State Kurt Browning, the former Pasco elections supervisor once known for his integrity and independence, is sacrificing his own reputation to defend the indefensible for his new boss. Republican legislators have succeeded in their unrepentant effort to make it harder for their most likely political opponents to vote. The Justice Department and the courts should not let them get away with it.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I want to hear from you but any comment that advocates violence, illegal activity or that contains advertisements that do not promote activism or awareness, will be deleted.