VOTER ID ATTACKS VOTING RIGHTS by LYDIA HOWELL

Voter ID Attacks Voting Rights

By Lydia Howell

INSIGHT NEWS Oct.15,2012

For decades, Minnesota has been Number One nationally for voter turnout. If Voter ID passes on Election Day, that will change for many reasons---none of which appear on the ballot:

The number of people voting will shrink. That will widen the wealth gap and further whiten the electorate. Implications for further corruption and discrimination will spread beyond elections. Since juries are chosen from voter rolls, criminal justice system bias would deepen, as even fewer people of color and the poor are picked to judge their peers.

Post-Civil War amendments to the U.S. Constitution expanded rights. A time line:

Mid-1860s : ended slavery and (at least legally) granted voting rights to black men.

1920:women (of all colors) won legal voting. rights. U.S. Senators were selected by state legislators---not voters--until 1912.

District of Columbia residents have vote for President since 1961 but black majority residents of our nation's Capital still do not have representatives in Congress.

Poll taxes eliminated, 1962.

Eighteen-year-olds vote only since 1971.

The 1965 Voting Rights Act made African-American voting rights in the South reality. It continues to open democratic process to include more people's voices.

However, states were (and still are ) given the power to organize elections and that’s where voter ID amendments and other state election laws reverse progress and undermine democracy..

Voter ID supporters say, "We have to prevent voter fraud! You need a State ID to cash a check or fly, so, what’s the problem?" But people living in poverty often change residences multiple times a year and cannot afford to replace their IDs with each move. College students often only have state ID from their parents’ address---not the campus where they live on election day, yet college identification documents won't count for voting purposes. With disproportionate poverty, many people of color, students, the disabled and the elderly all face losing their voting rights if Voter ID passes.

Every study shows actual "voter fraud" is practically non-existent. So why is this "solution" being pushed for a problem that doesn't exist?

Since 2006, escalating since the 2008 election, Republican state legislators across the country have prioritized voter ID and other voter restrictions that primarily target people who tend to vote Democratic. These voter suppression laws were crafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a shadowy corporate lobbying group that writes “model laws” that favor Republican and right wing political goals and are pushed in state legislatures by almost entirely by Republican law-makers.

ALEC also authored “Stand Your Ground” laws, that unleashed shootings of unarmed people, mostly by whites who claimed a broader immunity under that law, as in the Trayvon Martin case. The ALEC agenda includes further eroding protections for public health and the environment, destroying workers’ rights (including labor unions) and limiting ordinary people’s access to the courts for redress of corporate abuses.

Currently, we can register and cast a vote on election day. Since identity can’t be validated at the polls, where voter ID laws take effect, many voters' would only cast a provisional ballot. Remember those in Florida in the 2000 Bush-Gore election? Procedures confirming provisional ballots are complicated, expensive, imperfect and will delay election results by weeks. Nationally on average 30 percent of provisional ballots are discarded although far fewer than that actually are invalid. Currently, 500,000 Minnesotans register to vote at the polls on election day.

What about absentee voters? From those in isolated rural areas without polling places to members of the military serving overseas, currently, 250,000 Minnesotans vote by mail. Passing Voter ID effectively eliminates absentee voting.

Minnesota's Secretary of State Mark Richie proposed a back-up system to insure voter integrity that doesn't result in eligible voters being disenfranchised: electronic poll books that would be updated just before Election Day, costing $200,000--compared to at least $2 million for Voter ID (and probably far more when legal challenges to discarded ballots are included). However, Republican legislators rejected Richie's alternative to voter ID, more evidence that this is a brazenly partisan effort .

For doubters that this is a Republican effort to rig elections, consider that on October 4, authors of the Minnesota voter ID plan, State Senators Mike Perry (R-Waseka) and Scott Newman (R-Hutchison), filed a complaint with the Office of Administrative Hearings (????? Doesn't look like correct name to me) against Mark Richie accusing him of "multiple violations of his public office ...using public funds to travel the state ...to promote his anti-Voter ID bias." Republicans charging Democrats with such “violations” are standard tactics from the Karl Rove playbook. They sometimes have succeeded in getting Democrats being fired from government jobs.

Senator Newman told Minnesota Public Radio, "I don't view Mark Richie as some kind of election cop who’s responsible for protecting the people of Minnesota from the legislators' bill...Neither do I believe that in his using his position as Secretary of State to influence the voters on ballot initiatives."

But don’t voters have a right to know what they are voting for? Richie has tried to educate the public, because what appears on the ballot is incomplete (as can be seen at the end of this article.)

None of the "side effects" of passing voter ID (ending same day registration and voting, ending absentee voting, plus potential mass purges of the voter rolls) are on the ballot. Don’t voters have a right to know that the "problem" they are being told they are voting to fix, does not, in fact, exist? As far as this reporter knows, voter suppression laws’ impact on jury selection hasn’t been recognized by anyone.

The Brennan Center for Justice documents a wildfire of voter suppression laws sweeping the country. Since 2011, 16 states have enacted voter ID and other laws threatening voting rights for millions. Currently, about 11 per cent of Americans do not have government-issued ID. That’s 21 million people purged from the 2012 election. Republicans’ claim that our elections are plagued with "voter fraud" is a not born out by facts.

From 2002 to 2007, the Bush Administration searched for cases of voter fraud and found only 86 in the entire country. Over that five years. the American Civil Liberties Union with the Brennan Center only found sixteen cases. Voter ID is a false ‘solution’ to address a non-existent problem. Most ineligible voting is by mistake. Most cases involve people with felony records voting before they have completed probation or parole. And they do so because they simply didn't understand the rules. The best solution to this is restoring voting rights when people leave prison, as part of re-integrating prisoners into society. When challenged to find a case of voter fraud in Minnesota, only one person in the 2010 election was identified.

Minnesota’s tradition is to encourage more voter participation with voter registration on election day, early voting with absentee ballots and other measures. Republicans here and across the country are using various tactics from restrictive laws like voter ID laws to replicating purges of voter rolls (as in Florida 2000) to threatening community groups that do voter registration drives with $1,000 fines for each "unqualified" voter they register. Their goal is increasingly undeniable: discouraging or outright excluding voters---reversing 150 years of struggles to expand American democracy. Only We The People, as informed and engaged citizens can defeat Voter ID and we must. Now's the time for "each one, teach one" in overdrive.

Take Action Minnesota is organizing against voter ID. To register to vote, find your polling place and more: www.mnvotes.org For information about candidates’ records and positions on issues: www.votesmart.org Investigative reporter Greg Palast’s exposes of attacks on voting rights nation-wide can be found at:

www.BallotBandits.org

 Lydia Howell is a Minneapolis independent journalist, winner of the Premack Award for Public Interest Journalism and host of CATALYST: politics & culture on KFAI Radio.