Recent events in Florida and Wisconsin points to a new and disturbing trend in GOP politics. Whenever Republicans believe that they will not win a given election, they simply take steps to disenfranchise people who would vote against them.
This trend goes back as far as voting rights acts that try to prevent it, but the most recent infringement has occurred under the current Florida Governor Rick Scott. A list of 180,000 people were identified as potential noncitizens based on Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicle database that contains some citizenship information that the agency collects when people get a state ID such as a driver’s license. However, these records are not updated when a person earns U.S. Citizenship to reflect the change.
Although the list was pared down to about 2,700 voters, it has been found that 87 percent of identified voters are minorities, and all on the list tend to vote for Democrats.
The Department of Justice has already sent the state a cease and desist letter, citing a potential violation of the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. The Act requires that all voter purge activities stop 90 days prior to any general or primary election. Given the proximity of the Florida attempt at purge to their upcoming primary election, it would seem that the Department of Justice is correct.
In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker pulled of a narrow victory over his opponent Tom Barrett. It could be argued that a 9 to 1 spending gap between Walker and Barrett has something to do with that, but that’s not the purpose of this column.
A voter registration law was passed last year in Wisconsin by Republicans that states a person must have lived in their current address for 28 days rather than the previously allowed 10 days.
Magically, Scott Walker’s recall election was scheduled less than 28 days after five of Wisconsin’s major universities dismissed for the summer, meaning that untold thousands of college students (who tend to vote for Democrats) could not vote in the recall election.
Sadly, this is not the length and breadth of the GOP’s attempt to disenfranchise voters. In Texas, you can use your gun license as identification to vote, but cannot use your student ID, and are attempting to purge voters from their poll books at a rate of one in every ten voters based on outdated information.
Michigan is even considering restrictive policies that would require people who want an absentee ballot to show up at a Secretary of State’s office with photo ID to get their absentee ballot. Never mind that they might not be able to because of physical or other disability.
The purpose of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965, and National Voter Registration Act of 1993 is to prevent the arbitrary disenfranchisement of minorities and political parties. The laws do require states to purge voter rolls of voters who no longer live in the state or have died. However, they are written in a fashion to require the burden of proof for a person’s citizenship either as a U.S. citizen or as a citizen of the state to fall on the state.
Instead, Florida and Texas have taken the pathway of burdening the voter with task of proving they are citizens or proving that they still live in the state. They have not updated their voting registration records as mandated by the laws I mentioned above and seem perfectly happy with using outdated records to purge as many voters as possible, actual qualifications be damned.
Shockingly, Florida has refused to follow the Department of Justice’s request that they stop purging voter rolls. So far, no other action has been taken against states making moves to shrink their electorate for political gain.
These actions do not reflect well on our country. These exact same actions have been the favorite tools of fascist dictatorships to ensure their claim to power remains unchallenged. (The Nuremberg Laws come immediately to mind, as well as the Reichstag Fire Decree.)
Aren’t we supposed to be the country that is bringing democracy to third world countries with fascist dictatorships? Aren’t we supposed to be a shining example of how a democracy is supposed to work?
As long as we continue this electoral hypocrisy, we can’t expect to be taken seriously in the world as the purveyors of the democratic system. As long as Republicans attempt to ensure that only their party makes it into local and national politics we cannot say “Tsk tsk” to countries who have already succeeded in making sure that only one party and one person is ever on the “ballot.”
The Department of Justice needs to come down hard on any state that is attempting to make it harder for people to register to vote and then exercise their right to vote.
Most of all, the people who are being affected by these discriminatory laws need to speak up, no, shout that these unfair practices must stop if we are to have a truly representative democracy.