Don't Rock The Vote
On Wednesday night, near the close of his address to the Democratic National Convention, Bill Clinton stated
If you -- if you want -- If you want America -- if you want every American to vote and you think it is wrong to change voting procedures -- just to reduce the turnout of younger, poorer, minority and disabled voters -- you should support Barack Obama.
Twelve years after Al Gore outpolled George W. Bush nationally and in the pivotal state of Florida and eight years after John Kerry may have outpolled incumbent George W. Bush in the pivotal state of Ohio, the Gas and Oil Party is at it again. Just to be on the safe side, their efforts now are not limited to two states but have spread to others.
"Changing voting procedures" is less a retro policy than continuation of a campaign which began when Al Gore outpolled George W. Bush nationally and in the pivotal state of Florida and was denied the presidency by a group of five judges. The Nation's Ari Berman noted last year
To hear Republicans tell it, they are waging a virtuous campaign to crack down on rampant voter fraud – a curious position for a party that managed to seize control of the White House in 2000 despite having lost the popular vote. After taking power, the Bush administration declared war on voter fraud, making it a "top priority" for federal prosecutors. In 2006, the Justice Department fired two U.S. attorneys who refused to pursue trumped-up cases of voter fraud in New Mexico and Washington, and Karl Rove called illegal voting "an enormous and growing problem." In parts of America, he told the Republican National Lawyers Association, "we are beginning to look like we have elections like those run in countries where the guys in charge are colonels in mirrored sunglasses." According to the GOP, community organizers like ACORN were actively recruiting armies of fake voters to misrepresent themselves at the polls and cast illegal ballots for the Democrats.
Even at the time, there was no evidence to back up such outlandish claims. A major probe by the Justice Department between 2002 and 2007 failed to prosecute a single person for going to the polls and impersonating an eligible voter, which the anti-fraud laws are supposedly designed to stop. Out of the 300 million votes cast in that period, federal prosecutors convicted only 86 people for voter fraud – and many of the cases involved immigrants and former felons who were simply unaware of their ineligibility. A much-hyped investigation in Wisconsin, meanwhile, led to the prosecution of only .0007 percent of the local electorate for alleged voter fraud. "Our democracy is under siege from an enemy so small it could be hiding anywhere," joked Stephen Colbert. A 2007 report by the Brennan Center for Justice, a leading advocate for voting rights at the New York University School of Law, quantified the problem in stark terms. "It is more likely that an individual will be struck by lightning," the report calculated, "than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls."
Then in March of this year-as the GOP was merely ramping up its voter suppression effort- Berman summarized
Since the 2010 election, Republicans have waged an unprecedented war on voting, with the unspoken but unmistakable goal of preventing millions of mostly Democratic voters, including students, minorities, immigrants, ex-convicts and the elderly, from casting ballots in 2012. More than a dozen states, from Texas to Wisconsin and Florida, have passed laws designed to impede voters at every step of the electoral process, whether by requiring birth certificates to register to vote, restricting voter registration drives, curtailing early voting, requiring government-issued IDs to cast a ballot, or disenfranchising ex-felons...
The Pennsylvania measures are strikingly similar to model legislation drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, an influential conservative advocacy group funded in part by the right-wing billionaire Koch brothers. In Pennsylvania, as in other states pushing voting restrictions, Republicans have hyped the bogeyman of "voter fraud" to promote the ID laws, even though, as the Associated Press noted, they were able to cite "no instances of voter fraud that the bill would somehow address." The law, the very type of big-government expansion that Republicans so often decry, will cost the state anywhere from $4.3 million to $11 million to implement.
Berman noted this week that only three southern states have not approved restrictive voting measures since 2010.
A mere one sentence in Bill Clinton's long, impressive, and effective speech mentioned voter suppression, surprising given his emphasis on the subject both in a meeting the previous evening organized by the Arkansas Democratic Party and in the annual conference of Campus Progress in July 2011. Still, it contrasted to the speeches of Vice-President Biden and President Obama Thursday night in which they mentioned the issue a total of zero times.
It was left to Representative John Lewis to talk about the elephant in the room. His remarks, as prepared for delivery:
I first came to this city in 1961, the year Barack Obama was born. I was one of the 13 original "Freedom Riders." We were on a bus ride from Washington to New Orleans trying to test a recent Supreme Court ruling that banned racial discrimination on buses crossing state lines and in the stations that served them. Here in Charlotte, a young African-American rider got off the bus and tried to get a shoe shine in a so-called white waiting room. He was arrested and taken to jail.
On that same day, we continued on to Rock Hill, South Carolina, about 25 miles. From here, when my seatmate, Albert Bigelow, and I tried to enter a white waiting room, we were met by an angry mob that beat us and left us lying in a pool of blood. Some police officers came up and asked us whether we wanted to press charges. We said, "No, we come in peace, love and nonviolence." We said our struggle was not against individuals, but against unjust laws and customs. Our goal was true freedom for every American.
Since then, America has made a lot of progress. We are a different society than we were in 1961. And in 2008, we showed the world the true promise of America when we elected President Barack Obama. A few years ago, a man from Rock Hill, inspired by President Obama's election, decided to come forward. He came to my office in Washington and said, "I am one of the people who beat you. I want to apologize. Will you forgive me?" I said, "I accept your apology." He started crying. He gave me a hug. I hugged him back, and we both started crying. This man and I don't want to go back; we want to move forward.
Brothers and sisters, do you want to go back? Or do you want to keep America moving forward? My dear friends, your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful, nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union. Not too long ago, people stood in unmovable lines. They had to pass a so-called literacy test, pay a poll tax. On one occasion, a man was asked to count the number of bubbles in a bar of soap. On another occasion, one was asked to count the jelly beans in a jar—all to keep them from casting their ballots.
Today it is unbelievable that there are Republican officials still trying to stop some people from voting. They are changing the rules, cutting polling hours and imposing requirements intended to suppress the vote. The Republican leader in the Pennsylvania House even bragged that his state's new voter ID law is "gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state." That's not right. That's not fair. That's not just.
And similar efforts have been made in Texas, Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Arizona, Georgia and South Carolina. I've seen this before. I've lived this before. Too many people struggled, suffered and died to make it possible for every American to exercise their right to vote.
And we have come too far together to ever turn back. So we must not be silent. We must stand up, speak up and speak out. We must march to the polls like never before. We must come together and exercise our sacred right. And together, on November 6, we will re-elect the man who will lead America forward: President Barack Obama.
It was unlikely an oversight that, aside from the passing reference the previous evening by the former President, the matter was ignored by all but a congressman from Georgia.Though a highly respected figure because he was instrumental in the civil rights movement, Lewis is only one of 435 (voting) members of the U.S. House of Representatives and, at best, a tangentially national figure. His speech was, moreover, not delivered in prime time. The Democratic convention did approve a platform plank opposing "unnecessary restrictions" on "the right to vote," meant to go unnoticed by all but party activists.
Of course, Barack Obama would not speak of the effort to deny the vote to the elderly, students, poor people, individuals with limited English skills, and especially, blacks. Obama had to address the issue of race, an impediment to his election, thoroughly in 2008, and it stands as an obstacle to his re-election, denial by most of the mainstream media notwithstanding.
There is little, however, that goes on at a convention which is objectionable to the prospective nominee (and when it does, as in the case of the Jerusalem & God fiasco in the platform, their will be done). The GOP effort has not taken place nationally but on a state-by-state basis, and thus largely outside the glare of publicity. Its success is enhanced by the lack of transparency, which would have been shattered had someone in prime time explained that the speech guarantee of the First Amendment of the Constitution is imperiled by an attempt to thwart the will of the majority, an assault on the voting rights of the American people.
President Obama may have calculated that the Republican effort will not cost him re-election. But it should concern the President that it probably will result in the defeat of Democrats down-ballot who would have won if the GOP targets, mostly Democratic constituencies, were not deterred from voting. Should, not does.