First, a public service announcement: “Hey black people, old people, poor people and students! Guess what you all have in common? Lawmakers are trying to fuck you in your assholes!” says Sarah Silverman about new voter identification laws in a video introducing a new initiative, “Let My People Vote.”
On that note, let’s talk about voter registration.
In dozens of states, the final day to register to vote is during this coming week. In the Michigan it’s Tuesday, Oct. 9. So all the hubbub about new voting laws and getting people registered is about to come to a head.
While a core tenet of the Obama campaign is “expanding the electorate,” the Republican Party is passing discriminatory laws all across the country that make it harder for people to register to vote and even take some off the voter rolls.
Of the 11 states that have passed strict voter ID laws since 2005, 10 have been passed by Republican-controlled legislatures. Their justification is to crack down on voter fraud. However, since 2000 there have been only 10 cases of voter fraud nationally that would’ve been prevented by these new laws.
Pennsylvania’s state legislature passed a voter ID law that’s currently being challenged in court. University of Washington political science prof. Matt Barreto determined that more than 1-million Pennsylvania voters — nearly 13 percent of registered voters in the state — would be taken off the voter rolls for not having the right voter ID. On top of that, this law disproportionately affects black voters. According to a study by Azavea, a geospatial analysis firm, voters in predominately black precincts of Philadelphia are 85 percent more likely than voters in predominately white precincts to lack state-issued IDs.
New laws in Texas and Kentucky ensure that students — who reliably vote Democratic — cannot use their university IDs. But those same laws allow gun owners — who reliably vote Republican — to use firearm permits. This was an explicitly political act.
Stepping back, across 23 states, up to 10 million registered Latinos could be taken off voter rolls, according to a study by the Advancement Project, a civil rights activist group. This is for a hodgepodge of reasons: strict photo IDs, requirements to prove citizenship and purging the records of alleged non-citizens. Each is more disgusting than the last.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has the balls to call these laws out for what they are: “We call those poll taxes,” he said in Houston on July 10. He was referring to the Jim Crow laws, which systematically denied blacks in the South the right to vote in the early 1900s. Clearly this is just a 21st century version.
On the contrary, the Obama campaign has made it a priority to register voters. It has done so by actively shaping its strategies to combat the new restrictive laws and by seeking out neighborhoods with historically low voter turnout and registration. It’s also created an entire website, gottavote.org, devoted to giving people state-specific information about how to register and what they need at the polls.
This week, as you walked around campus, you were probably repeatedly asked if you’re registered to vote — chances are those people are with organizations trying to get Barack Obama re-elected.
Proving the Democrats’ greater emphasis on fair voter registration is as simple as comparing one sentence from the leaders of each party.
From the Republicans: “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania: done.” said Mike Turzai, Pennsylvania State House majority leader, after listing a number of legislative victories for the Republicans.
From the Democrats: “What I want is for people to vote. And yes, of course we want people to vote for the President. But that’s not what voter protection is about … A victory is when people are casting their ballots.” said Courtney Wheeler, national voter protection coordinator for Obama for America.
The bottom line is this: While one party is doing all it can to make it harder for U.S. citizens to vote, the other is pulling out all the stops to register new voters and keep existing ones on voter rolls.
Let me be clear. I’m not angry at all people who identify as Republican and I don’t disagree with all ideologies commonly associated with that party. What I struggle with is a campaign strategy aimed at undermining our fundamental ability to participate in the democratic process.
Voter registration strategy is possibly the starkest contrast here between Democrats and Republicans. The future of Americans’ basic right to vote is at stake in November.
To me, the choice is clear.
Yonah Lieberman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.