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The Republican scheme to limit voting on Election Day is shameful.
In less than a month, Americans will go to the polls to perform the quintessential act of citizenship, but the turnout will almost certainly be lower than last time.
The 2008 presidential election was a stunning affirmation of the American electoral process, attaining the highest voter turnout (57 percent) since 1968. African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans and young people voted in record numbers.
One reason turnout will most likely be down is because of the Republican push to enact unjust voting laws across the country. Over the past few years, Republican legislatures and governors have pushed through bills curtailing early balloting and imposing stiff voter ID requirements.
This has been a systematic effort.
Republican legislators in 40 states introduced bills that would have the effect of limiting the franchise. “The GOP proposed and enacted more restrictions on the right to vote than at any time since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965,” notes the Voting Rights Institute.
Federal law already has voter identification requirements, such as verifying voters’ identities with signatures, but strict photo ID requirements are new. Only two states enforced them before the 2010 midterm elections.
Not coincidentally, the laws disproportionately burden exactly those groups, such as blacks and Latinos, who heavily supported Barack Obama in 2008. Judges have struck down several of these, but at least 13 states currently maintain restrictive voting mandates passed only in the last two years.
Approximately 25 percent of voting age African-Americans lack photo identification, such as a driver’s license. You may have heard of the case of Dorothy Cooper, a 96-year-old African-American woman in Tennessee, who produced a Social Security card, a voter registration card, a birth certificate and a lease, yet was denied the right to re-register until her story created a stir.
Voter fraud is an extremely rare phenomenon, as several investigations have proven. Voter ID laws are an unconstitutional solution to a nearly nonexistent problem.
Any doubt regarding the purely partisan motivations of the new voting impediments was erased in June of this year when Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai bragged to an audience that the state’s new and very strict voter ID law would “allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”
A Pennsylvania judge recently imposed an injunction on the law, stating: “I am not convinced there will be no voter disenfranchisement.”
But even when these laws are overturned, late changes and legal wrangling throw confusion into the election process.
The right to vote should be sacred. We cannot justify barring potentially millions of legitimate votes by disingenuously advocating a hunt to weed out extremely rare cases of fraud.
Our moral mission as a democracy should be to encourage all citizens to vote. We should be removing — not erecting — obstacles in the path to the voting booth.
Darryl Lorenzo Wellington is a journalist living in Santa Fe, N.M. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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