Election 2012: The Year of Voter Suppression

By Laura Kacere

As politicians gear up for the November election, many are using voter suppression as a tool to silence millions of American citizens.  Since 2010, state legislatures across the country have set up a number of major barriers to voting, making access to the vote in this election limited and often inaccessible to the most marginalized sectors of the country. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, over 180 bills that restrict voting have been introduced in 41 states since the beginning of 2011.

Here’s the most recent news in voter suppression:

  • Wisconsin’s Attorney General announced today that he is filing a petition to the Supreme Court to place a harsh state photo identification law into effect before the November election. The law, which has been ruled unconstitutional by 2 Wisconsin judges, would require identification at the polls that includes a photograph and current address. Students throughout the state took on the issue; most student IDs do not include both a photo and current address, therefore the law would disenfranchise a good portion of students in the state.
  • In Pennsylvania last week, a judge refused to block a law, now in effect, that requires very specific government-issued identification to vote. Students had actually testified in court, along with transgender, black, disabled, and elderly women, saying that the law would disenfranchise them. Pretty badass, but the law is now in effect and is predicted to disenfranchise over 700,000 voters in the state.
  • Ohio Republicans recently attempted to limit early voting in its urban, liberal-leaning areas, while expanding it in its more conservative areas. After major public backlash, Secretary of State Jon Usted, who had originally decided in favor of the rules, decided to reverse his decision, issuing a statement last week stating that the state’s early voting laws must all be uniform.  When asked by the Columbus Dispatch why he had supported the early voting limitations in certain areas, Franklin County (Columbus) GOP Chair Doug Preisse answered, “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban—read African-American—voter-turnout machine.” Could they be more clear?
  • Harsher rules regarding third-party voter registration has passed in several states, including Florida, causing many large voter registration groups to leave the state, and likely leading to a largely reduced number of registered voters for the upcoming election.
  • Florida, South Dakota, and Iowa all made it much harder for people with past felony convictions to restore their voting rights, effectively disenfranchising thousands of people (6 million people across the country cannot vote in this election because of their involvement with the prison system).
  • Since spring, Virginia and Mississippi have passed new strict voter identification laws, while Wisconsin, Texas, and New Hampshire have passed new voter identification laws that have then been challenged. This year alone, 14 states have proposed new voter ID laws, and 10 states attempted to strengthen existing identification laws.

Who is effected by strict voter ID laws?

  • Women who have not changed their identification to their married name
  • Transgender people whose gender doesn’t match their legal ID
  • Poor/working class folks for whom getting to the DMV and paying the cost of government-issued ID is a major financial barrier
  • Immigrants forced to provide documents proving their citizenship in order to vote
  • Black and Latino people whose entire communities are targeted through exclusion from early voting, voter registration, and even voting booths on election day
  • Elderly folks who are physically unable to get to acquire a new ID that fits the standard
  • Students, especially those from out of state, who do not have the identification required (and whose student IDs often do not, very calculatedly, fit new requirements)
  • People in prison who are legally disenfranchised for being convicted of felonies

…and many more for many more reasons.

Millions of voters will be disenfranchised by these restrictive laws that drip of racism, agism, sexism, and economic privilege.

So why are they doing this? Voter fraud? No. Claims that these laws are necessary because of voter fraud have already been proven to be blatantly false. This is a lie concocted to keep up the charade that these politicians actually care about “our democracy.”  In reality, these laws are being enacted because those who are most disenfranchised by these laws are also most likely to vote against the interests of the political and economic power. We (young people, gay people, trans people, poor people, people of color, people involved in the prison system) are most likely to vote against politicians who have for too long stuck up for the richest (read: white, straight, male) 1%. These are long-term, structural changes to our democracy.

A clear example of this was the Koch brothers’ large financial investment through the American Legislative Exchange Council to pass the strict photo ID laws in Wisconsin.  Corporate money is too often put behind these laws as a way to maintain corporate-friendly economic-deregulating talking heads. And interestingly enough (though not at all surprising), some of the harshest voter ID laws exist in swing states. This is the largest legislative effort to scale back voting rights in over a century, since the voting laws of Jim Crow.

These laws are a calculated strategy, and they are working.  Find out what voter suppression efforts are underway in your state with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voter Suppression Map and take on our Get Out Her Vote Campaign before the November election. The Voting Rights Project also has great info. Educate your peers about how and why voter suppression is going on in your state and speak up about who is behind this. Sometimes it can feel like our vote is just doesn’t do much, and with the level of power that money has in the decisions made by our government, this is not an unfounded feeling. But when so much effort is made to limit this simple act, it becomes almost an act of defiance. If they tell us they don’t want our vote, we will stand up and say “no, despite your efforts, I will make my voice heard.”

Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons User Vaguely Artistic

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