Monday, October 24, 2016

The Republcians' war against the right to vote

A few years ago, the conservative majority of the  U.S. Supreme Court removed a major section of the Voting Rights Act that had required certain states, with a history of voter discrimination, to get pre-clearance on any change in their voting laws.  Now, in fairness, it should be said that SCOTUS did not necessarily mean that no further oversight was needed.   Their decision suggested that some states have made progress since the Voting Rights Act was passed, and that it was time for Congress to bring the list of states subject to pre-clearance up to date.

However, neither did they include any timetable or requirement that Congress actually act;   it was more suggestion than mandate.

And, of course, they did not take into account that a Republican controlled Congress was not about to do anything about it, because now the majority Republican-controlled state legislatures could slip in some laws that would disadvantage exactly the kinds of voters who tend to vote Democratic.    And that's exactly what they did, some beginning with bills introduced the day after the court's decision took effect.

This is a basic, almost a defining, difference between liberals and conservatives in general about SCOTUS.   Should social conditions and consequences play any role whatsoever in their decisions?

The result is that SCOTUS removed all pre-clearance requirements, and Congress refused to even take up the issue.   It's true that those newly-passed laws can be challenged in court -- and some have been successfully overturned (Texas, North Carolina, among others);   but other laws that would not have made it through Department of Justice pre-clearance are now on the books.

November 8th will be the first presidential election without the long-held Voting Rights Act protections being in place, since it was originally passed.  Here we are, two weeks before the election, with a mishmash of different state laws and voting requirements, leaving much confusion and intimidation among voters.

Indiana is a case in point.    Yes, the state whose governor, Mike Pence, is the Republican Vice Presidential candidate.  Quoting from an article by Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post:

"Earlier this month, just ahead of Indiana’s voter registration deadline, state police executed a search warrant at the office of an organization that had set out to register black voters in a state with the worst voter turnout in the country.

"Officers conducted their search on the Indiana Voter Registration Project’s headquarters just a few weeks after Republican Secretary of State Connie Lawson sent a letter to state election officials warning that 'nefarious actors are operating' in the Hoosier state and asking them to inform authorities if they received any voter registration forms from the group.

'The letter from Lawson ― who, when she was a state legislator, co-sponsored Indiana’s controversial voter ID law ― had a chilling effect.  It amounted to 'the voter suppression equivalent of an Amber alert,' said Craig Varoga, the president of Patriot Majority USA, a liberal nonprofit group that ran the Indiana Voter Registration Project.

"The publicity surrounding the actions taken by Lawson and Indiana’s state police have cast a shadow over the nonprofits, with many stories accusing them of voter fraud.   Varoga said the Oct. 4 police action prevented the group from registering 5,000 to 10,000 additional voters ahead of Indiana’s Oct. 11 voter registration deadline. He’s worried that clerks won’t count some of the 45,000 applications the group had already collected."


This is an old tactic, and it has nothing to do with actual voter fraud in either registering or voting.   There is no significant evidence of either.   What Republicans look for are minor technical irregularities, like minor differences in how their name is listed compared to, say, driver's license registration (Johnny instead of John, say).  Then they scream "voter fraud."   And accuse the registering organization.

This is what has happened in Georgia and other places, including Indiana.   When voter registration drives are conducted by third party organizations, they are required to return every form that they were given, even ones that may have been partially filled out, then discarded to start over because of some simple mistake.   Or forms that the volunteers recognize are jokes, like someone calling themselves Mickey Mouse.   All of those must be returned.    The reason behind this makes sense:   it assures that drive organizers have to account for all forms;  they can't discard any registrations that are for the party they oppose.

But for unscrupulous, partisan officials in the registration office looking to claim fraud, this is easy to seize on as "evidence."    It sounds like this may have been in play in Indiana.   There is also a technicality in Indiana, involving a little-known requirement that registration workers sign a sworn affidavit whenever they have reason to believe a registration they have handled may be false, fictitious, or fraudulent;   and the penalty for not doing so is charge of perjury to the registration volunteer. 

Because that requirement is not mentioned on the Secretary of State's web site instructions for registration drives, but is mentioned in a guide published by one Indiana county, the officials are saying this Indiana Voter Registration Project workers are in violation of the law.   Imagine the chilling effect such intimidation has, not only on potential voters, but on volunteer registration workers.   It's downright Kafka-esque, essentially shutting down registration efforts about two weeks prior to the deadline.

Secretary of State Lawson tried to present this as reassurance to the Indiana voters of how serious they are about protecting the integrity of the voting process.   But even some fellow Republicans have said she's going too far.  They are concerned that police intimidation of a voter drive aimed at registering black voters won't look good for a state that still has a black eye from passing a law last year that legalized anti-gay discrimination in public businesses.  They should be concerned, especially with their governor on the ticket.

This is one more reason to make this a landslide Democratic victory on November 8th.   First, we must have a Democratic president to appoint more liberals to the Supreme Court.   Second, we must take back control of the Senate, so some progressive legislation has a chance of getting passed.    And third -- let's just go all the way and take back the House while we're at it.   Then we can really get some good stuff accomplished -- even restore pre-clearance to the Voting Rights Act for every state that has passed these voter suppression laws.


No comments:

Post a Comment