Thursday, August 30, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #71 - Part 2

Voting rights under attack

In this, I will be repeating things I have said previously. I think they bear repeating - because it is about efforts to restrict voting rights, something I have been talking about and expect I will continue to talk about clear through the election and probably beyond. In fact, I've been going on about this for more than a year now and that doesn't even count the earlier posts about those inaccurate, fraud-prone electronic voting machines.

More recently, I've been talking almost entirely about these inane voter photo ID laws, but that is not the only method being employed by the right wing - and make no mistake, this is a project of the right wing - to restrict the ability to vote by people the reactionaries fear will not vote the way they want. That is, people like the young, the poor, and minorities. There have been, for example, restrictions on early voting, which the record says is used disproportionately by minority voters. There have been legal moves and other attempts of various sorts to restrict the ability to register to vote, everything from blocking voter registration drives (as happened in Florida) to just somehow not having enough voter registration forms (as happened recently in New Mexico) to simply grousing when anyone tries to help people register.

One related case of the last is here in Massachusetts. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 requires states to make voter registration information available to people renewing vehicle registrations or signing up for welfare or unemployment. Several voting rights organizations brought suit because Massachusetts had been in gross violation of parts of that law: For one example 75% of welfare applicants in a survey said that had not been provided any information about voter registration. As part of an interim out-of-court settlement, the state has sent voter registration forms to all welfare recipients in the state. Well, Sen. Scat Brown is whining about this, saying it's all a political plot to harm him. And truth be told, it would harm him, and he knows why: If poor people vote, they are more likely to vote for Elizabeth Warren rather than him. And he doesn't want to see that happen. It's all about the right wing trying to interfere with the ability to vote of anyone they think is in any way liberal.

There is news from all over the country about this, from Ohio and Texas and South Carolina and Florida and New Hampshire and New Mexico and more. Talking about this is going to be an on-going thing here at Left Side of the Aisle.

Right now, though, I did want to mention a couple of specific things about a particular case I've been talking about recently: the suit against Pennsylvania's photo ID law. As I told you last time, Judge Robert Simpson refused to enjoin the law, meaning the unless the state Supreme Court unexpectedly overturns Simpson's ruling, the law may well be in place in November. I also told you that the very day that decision came down, the administration of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, who has proved himself a real space cadet - and if you get that, you're as old as I am - announced it was shutting down a program designed to make it easier for people to get absentee ballots.

What I haven't told you is that in the week since, the Corbett administration also announced that it would refuse to cooperate with a Justice Department investigation of the law to see if it violated the Voting Rights Act. In fact, the request for documents was rejected in a manner that could only be called sneering and insulting.

In fact, the state's letter started with a reference to the way the DOJ dealt with complaints of voter intimidation by two members of the New Black Panther Party at a Philadelphia polling place in 2008. This deal is a favorite right wing fantasy; I swear, those two guys must have been hired by some right-wing outfit, with all the play they've tried to get out of this. The truth is, the New Black Panther Party - which despite the name has nothing whatsoever to do with the original Black Panthers - consists of a handful of fringoids who essentially no one had ever heard of before this incident and essentially no one has heard of since. This was two guys at one polling place, one where no one has ever said that they felt intimidated. But that matters more to the right wing than the tens or even hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians who are being denied their right to vote in order to deal with a crime - voter impersonation - that, as the state itself had already admitted, by any rational standard does not exist.

After that, the state's letter went on to claim the DOJ doesn't have the authority to undertake such an investigation - guess what, it does; Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act gives the feds the authority to investigate voter discrimination throughout the jurisdiction of US law - and to accuse the agency of "political motivation," of, in fact, targeting "a growing number of states simply because they instituted legislation designed to insure the integrity of the voting process." Put more bluntly, the state of Pennsylvania is accusing the DOJ of wanting to have corrupt elections. This is another favorite right-wing fantasy: Whenever anyone to their left, even the most moderate centrist Democrat, wins, they immediately smell fraud. The idea that the only way they can lose an election is if the other side cheats is in their political DNA.

But sneering and indulging fantasies wasn't enough for the Corbett administration. The letter also said that the state would provide the information requested - but only if the DOJ would sign a confidentiality agreement. Now, whatever you think about privacy protections - and if you've been around here for a while you know I'm big on them - that is such a sniggering, sophomoric, slap that I really imagine the author giggling as it was being written.

There is one other important thing I want to bring up: I mentioned last week that in his decision on the suit in Pennsylvania, Judge Simpson wrote that the law
is a reasonable, nondiscriminatory, non-severe burden when viewed in the broader context of the widespread use of photo ID in daily life.
Now, at the time I said that Simpson is among those blockheads who can't get it through their thick skulls that not everyone routinely gets on a plane or checks into a hotel or even drives. This time I want to note those other two terms.

"Nondiscriminatory?" Of course the law is discriminatory! Any time a law obviously and significantly affects an identifiable group (here the young, the old, the poor, and minorities) disproportionately as compared to another group (white people and the rich), well that is the definition of discriminatory!

But here's the real thing: "non-severe burden." Any burden placed on voting, Simpson is saying, is acceptable - it's legal, constitutional, just, fair - so long as that burden is not "severe."

But dammit, for all its shortcomings, failures, and disappointments, voting remains a centerpiece, a cornerstone, a linchpin, a keystone, of what it means to have a free nation. It is the central organizing principle of what it means to have a government of by and for the people rather than the other way around.

The burden is not "severe?" What kind of nonsensical standard is that? We are talking about the ability of the people to choose their government and to choose who will govern them. We are talking about a core value of democracy and we're supposed to accept any burdens, any restrictions, put on that so long as they are not "severe?" The true question should not be "is this limitation too severe" but "is this limitation necessary?" And the burden of proof should not be on those who would advance and protect that value, that right, to show "this limitation is too severe" but always on those who would retard and undermine that value, that right, to show "this limitation is necessary."

Remember that just a few years ago, and you will remember this as soon as I mention it, and you’ll probably realize you haven’t thought about it for a while, just a few years ago the big concern about voting was how few people were voting, about low turnouts, about how the level of participation in elections in this country was embarrassing, how even in presidential elections, where the turnout is highest, it still might only be about 60% - and considering that only half of eligible voters were registered, in a close election that might well mean a president was elected with the support of little more than 15% of the population.

All the talk was about how we could get more people to the polls, how we could get more people registered, more people involved, how to remove roadblocks between potential voters and the voting booth. That was the whole point of that 1993 National Voter Registration Act, which was often called the "motor voter" law because of its use of state motor vehicle agencies as contact points for encouraging voter registration.

Now, just a rather few years of right-wing screeching, lying, and, importantly, media collaboration later, all the talk is about how many roadblocks we can put on that path, how hard we can make it to register, how hard we can make it to vote.

And what this is about is power. It's always about power, about the desire of the right wing for power. About the desire of the right wing to create a permanent, structural bias in favor of conservative, right-wing voters and conservative right-wing government; a permanent, structural bias in favor of the haves over the have-nots; a permanent, structural bias in favor of the needless over the needy; a permanent, structural bias against any notion of progress or reform or improvement in the lives of the many as opposed to the selfish benefit of the few.

So if you think your vote is safe - well, if you reliably vote for the oligarchs it probably is. Otherwise, otherwise.


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