Attacks on Voter Registration

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Last week, voters in Maine overwhelmingly defeated a right-wing effort to disenfranchise young people. With a margin of about 60-40, Mainers overturned a move by the Republican-controlled legislature to cut off same-day voter registration.

It was a large victory for people and organizations dedicated to increasing participation among all groups of voters, but it was also an especially powerful victory against a coordinated attack by well-funded right-wing politicians that is being waged across the country.

You’ve heard of the Koch brothers. They’re the powerful billionaire tycoons who control Koch Industries, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, GOP politicians and independent expediture groups across the country, and many more aspects of the far-right. They’ve done damage to workers’ rights across the nation, and are now trying to restrict the right to vote — as Time Magazine calls it, criminalizing voter registration.

This is a systematic campaign funded by David and Charles Koch and orchestrated primarily by the American Legislative Exchange Council (also known as ALEC). These measures, introduced in more than half of our fifty states, could significantly dampen Democratic turnout next year. Large corporations pay ALEC to sit at a table and write legislation that benefits their industry (and in this case, restricts voting rights), and those bills then get passed on to state legislators, who are directed to shepherd the bills through the legislative process. Under the cover of ALEC, the public never knows that it’s the largest corporations and richest people in the country who are actually writing the bills.

“Just as Dixiecrats once used poll taxes and literacy tests to bar black Southerners from voting, a new crop of GOP governors and state legislators has passed a series of seemingly disconnected measures that could prevent millions of students, minorities, immigrants, ex-convicts and the elderly from casting ballots.” — “The GOP War on Voting” Rolling Stone

In Florida, early voting has been reduced from two weeks to one week. In Ohio, there is a referendum pending that would reduce early voting by half, eliminate voting on weekends and prohibiting same-day voter registration. Georgia has reduced its early voting period by almost half. Several states have eliminated early voting on the Sunday before election day, a day on which predominantly black churches across the country have traditonally mobilized their congregations to vote. Seven states have imposed a requirement that voters show photo identification at the polls. This is also racially charged — 25% of African Americans do not have a government-issued photo ID, compared to 11% of other races. (LA Times)

Republicans suggest they are motivated by allegations of fraud, but there’s no evidence to back up their claims. “…Out of the 300 million votes cast [between 2002 and 2007], federal prosecutors convicted only 86 people for voter fraud — and many of the cases involved immigrants or former felons who were simply unaware of their ineligibility.” Even in Wisconsin, where the GOP hyped up cases of voter fraud, .0007 percent of the local electorate were prosecuted for alleged voter fraud. “A 2007 report by the Brennan Center for Justice, a leading advocate for voting rights [housed] at the New York University School of Law, quantified the problem in stark terms. ‘It is more likely that an individual will be struck by lightning,’ the report calculated, ‘than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.'” (Rolling Stone)

It’s not a coincidence that the voters these attacks most directly affect are disproportionately people of color, young people, and low-income folks who tend to vote for progressive candidates or issues. Some studies estimate that these measures will throw up obstacles for more than 5 million eligible voters and discourage many more from voting.

The vote in Maine should make it clear that Americans won’t put up with these right-wing efforts. Oregon’s legislature has several members who are actively involved in ALEC and have pushed many ALEC bills in the past. As legislators begin submitting potential bills for the February session, Oregonians should take careful note of any in-state bills that would limit the ability of any eligible voter to participate in the democratic process.

In Oregon, we haven’t seen such direct attacks on voting yet–at least none that have been successful. But because we vote by mail, young voters fall off the voter rolls at a fast pace. Every time they move, young voters are at risk of becoming inactive. That’s why ongoing voter registration efforts here are so critical. Without big efforts to re-register young voters, Oregon could find itself disenfranchising young people at the same rate as places like Mississippi and Florida.

Tune in tomorrow for our next installment in Voter Registration Week…

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