Sunday, July 22, 2007

Voter Intimidation

One of the items in the GOP bag of tricks is labeled "Voter Fraud." It gets hauled out a few months before any given election and strange things begin to happen. US Attorneys suddenly start pushing for indictments against those who allegedly voted improperly in a previous election. Thousands of names are purged from voter rolls as purportedly being those of felons or those of people ineligable to vote. The result is the same: vote suppression by voter intimidation.

One of the biggest targets for voter intimidation in California has been immigrants who have become naturalised citizens. Now, some immigrants/citizens who have made it into the state legislature are trying to do something about it. From today's Sacramento Bee:

One day last October, Jose Solorio was sorting through his mail at his home in Orange County when he came upon a letter written in Spanish that stunned him.

The mailer -- which he later learned was sent to 14,000 other naturalized citizens with Latino surnames -- warned immigrants who vote they are committing a crime punishable by jail time and deportation.

As a Santa Ana city councilman, former state Senate fellow and graduate of Harvard University's School of Government, Solorio knew that isn't true. ...

The latest episode of voter intimidation in Orange County prompted Solorio, a Santa Ana Democrat, to introduce Assembly Bill 122. It would require election officials to give candidates a copy of provisions of the law that prohibit voter intimidation and the criminal penalties.

Another bill, AB 288 by Assemblyman Curren Price, D-Inglewood, would require people convicted of voter intimidation to pay a restitution fine, in addition to any existing fines, with the money to be used for voter education campaigns.

"Current law doesn't provide for any reimbursement by the party convicted of intimidation," said Price. "So the state and counties end up paying for public information to dissuade such acts."

While both bills are moving through the Legislature, a third voter intimidation bill has stalled for the session in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

AB 46 by Assemblyman Van Tran, R-Garden Grove, would have turned voter intimidation into a felony-only offense. Under existing law, prosecutors have the option of filling misdemeanor charges.

The bill languished in the Appropriations Committee amid concerns by a rare alignment of Democrats, Republicans and the ACLU that it would limit the flexibility of prosecutors and contribute to prison overcrowding.

All three bills deserve serious consideration and passage. Although I generally side with the ACLU, this is one time I don't. Voting is too precious a right to ripped from a newly naturalised citizen or any other citizen for that matter. Make voter intimidation a felony and prosecute it as such: send a message to those who count on keeping people away from the polls that such activity will not be tolerated in a democracy.

As to the overcrowding of prisons issue I would simply suggest that if we stopped slamming people into prison for victimless crimes there might be plenty of room for those who don't trust democracy enough to let it flower.

Get. It. Done.

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