Saturday, October 13, 2012

Voter Suppression

(Political cartoon by Matt Wuerker and published 10/11/12 at Daily Kos.  Click on image to enlarge and then come on back.)

There are a couple of side issues in this election cycle.  Perhaps the biggest is the fall-out from the Citizens United decision by the US Supreme Court making it probable that this will be the most expensive election in US history.  Equally as important, however, is the issue of voter suppression attempts by GOP leaders in several US states, many of which are "swing states."  Either by legislation or by state constitutional amendment, Republicans are hoping to make it very difficult for elders, people of color, and poor people to vote if they don't drive and don't have a state issued identification card at hand.  While these laws are getting lots of press, none of the candidates are willing to touch the issue.  None of them want to go on record as being soft on voting fraud, I guess, even though evidence has shown that voter fraud is statistically non-existent all over the country.

Fortunately, the courts have intervened and have come down hard against the effort to curtail voting rights in most cases.

Earlier this year, voting rights advocates foresaw a cloud over this year's election because new voting laws in Republican-led states tightened the rules for casting ballots and reduced the time for early voting.

But with the election less than a month away, it's now clear those laws will have little impact. A series of rulings has blocked or weakened the laws as judges — both Republicans and Democrats — stopped measures that threatened to bar legally registered voters from polling places in the November election.

"Courts see their role as the protectors of the core right to vote," said Ned Foley, an election law expert at Ohio State University.

The laws were the product of a Republican sweep in the 2010 election. The GOP took full control in such states as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida, and soon adopted changes in their election laws.

Some states told registered voters they must show a current photo identification, such as a driver's license, even if they did not drive. Others, including Florida and Ohio, reduced the time for early voting or made it harder for college students to switch their registrations.

Republicans defended the laws as protections against fraud. But advocates for increased access to the polls cast them as "voter suppression" laws that could prevent tens of thousands of poor and elderly voters, racial minorities and students from casting ballots. And Democrats, who can usually count on support from these voters, worried that the laws could even sway the outcome in the presidential race if it were close in key states.

Not all such laws were rolled back, and the issue has not been resolved.  All of the court decisions are subject to appeal and the current Supreme Court may very well hold that this is a state issue and restore the laws.  That means the 2014 elections may be affected by these laws.

Rick Hasen, a law professor at UC Irvine, said many of the rulings might not stand for long. "The victories over voter ID laws are likely to be short-lived," he said.

The Supreme Court has not yet weighed in this year on the major election law disputes. Four years ago, however, the justices upheld an Indiana photo ID law, and Hasen predicted they would look favorably on the new state laws so long as voters were given enough time to comply.

And that's why it's a damned shame that current candidates aren't speaking to this issue.  Some states, like California and Oregon are working hard to make voting easier, but both are reliably "blue."  It's the swing states that are affected.  I just hope that come 2014 those states have come to their senses.

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