Jill Cicciarelli, a high school civics teacher in Florida, distributed voter registration materials to teach students about the electoral process and encourage 18-year-old students to register to vote. By doing her job she and other teachers inadvertently ran afoul of Florida’s draconian new voter suppression laws, which impose fines of up to $1,000 on third parties who help voters register if the registration forms are not returned within 48 hours. Since the postal service may take more than 48 hours to deliver them, the law has done what the Republican authors desired.
It has stopped groups like the League of Women Voters from registering people unlikely to vote Republican: the old, the young, the poor, the working class, minorities and women. Minority voters are twice as likely as whites to register at a school or through a voter registration drive. The poor, the elderly, the disabled and those who lack the means to drive to a state office during business hours also rely on groups like the League of Women Voters to register. So Republicans passed laws making it very difficult for such groups to register voters.
In 2008 Democrats won more early votes and absentee votes than Republicans, so the Republicans have now limited early and absentee voting. Twenty five percent of African-Americans and 20 percent of Latinos lack government-issued photo ID’s, so Republicans enacted laws requiring the types of ID’s that minorities lack. Today in Texas, a gun license is accepted as an ID for voting, but state photo ID cards issued to students at state universities are not.
When the Bush administration Justice Department ran extensive investigations on voter fraud, they found there were more deaths by lightning strike in the United States each year than cases of voter fraud. The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law notes that most of the very few cases of irregularities (only 86 cases in the whole country over a five-year period), were cases of clerical errors and misunderstandings about voter rules, not fraud.
Why then are Republican legislators and governors squandering hundreds of millions of scarce taxpayer dollars in these difficult economic times on unnecessary measures in response to a nonexistent problem? Republican legislatures in 16 states, including the battleground states of Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin and New Hampshire, passed restrictive voter laws in the past year alone. The new laws restrict voter registration, limit early and absentee voting and remove many legally registered voters from official electoral lists. These laws are the opposite of electoral reform; they are aimed at preventing the votes of citizens who might not vote Republican.
Paul Weyrich, founder of the Heritage Foundation and the Moral Majority and an advocate for the new laws, is quite candid: “I don’t want everybody to vote. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” Instead of competing for votes, Republicans seek to bar the votes of those who might disagree with them.
Photo ID laws are poll taxes, because state issued photo ID cards are not free. The ID costs money, and so do the supporting documents (copies of birth certificates and, for women, marriage licenses to document a name change from maiden name to married name). If a person no longer lives in the state where he or she was born or married and cannot go in person to that state’s office to procure copies of required forms, additional processing and shipping fees are incurred. A U.S. passport costs $165, not counting additional document ($150) or expedited shipping ($60) fees.
Many Americans may not realize votes are being stolen months before the election. These are the tactics used by Southern Democrats to suppress minority voters in the 1960s. This shameful legacy is now being revived by new sponsors. The laws are being challenged in court, but legal challenges take time. Many legal voters will be turned away in the meantime. The Catholic Church supports voting, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops urges parishes to help register voters. Citizens must actively protect their votes before election day. Voter suppression has no place in our democracy, no matter which party practices it.