The National Catholic Review
Restrictive voting laws are the opposite of electoral reform.
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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.

Maryann Cusimano Love is professor of international relations at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Comments

5956903 | 9/5/2012 - 5:53pm
Walter, If you read Ms Love's column you will note that there were no instances of voter fraud due to not requiring voter ID. And out of 300 million votes there were only 86 oddball irregularities. Ballot fraud happens after voting by the persons handling the ballots. Fortunately many steps have been taken by most states, (handling rules) to insure ballot integrity.
C Walter Mattingly | 8/29/2012 - 8:26am
While there no doubt exists all sorts of motivations for all sorts of individuals in any policy decision, we seldom know what is in the heart of each of them. The question for policy decisions is more usefully focused on whether or not it is good policy.
For comparison, we can ask ourselves is it good policy when the man at the bank who doesn't know us personally asks for photo ID before passing out the cash? Is he doing that to discourage us from using the bank, or because he wishes to protect both the bank and its customers? (In truth, we don't know the answer to that for certain, as most of us have experienced employees working against the best interests of the bank.) Likewise, is the grocer requiring a photo ID attempting to discourage all those who do not have one from purchasing groceries, or is his true motive maintaining the viability of the grocery to continue to serve its legitimate customers and avoid those who would harm it in that effort? Likewise, does the state democratic convention which required photo ID's for admittance attempting to help or harm its constituents?
We have seen enough voter fraud and willingness to assist tax fraud evidenced by Acorn, the organization our president helped found and supported. Who would have expected such activities from this group? We should declaim not only those who would by their actions disenfranchise legitimate voters as we would those who would oppose taking reasonable steps to assure that illegal voters don't vote in the hope that those illegal voters would vote as they wish.
But in the final anlysis, the proper question before us is whether or not requiring photo IDs is a reasonable and prudent step taken to assure the integrity of the vote, not the motive of this or that individual.
MARY THEISEN | 8/21/2012 - 6:10pm
Some good news: in Florida law suits won a bit and the League of Wome Voters has started registering voters.  In addition, both Democratic workers and Republicans are registering voters.  The Democratic workers in my area are volunteers the Republicans are paid workers. 

I served 23 years in the Navy and believe that the orchestrated efforts by the Republican oligarchs to interfere with voters are the most reprehensible tactics i've ever seen.  What amazes me is the orchestrated campaign by the Bishops against "Obamacare" and Pres. Obama and their sitting on the sidelines while voting is depressed.  Only their being shamed by the Nuns have they come out mildly against the proposed gutting of laws which protect "the least of my children". 

I have been a faithful Catholic for 78 years but now have decided that, with these outragfeous Bishops in charge, this Church is not the place for those who would follow Christ.

John Hess | 8/20/2012 - 10:04pm
My father was a veteran of WWII.  He lived through the Depression, survived the war, and became a staunch Republican.  If he were alive today he would be revolted by what his party has become.
Janelle Lazzo | 8/17/2012 - 3:38pm
This situation is shameful.  I think of all the civil rights activists who shed blood in their efforts to attain the right to vote for African-Americans; I think of the marchers and hunger strikers who placed themselves on the line to demand the vote for women.  The right of each citizen to help elect our leaders is one that makes our country unique.   A self-serving group of politicians is trying to subvert this right because they seem to think their candidates cannot be elected if all Americans get to have a say.  This tells a very disturbing story about the kind of leadership they will give if they win.   In every state, groups of caring citizens are standing up to those who are spreading the distortion that the fear of voter fraud is their reason to put into place such unreasonable guidelines for voting.   Voter fraud has been proven to be virtually non-existent.   The real reason, of course, is to place enough obstacles in the path of political opponents as they try to vote that they will be worn down and give up.  What an America we will have if the type of people who are behind this effort  get their way! 

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