Thursday, June 28, 2012
Threaten to curb someone’s right to own a gun in the state of Florida and you’re likely to provoke a war – you’ll be threatened, castigated, called un-American. You’ll have to pry that gun from its Second Amendment-invoking owner’s cold, dead hands, and you’ll have to battle with legions of lobbyists and outraged citizens who’d rather shoot you than let you violate their constitutionally protected right to bear arms.
But threaten to take away someone’s right to vote and what happens? Not much, judging from the recent attacks on voters’ rights in Florida in which Gov. Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner have pushed to scrub voter rolls of alleged “non-citizens” who don’t have the right to vote.
Civil rights organizations and government interests shouldn’t be the only ones to care. You should care. We should care. Everyone should care – even if you don’t live in the state of Florida. And here’s why: The state’s voter purge is not just a slimy strategy to win an election. It’s an attempt to degrade our voting system, undermine our elections and suppress people’s ability to vote – particularly people who are minorities, many of whom are undecided voters or vote for more liberal candidates. The voter purge is an assault on our freedom and our self-determination – and it’s spreading.
A Tea Party-backed effort begun by an organization called True the Vote is suing states to force them to enact purges of their own. The organization’s mission, according to its website, is to “promote ideas that actively protect the rights of legitimate voters, regardless of their political party affiliation.” Underlying the organization’s rhetoric is the unstated conclusion that our government is corrupt not because money taints our legislatures and Congress, not because corporate interests are put before the interests of the citizens of this country, and not because our electoral system is set up so that the richest (not the best) candidates win elections. True the Vote’s angle is that our biggest, most pressing problem is that some people who are registered to vote are either dead or illegally registered. The organization has partnered with Judicial Watch on its “election integrity” project and the two organizations have multiple states – Mississippi, Iowa, Indiana, Missouri, Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Florida, Alabama and California – in their crosshairs.
“There appear to be more individuals on voter registration lists in these states than there are individuals eligible to vote, including individuals who are deceased,” Judicial Watch warns on its website. “Judicial Watch’s initial warning letters notified election officials in Ohio and Indiana that they are required by law to ‘maintain accurate lists of eligible voters for use in conducting elections,’ and that Judicial Watch is prepared to take legal action if election officials fail to clean up their voter rolls.”
So get mad, people. You should care. Here are five good reasons why we should be raising the roof over this brazen act of voter suppression.
1. Because it’s happened before.
Those even mildly taken aback by the blind chutzpa currently being exhibited by Gov. Scott and his purge-worthy defiance needn’t look back too far in the Florida annals for another example of suppression via the voter rolls. On Nov. 7, 2000 – the day that brought us the term “hanging chad” – Florida’s less obvious electoral fumble came in the form of tens of thousands of eligible Florida voters either being turned away at their polling places or forbidden to register altogether. In a twisted bit of conservative housecleaning logic, then-Gov. Jeb Bush had ordered a scrub of the voter rolls prior to his 1998 gubernatorial re-election; in order to do so, his administration paid Database Technologies Inc. (the only bidder on the contract) $2.3 million to shape the electorate into an easy win for himself. Subsequent studies found the accuracy rate of the database to be far below DBT’s estimate of 85 percent (a Leon County assessment came up with a 5 percent accuracy rate), but even if DBT was correct, that would still mean 15 percent of a population that votes 93 percent Democratic was not allowed the right to vote. Don’t think that matters much? George W. Bush won Florida by a tiny margin of just 543 votes. It matters.
2. Because voting is a right.
Our federal Constitution guarantees that citizens over the age of 18 cannot be deprived of a vote based on race, age or gender. The right to vote is a hard-earned one, even though most of us didn’t really have to fight all that hard in our lifetimes to get it. Up until 1965, when the Voting Rights Act was finally passed, many states implemented processes and obstacles that made it harder for people to cast a vote. We should have put that shit behind us more than 40 years ago, and yet politicians in Florida (and Texas and everywhere, basically) are continually looking for new ways to get around that law. Those same politicians are often the ones invoking our rights to bear arms and pray to the God of our choice, but they’re remarkably silent on another of our most basic rights – the one right that actually gives people a say in who governs them and how they are governed. Free people have the right to vote. Not the privilege. The right.
3. Because it’s illegal.
Critics of the governor’s scrub-happy maneuvering have cited two very important laws meant to curtail intentional voter suppression: the 1965 Voting Rights Act and 1993’s National Voter Registration Act. The former forbids states from enacting laws that prohibit voter participation based on race, forcing areas in the South (which had historically been responsible in large part for poll taxes and Jim Crow laws) to get preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice on any changes to voting laws. The latter, the NVRA, prevents states from adjusting their voter rolls within 90 days of a federal election, among numerous other pro-voter caveats. When a legion of voting and civil rights groups banded together to sue the state on the matter of its mass purge – citing, among various racial implications, the fact that there is a federal election within the next 90 days (that being the August 13 primary), the response from the DOJ was swift and clear – the purge likely does violate the aforementioned laws, and should probably be stopped.
4. Because it’s racist.
Don’t believe anyone who tells you that it’s not. Even if the process itself is blind – that is to say, even if the voter purge is being implemented purely on data and not on the color of voters’ skin – the statistics are not. Latinos make up more than 58 percent of those contained in the flawed voter-purge list being used to scrub the rolls. It’s no secret that the Hispanic vote has yet to be fully claimed by any party – Hispanic voters, pollsters point out, are often swing voters, less likely to vote along party lines. Which means they are unpredictable. Which means it’s better to just keep them from getting to the polls in the first place, rather than take a chance that they vote and fail to vote for the “right” candidate (cough cough, Mitt Romney-bot).
5. Because the corporations are winning.
The injury currently being added to the insult of Gov. Scott’s wild-eyed suppression tactics comes in the form of increased political clout among billionaire CEOs and the regulation-fearing corporations they represent. Part of the ramp-up in influence comes by way of the 2010 Citizens United ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that concluded corporations are people, too, and as such, have the right to give back-scratching billions to whatever political campaigns might tickle their fancy. With that ruling, the rise of the Super PAC – a far less transparent means of funding candidates and issues – has attracted the lion’s share of shadowy corporate money. What that means is that voters in general need to avoid an influx of lies parading across their television screens in order to make their own informed choices. But, as is the nature of advertising, it also indirectly means that general impressions and brand recognition are being nefariously directed by corporate interests. You buy your candidates like you buy your soda these days. It’s no surprise that many of these corporate interests have likewise been trying to suppress voter registration at the state level via one-stop lobbying organizations such as the American Legislative Executive Council, a back-room factory for derailing progressive policies. The only way to counter the wholesale purchase of the electoral process is to have a strong, informed and varied pool of representation on the voter rolls. This, dear reader, is exactly what conservatives do not want. They don’t want you.
ERIN SULLIVAN is the editor, and Billy Manes a staff writer, at the Orlando Weekly. This story originally appeared in the Orlando Weekly and can be read in its entirety at http://tinyurl.com/7gselrd