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Nov 09 2011

Protect Our Right to Vote

A lot of people are focusing on the defeat of Mississipi’s “personhood” initiative. This is, indeed, an excellent thing, but what caught my attention happened in Maine.

In Maine, where a Tea Party-aligned Republican, Paul LePage, squeaked to victory in the governor’s race last year, voters restored same-day voter registration, which had been eliminated by LePage and his Republican allies in the Legislature earlier in the year. Like eroding collective bargaining rights, tightening restrictions on voting has emerged as another major point of emphasis for Republicans in statehouses across the country this year. The new laws that have been enacted or proposed generally affect traditionally Democratic constituencies disproportionately. The outcome in Maine wasn’t even close on Tuesday: 60 percent of voters defied LePage and the GOP and embraced same-day registration.

Sadly, Maine isn’t the only state where this has happened and needs to be corrected. Across the country, Republican-controlled state legislatures are trying to restrict voting rights to those who can produce current state ID to prove identity and residence and whose residence is stable enough that they can register significantly before an election and vote while living at the same address. And many of those states make it much harder to remove bad laws.

The supposed rationale for this legislation is voter fraud, but that’s been shown time and again to be insignificant even within the scope of elections like the last couple major ones in Minnesota. The voter fraud that has been found here is less than the tiny margins by which Al Franken and Mark Dayton won their hand recounts. For all intents and purposes, it doesn’t exist. What does exist, however, is a campaign to disenfranchise minorities and the poor.

My Congressional representative, Keith Ellison, has had enough. He’s created the Voter Access Protection Act and Same Day Registration Act and would like you to sign a petition to support it.

Voter Access Protection Act

To prohibit election officials from requiring individuals to provide photo identification as a condition of obtaining or casting a ballot in an election for Federal office or registering to vote in elections for Federal office.

Same Day Voter Registration Act

Each State shall permit any eligible individual on the day of a Federal election and on any day when voting, including early voting, is permitted for a Federal election —

(A) to register to vote in such election at the polling place using a form that meets the requirements under section 9(b) of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993; and

(B) to cast a vote in such election.

Yes, this particular piece of legislation stands no chance in the current Congress. Sign on anyway. They won’t be in power forever (about 14 months by my count). Ellison will be there when the change happens to reintroduce the bill, and there’s nothing like an active voting populace to remind freshly elected Democrats that being the lesser of two evils isn’t enough these days.

9 comments

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  1. 1
    Hertta

    I don’t understand why it is so hard to vote in the US. What’s the rationale behind convicts or even ex-convicts not being eligible to vote? And having to first register to vote is enough trouble, having to jump through all kinds of other loops is just likely to have many people give up one of their most basic civil rights. That’s of course what these maneuvers. It’s makes me so angry. They really are shameless, aren’t they?

  2. 2
    D. C. Sessions

    Why stop there, Stephanie? (I agree it’s a good start, although I’d call it the Voting Rights Act of 2012 to remind people of what’s at stake.)

    Personally I want to tear down the districting system altogether in favor of one that allows citizens to define their own communities of interest rather than having the Legislatures gerrymander them on the pretext that your ZIP code defines your interests.

  3. 3
    Keith Harwood

    I am not a fan of government compulsion, but when I read of these shenanigans I fully support what happens here in Australia.

    Everyone, without exception, is required to register to vote on turning 18. At elections, everyone is required to vote. If you are away from home on election day and can’t vote at a voting booth in your electorate you can vote as an absentee voter whereever you are in Australia, or, if in London, at Australia House (also known as Grigotts Bank). If this is too much like hard work, you can get a postal vote. But you must vote. When you vote you are marked off in the register. If you don’t vote, or if you vote twice you are caught.

    We don’t have same-day registration. Electoral rolls are closed three weeks before an election. If you turn 18 in that period you are required to get your registration in early. If you move your permanent place of residence after the rolls have closed you vote in your previous electorate.

    One thing I don’t understand about the American system is that people are said to register as Democrat or Republican. It seems to me that telling a government official who you intend to vote for is the complete antithesis of a secret ballot, so clearly I don’t understand what’s going on. Could someone enlighten me please?

  4. 4
    sithrazer

    @Keith

    I never had to register as a Democrat or Republican, and I can’t speak to the laws of every State in the US, but I think it only applies if you are voting in Primaries which are basically how the two parties narrow the field of contenders if more than one person of the same party is running for an office. So if you’re a registered Democrat, you can only vote in the Democrat Primaries.

    As I said, I can’t speak for every State as voter law varies somewhat as it’s up to each State to set it’s own voting laws (within certain standards and restrictions).

  5. 5
    Midnight Rambler

    It seems to me that telling a government official who you intend to vote for is the complete antithesis of a secret ballot, so clearly I don’t understand what’s going on.

    Voter registration is for voting in primary elections, where candidates for each party are selected. In some states, only people registered under a party affiliation can vote in that primary; in others, people registered as independents can pick one to vote in. Also, it doesn’t tell how you’ll vote; a lot of people split their vote at different levels of government.

    American parties are quite different from those in countries with parliamentary systems. The party organizations are very weak and ineffectual. Each general election race is won by the plurality winner, so third-party candidates are highly discouraged and rarely win when they run. Consequently, the Democratic and Republican parties don’t really have consistent positions across the entire country due to the need to appeal to different ranges of opinions in different regions.

    Historically, Democrats in a southern states tended to be more conservative than Republicans in liberal states. It’s changed in the last 10 years, especially in the last 3 with the rise of the teabaggers, but that’s still largely true at the level of state legislatures.

  6. 6
    George W.

    In Ontario, Canada, a person can register same-day at a polling station. As best as I can tell, all you need is either a driver’s license/passport or a Health Card (you know, for that free healthcare we get) and/or other government issued ID (two pieces if not photo) and a current utility bill from your residence. It’s not a perfect system, but we get by. It helps that we canvass for eligible voters every couple of years.

    This system, of course, doesn’t prevent almost 50% of the eligible voters from not showing up to vote. I wish we had a system more like Australia, if I’m being honest.

    My wife and I have made a habit of explaining (age appropriately, of course) what an election is and means to our kids. We take them with us to the polling station and let them see us vote. I’d like to think that my kids won’t be the disaffected half of our future voters.

  7. 7
    Ben Zvan

    In the US, registering with a particular party varies from state to state and even from ward to ward. Some will have primaries where you can vote a split ballot depending on the race, some will have primaries where you can only vote one side of the ballot, some will have caucuses where you all argue about who to put up for the general election.

  8. 8
    Biodork

    Thanks for posting about the petition! I’m in Rep. Ellison’s district and I signed it because I learned about it here.

  9. 9
    Keith Harwood

    Thank you for your answers to my question about registering for a particular party. It still seems strange to reveal a party preference to a state official, but if it’s not compulsory that goes some way to mitigation.

    Here the people who choose who is to stand in an electon must be members of the party, but such membership is private and known only to the party and whoever the party member reveals himself to. This sometimes leads to shenanigans (see, for example, branch-stacking) but these are within the party and not a matter of public notice.

    So, let me get this straight. Anyone can take part in selecting a candidate for a particular party simply by registering for that party with the state; they don’t have to be a member of that party? If that’s the case I can see why forming a third party would be so difficult and why the present two form such a cosy duopoly.

    Here we have always had a third (at least) party, but the nature of that third party varies, Democtric Labor Party, the Australia Party (very briefly), the Australian Democrats and now the Greens. We also have a number of independent members of parliament who are not beholden to any party. This gives the populace an opportunity to yell, “A pox on both your houses” loudly enough that the major parties will hear, and with compulsory voting that can be very loudly indeed.

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