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The right to vote is sacred—sadly, the GOP doesn’t think so

Published: November 3, 2011
Section: Opinions

The right to vote is arguably America’s oldest and most important tradition. With the exception of the Civil War, our national conflicts have been resolved with ballots, not bullets. At the time of our nation’s founding, only white men who owned property had the right to vote. The institution of voting, however, has been consistently expanding throughout our nation’s history to include first all white men, then white women and finally, with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1964, legal barriers to voting were dismantled for every American. That is why it is so tragic that during the past few years Republican governors and state legislatures across the country have turned back the clock by passing a series of laws that inhibits the ability of Americans to exercise their right vote.

Ari Berman, who writes for Rolling Stone, wrote about some of the most outrageous examples of voter suppression laws, such as Florida’s law imposing restrictions on voter registration drives. This new law, signed into law by Republican Governor Rick Scott, requires anyone that registers a new voter to turn in the appropriate forms within 48 hours or face fines of up to $1,000 and the potential of being prosecuted as a felon. Nobody who helps American citizens register to vote should be a treated as a criminal but, because of this draconian law, organizations such as Rock the Vote are going to have to end voter registration drives in Florida because of the fear that their volunteers will be prosecuted.

Other anti-democratic laws that have been passed include cutting the amount of days available for early voting in Florida and Ohio, as well as banning early voting, specifically on the Sunday before Election Day. By ending early voting on Sunday, many black churches will no longer be able to mobilize their congregants with “souls to the poll” events that have been a tradition for decades. The only reason Republicans passed this law was to suppress the turnout of African-Americans, who historically vote in large numbers for the Democratic Party. It is despicable that, instead of trying to win African-American votes by appealing to them, Republicans are instead trying to suppress their ability to vote.

Sadly, these laws are just the beginning. Many other states are now passing laws requiring photo IDs to vote. The problem with this is that many elderly, minority and young voters lack such IDs.

Additionally, many of the new laws make the use of student IDs unacceptable for voting. For example, in Texas a concealed weapons permit will allow someone to vote but a student ID will not. A Wisconsin law, which was signed by Scott Walker, requires the identification to contain specific information not found on student IDs. Because young people voted predominantly for Barack Obama in 2008, the Republican Party wants them barred from voting this time.

To give themselves cover while passing all of these anti-democratic laws, Republicans have been bringing up the specter of voter fraud.

Voter fraud is not even close to the problem the Republicans have made it out to be. There have only been a few hundred convictions for voter fraud in the past eight years; meanwhile, in the same time period, millions of people have been denied the right to vote due to confusion over where their polling place was located. Then there are the millions of people who have been unable to vote because of long polling lines and confusion about voter registration. Clearly we need to make it easier for citizens to vote rather than implementing barriers to disenfranchise millions of Americans.

Of all the questionable policies the Republican Party and the conservative movement have embraced in the past few years, their fervent support for anti-democracy laws sticks out as particularly egregious. Conservatives should be ashamed of themselves for trying to suppress the right of American citizens to vote. Using voter fraud as the reason for such laws is a smokescreen because the real reason these laws are being passed is to prevent people who traditionally vote Democratic from voting at all.

Instead of resorting to such underhanded tactics, the Republican Party should do what political parties normally do in a democracy: try to appeal to voters through your party’s platform and message.

For a political party that loves to talk about patriotism and love of country, the fact that Republicans are trying to limit our most sacred institution makes them at best hypocrites; at worst, it makes them anti-American.