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SUPPRESSING THE VOTE August 29, 2012

Posted by wmmbb in US Politics.
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With compulsory voting in Australia, a turnout of 100% has never been realized, but importantly legal provision is made for the maximum turnout.

Compulsory registration was introduced in 1912 and compulsory voting in 1924. Some of the arguments for and against are set out by the Australian Electoral Commission while giving an overview does not exhaust the possible points of contention. Still some of the arguments are valid. Other democracies have gotten by without it, and voter turnout have been over 70% for periods of time.

The overall global trend, with different regional variations, seems to be trending downwards. It seems clear that a combination, as exists in Australia and some other countries, of compulsory voting and compulsory registration is the key to setting and maintaining high levels of voter participation, and goes to explain why the United States, the exceptional country, comes in at position 120 on this rating.

One of the strongly proposed arguments against compulsory voting is that parties will tend to take their supporters for granted, and that case may be valid. There seems to be a strong focus when setting policy on polling and focus groups, particularly in marginal electorates. Refugee policy seems to have been, and continue to be, wholly framed from this perspective. Compulsory registration of voters seems to have a positive effect on voter turnout in those political systems with this requirement, although it is not unknown for the rolls to be closed to disadvantage younger and new unregistered voters.

The “land of the free” naturally has its’ own idiosyncratic casting of such democratic conditions which has given an unmatched record of persistent restrictive voting framed in partisan terms. While Aborigines gained citizenship in 1967, since then they have been treated like all other citizens, as least in regard to the franchise.

Putting aside the oddity of voting on a Tuesday, at Open Democracy, Ruth Rosen suggests the restrictive voting is not just a political strategy, now for the Republicans, but that it has policy implications, which taken alone would be sufficient to call into question the integrity of the democratic process:

How will the American Presidential election be won in November 2012? By the Republicans buying the election? Perhaps. But money cannot always buy an election. That is why Republicans have spent the last 4-6 years passing a spate of voter suppression laws in “swing states” that will make it more difficult and costly for the young, the elderly, minorities, union members and single and elderly women to cast a vote for Barack Obama.

Although the Republican effort is not exactly a secret, few Americans are discussing it with the urgency it deserves. The nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law says that since the start of 2011, 16 states—which account for 214 electoral votes—have passed restrictive voting laws. Each law is different: some curb voter registration drives; others require new and costly forms of identification; and still others insist that voters produce government-issued photo IDs at the polls. The Brennan Center also points out taht:

“[T]he scope of the suppression movement and its potential impact are staggering … as many as 11 percent of eligible voters—roughly 21 million Americans—lack current, unexpired government-issued photo IDs. The percentages are even higher among seniors, African-Americans and other minorities, the working poor, the disabled and students—constituencies that traditionally skew Democratic and whose disenfranchisement could prove decisive in any close election.”

The American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups have been trying to gain injunctions against laws passed by Republican-dominated state legislatures, but with mixed success.

The Republicans argue they are preventing voter fraud. But is there a significant amount of voter fraud? Or is this a partisan effort to find a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist? The Bush administration spent five years (2002 to 2007) searching for voter fraud and found only 86 cases. The Brennan Center for Justice, as well as the ACLU, have also found infinitesimal instances of voter fraud.

The sudden need for unexpired passports, the demand for government-issued photo identification, is simply a flagrant way of suppressing the votes of those who are more likely to vote Obama. The new identification requirements make it difficult, if not impossible, for some citizens to exercise their constitutional right to vote. In some states poll hours have been expanded for likely Republican voters and decreased for probable Democratic voters. Many elderly people no longer have their birth certificates. Many minorities and young people don’t own cars and therefore don’t have driving licenses. Young people often don’t have access to any of these records when they live far away from their parents. But those who vote by absentee ballot—suburban voters who tend to be independents or Republicans—are not required to have photo IDs. Ironically, this from a country that has consistently—in the name of liberty and freedom—refused to force its citizens to carry identifications cards.

What few critics seem to realize is that women—who constitute at least half of all these targeted groups and who vote more often than men—will be even more disenfranchised. Ever since 1980, African American women have been decisive in creating a gender gap that has helped elect Democratic Presidents. And in 2012, these women—in addition to single and elderly women—may be prevented from protecting Obama’s signature health care program, women’s reproductive rights, the right to abortion, funds for Planned Parenthood, and Social Security and Medicare—the very safety net that the Romney/Ryan Republican ticket has campaigned to eliminate or change in fundamental ways.

Voter suppression is not an exact science, so perhaps the calculation in the winner take all election is one of maximizing gains and minimizing losses. The availability of photo ID is likely to affect certain groups. Ryan J Kelly at TPM records the shenanagans in regard to South Carolina:

Lawyers for South Carolina argued in a federal courtroom on Monday that its contested voter ID law would actually affect more white than minority voters and should be approved under the Voting Rights Act.

Howard Christopher Bartolomucci, a former Bush-administration official and partner at Bancroft PLLC who is arguing the case with a group of lawyers including Paul Clement, said during opening arguments that in pure numbers, more white voters than minority voters would be kept from the polls by the law, known as R54. Bartolomucci argued that even though data showed minority voters were less likely to have state-issued ID, the law would affect white and minority voters in “near equal measure.”

“There is no conflict between the right to vote and R54,” Bartolomucci argued before a three-judge panel examining whether South Carolina had met its burden in proving the law wouldn’t hurt minority voting under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

The Justice Department blocked South Carolina’s voter ID law back in December. Officials with DOJ’s Civil Rights Division found that the state’s very own data demonstrated that non-white voters were 20 percent more likely than white voters to lack state-issued identification.

. . .Unlike voter ID laws in many other states, South Carolina’s legislation does not allow the use of photo identification from state universities or colleges. One of the witnesses in the case is a college student who has an out-of-state license but wants to vote in South Carolina.

DOJ has blocked a voter ID law in Texas, and a decision in that case is expected this week. The federal government did, however, approve Virginia’s voter ID law because it accepts a much wider range of documents and has no strict photo identification requirement.

The key political focus in the US presidential election are the swing states whose allocation of electoral votes will decide the election. Their importance is illustrated by TPM’s poll tracker. On these figures President Obama with a one percent lead in national vote requiring according to the allocation of 12 more electoral college votes to reach the 270 required to win, whereas Mitt Romney requires a further 79 electoral college votes. While money is important to get television time, turnout in the critical states will be crucial to the outcome. On these calculations and the economic turndown, especially in respect to employment, it should be expected that challenger would have everything, bar the Bully Pulpit, going for him.

Does Pennsylvania matter? Well if it were to become the new Florida, given the events of 2000, it would:

Restricting voting can create swing states that seem to favour one side, although that depends on success in gaining majorities in the State Legislatures.

CODA:

The Republican Party used to be the party of peace.

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