Nel's New Day

July 4, 2016

Voting Restrictions: Independence Day 2016

Filed under: Voting — trp2011 @ 3:11 PM
Tags: , , ,

It’s Independence Day, and gun owners will be proclaiming their freedom to own as many guns as they want with no restrictions because of the Constitution. Conservatives believe in an unfettered Second Amendment but refuse to accept the rights of people to vote. Although five amendments deal with voting, states can still limit voting rights, and five million people may not be able to cast their votes in the next presidential election because of these restrictions. The difference between freedom to vote in red and blue states has created a two-tiered system for the people of the United States.

In the past decade, more and more GOP-controlled states have passed restrictive laws to keep minorities, people in poverty, and women from casting their votes with the hopes that this will increase the number of Republican elected officials. With the 2010 election of Gov. Scott Walker and a GOP legislature, Wisconsin, a progressive leader in the nation during the 20th century, passed laws mandating voter IDs, cutting early voting from 30 days to twelve, eliminating night and weekend voting, banning straight-ticket voting, tightening residency requirements, and increasing difficulties in voter registration and absentee voting. The non-partisan agency to oversee state elections and educate the public about voter-ID laws is gone. Wisconsin is an example of how the abolishment of freedom to vote in the nation’s red states makes them redder.

In contrast, neighboring Minnesota, with highly similar geography, demographics, and cultural history, went in the opposite direction. Its residents elected Democrat Mark Dayton as governor in 2010 and a Democratic legislature two years later. The state raised taxes on the wealthy, invested in public education, expanded health care, and boosted unions as Wisconsin followed the opposite path toward Alabama and Mississippi status. Minnesota now has faster job growth, higher wages, lower unemployment—and the freedom to vote. Despite a beginning popularity for voter ID, the population defeated this ballot initiative in 2012 with 54 percent of the electorate and changed its caucus system to the more inclusive presidential primary.

The craziness with voter IDs was launched after the Supreme Court declared them constitutional in 2008. Liberal Justice John Paul Stevens, now retired, wrote the majority opinion but now calls it a “fairly unfortunately decision.” In a discussion with Justice Elena Kagan, he talked about whether judges should base their decisions on the information provided them or add research they conduct on their own. Judge Richard Posner, who wrote the 7th Circuit Court opinion based on the idea that voter IDs will not negatively impact minorities and poor people also now says that the decision was wrong and that the photo-ID requirement is “now widely regarded as a means of voter suppression rather than of fraud prevention.”

Over 80 percent of the 22 states passing new voting restrictions since 2010 are under GOP control while five Democratic states such as Oregon and California reformed its systems with automatic voter registration. Those who doubt that the GOP want to restrict voting rights in order to win more races should listen to the arguments of people who passed these laws. Wisconsin’s then-State Sen. Glenn Grothman said, “What I’m concerned about is winning. We better get this done while we have the opportunity.” A ruling should be announced in late July.

Now a U.S. representative, Grothman (R-WI) said that he thinks the voter ID law will help Donald Trump win Wisconsin this November. The county clerk of Waukesha County, a Milwaukee suburb that is 95 percent white and staunchly conservative, insisted that early voting gave “too much access” to Democratic voters in Milwaukee and Madison. In a search for voter fraud in Wisconsin, only three were found—two of them by Republicans and none that could have been stopped by voter IDs or curtailment of early voting.

Former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), now head of the conservative Heritage Foundation, explained that the GOP has fought to keep the restrictive laws “because in the states where they do have voter ID laws you’ve seen, actually, elections begin to change towards more conservative candidates.

Technically, poll taxes, requiring voters to pay to vote, are illegal, but the presidential swing state of Ohio is considering privatizing part of elections by taxing polls left open because of Election Day emergencies such as a natural disaster. A bill approved in May would have forced people to put up a cash bond if they petitioned a court to extend voting hours for a few hours. Only the people who paid for the bond would be allowed to vote after hours. In the past, local Ohio courts have ruled that unforeseen emergencies, such as a software glitch that temporarily wiped out poll books and a huge car wreck that cut off a county’s main highway, called for keeping the polls open longer to keep waiting voters from being disenfranchised. Gov. John Kasich did veto the bill which followed a federal ruling that cuts to early voting hours are unconstitutional. Yet a judge just upheld Ohio’s purging almost two million voters from the rolls during the past five years.

Lawsuits across the country are fighting back against restrictive voter laws. A federal court is determining whether Wisconsin laws are constitutional where black voters are more than five times as likely to need free IDs and far more likely to be denied. Two women died during the over six-month wait after the application. The ID itself is technically free, but there are costs for transportation to the DMV office, time off from work to go through the process, or the documents necessary to qualify for an ID. A ruling should be announced in late July.

A lawsuit filed against Alabama used the example of a high schooler who can’t vote because she lacks a driver’s license. She can’t get a state-issued voter ID at the DMV because the nearest one is open only one day a month and there is no public transportation to one requiring a 40-mile roundtrip.

A lawyer supporting the Texas law said that geographical obstacles are the “reality to life of choosing to live in that part of Texas.” Other lawsuits oppose voter ID laws in Virginia, Ohio, and North Carolina. Texas voter ID stays in effect while the entire 5th Circuit Court rehears a case determined by a three-judge panel to be discriminatory but not intentionally.   Some states have lost lawsuits and declined to appeal, for example Pennsylvania in 2014.

Kris Kobach, the Kansas Secretary of State who took the lead in disenfranchising voters, had a setback when U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson ruled that the state’s proof-of-citizenship requirements likely violate a provision in the National Voter Registration Act that requires only “minimal information” to determine a voter’s eligibility. She ordered Kansas to register thousands of voters whose paperwork is on hold because they did not comply with the requirement. Another judge backed up this opinion, but Kobach, who is in charge of registering voters, is ignoring the court’s rulings.

Kobach is so dishonest that Kansas has different information in voter registration guides in English and Spanish. Spanish-speaking people were told that they had six days longer to register and vote than Kansas law. The Spanish version also fails to list passports as a document that can be used for first-time voter registrants.

Gerrymandering is another difference between Wisconsin and Minnesota. Republicans controlled Wisconsin’s redistricting process for the first time in 50 years after the 2010 census and manipulated boundaries to maintain GOP power for at least the next decade. In 2012, Obama won Wisconsin by seven points, but the GOP won over half of the state legislature. Only 10 percent of legislative seats are now considered competitive, leaving the GOP an airtight majority.

At this time, the 7th Circuit Court is hearing a case about redistricting in Wisconsin that was developed in secrecy behind a private law firm’s closed doors. No one except GOP legislators was permitted to see the plan until a few days before it was rushed through the legislature with only one hearing.

Expert Michael Li called the Wisconsin case “the most significant gerrymandering challenge in 30 years” and predicted that it will go to the Supreme Court. He added that Justice Anthony Kennedy has shown a strong interest in the case. In his closing statement May 27 to the judges in defending the GOP electoral map, Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General Brian Keenan insisted that this is what democracy looks like. “This is actually democracy,” Keenan stated. “The Republicans won the 2010 election. The Constitution gives them the right to [draw district lines].”

Republican-imposed plans in a number of other states—including Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, and Texas—can be affected by Wisconsin’s redistricting ruling. The Supreme Court has now agreed to hear gerrymandering lawsuits from North Carolina and Virginia. State Rep. David Lewis, chairman of the House Redistricting Committee, told fellow legislators that one of the seven criteria for drawing new districts was “partisan advantage” that that it is not against the law. A federal three-judge panel upheld the districting, citing a previous U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring that politics used in redistricting is constitutional “so long as it does not go too far.” In the past, Kennedy has voted with the conservative majority, but without a replacement for Antonin Scalia, the decision could be a 4-4 split.

For the first time in 50 years, people do not have the protection of the Voter Right Act as they try to select a president. Studies show that stricter voter laws have depressed voter turnout, especially among minority groups. It also cuts back turnout among younger, newly registered, and black voters. The confusion of whether people have the correct ID also cuts back on the voting. A small number of voters can skew the results. In 2008, Barack Obama won North Carolina by 14,177 votes; in 2012, Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama by 92,004 votes. Now the state has the most restrictive voting laws which reduced 2014 turnout by at least 30,000 voters. A federal judge has upheld North Carolina’s voting restrictions, but an appeal may overturn it.

This is what voting in the United States looks like on Independence Day 2016. Be grateful if you can vote. I’m extra grateful because I live in the first state in the nation with mandatory vote by mail, meaning no lines and a paper trail for all the votes. Washington and Colorado have now followed this practice. Oregon also started automatic voter registration followed by California, Connecticut, Vermont, and West Virginia.

Meanwhile the red states are spending millions of dollars defending their unconstitutional laws.

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