*As 2012 elections are now less than 100 days away, more conversation has been given to the massive voter suppression initiative about to take place. As part of a two pronged approach to take back the White House—the other being to relax the campaign contribution laws through the creation of “SuperPACs”—voter suppression strategies basically seek to impede one’s right to vote by creating barriers to discourage voting. The strategies are purported to discourage “voter fraud” which largely has never been proven to exist, but in reality—they are meant to reverse the massive voter turnout that occurred in 2008 resulting in the election of President Barack Obama.
Relaxed voter registration laws, including “same day” registration on Election Day in some states, absentee voting laws, and the most controversial—proof of voter eligibility laws—targeting those may not be eligible to vote, including alien residents (illegals) and ex-convicts (felons), have all been targeted over the past two years. The last one, proof of eligibility legislation, has proved to be the most controversial, and has been called racist legislation, because it disproportionately targets blacks and Latinos. It required voters to have state issued identification, with their proof of citizenship and/or residency which would required to be “purchases” from the state prior to Election Day.
The ‘ID” cards will cost, on average, a minimum of $25, which may not seem like much—but is a lot when you don’t have it. It is equivalent to “taxing voting” pushed by the party that claimed to have such an aversion to voting. Poor whites will also be impacted by this new “poll tax.” If the courts don’t intercede, or the U.S. Attorney General doesn’t see it as a violation of the 24th Amendment of the Constitution (revocation of voting rights for failure to pay a tax) or an infringement upon on the 1965 Voting Rights Act (federal protection in voting rights when the states fail to uphold them), then at least a half dozen states (five states to be exact) will enact “strict” photo ID laws with another six seeking to impose passive photo ID laws. People not wanting to be challenged at the polls, will simply not show up. Thus, the mission of suppressing the vote will have been accomplished.
Under federal law, nobody can be denied the right to vote. Voting is a right, not a privilege. Driving is a privilege and thus states can choose to issue you a license—or not. In the case of voting, states can’t choose whether or not to issue one the right to vote. The states just determine how one votes. Thus, the criteria to access the vote is established by the states. However, the states are not supposed to make any laws that nullify federals laws. That’s where the conflicts are coming in. The states claim they are not taking away anybody’s right to vote—and that’s true—they are just making it more difficult to exercise your right. Particularly if expenses are involved. Voter ID laws are expected to turn the tide of the 2012 Presidential election. In Pennsylvania, for example, ONE MILLION registered voters do not have state issued IDs and could be turned away at the polls. Some estimates put the number at closer to TWO million. Pennsylvania, who turned for Obama in 2008, is in play in 2012. The U.S. Attorney General is currently investigating whether this law will be allowed to stand because it is a poll tax and no state has the right to turn away voters. Time will tell if that happens.
What further complicates this election season is that the “buzz” of suppression complicates what might be real in your particular state. For instance, with all the talk of voter ID laws, it doesn’t apply to every state. California is one of 20 states that have no voter ID laws—though it has come up before and will come up again. However, some voters are sometimes asked for ID in California. That is against the law, unless you are a first time voter.
Some states have banned same day registration and voting. Well, California never had it. Absentee balloting and late voter registration is what needs be watched in California, as there has been slight changes in the law. The point is, KNOW you state laws. If you are unsure what your state’s voting and election procedures are, go to http://www.ncsl.org/legislatures-elections/elections/voter-id.aspx to find out how your voting rights are impacted. The same applies for election and balloting procedures. There is nothing more frustrating than to go to your polling place, the place you’ve voted for the last 20 years, and find out that it has moved then the new place doesn’t have your name listed on the voter rolls. It happened frequently in the recent primaries. Some voters were turned away. No one has the right to deny a person the right to vote. The local registrar will determine who’s eligible. The poll engineer’s job is to simply hand out ballots and insure nobody votes more than once. If your name’s not listed, ASK for a provisional ballot. Don’t forfeit your right to vote because someone exploits your lack of knowledge.
The last, and most troublesome, form of voter suppression is felon disenfranchisement. It is most troublesome because it is a “state by state” law, not a federal law, of who can vote in a state. It is currently thought that if one has been to jail, or convicted of a felony, that they can’t vote—EVER. This simply is not true. Only eleven states (down from 17 states five years ago) now ban felons for life from voting. In California, this doesn’t apply. In California, you can’t vote if you are in prison or on parole—however, as the nation’s biggest jailer (180,000 plus), communities that house prisons are able to artificially count prisoners in their census count and bring state and federal resources to communities that would otherwise not receive them.
Yet, most persons with convictions don’t believe that they can vote, and don’t try, largely because of the confusion around the historical disenfranchisement of prisoners and the egregious ban a few states have on post-conviction voting. Nearly six million (5.85 million) persons are impacted by felon disfranchisement, and black males are most adversely impacted—an estimated one out of 13 black men are impacted by this form of disfranchisement—further suppressing the black vote. To see what your state’s law are on felon disfranchisement, go to www.sentencingproject.org.
The last four years have seen the most dramatic change in voting laws in the history of the nation. Two-thirds of the states, or 34 states, made some change in their voting laws after the 2008 elections. It’s more than coincidental given the most dramatic outcome of the 2008 election in the nation’s history. The thing about racism, is that it is never coincidental. It may be at times unintentional because it’s so deeply cultural, but it is never coincidental. The system simply does what it is set up to do, retain power and privilege. When that doesn’t happen, then the rules are rewritten to restore power and privilege. This is what we are witnessing in the 2012 election cycle in the changing of the rules in campaign contributions and in how people access voting.
Voting will be challenged like never before, both in power and in privilege. We all must meet this challenge with a challenge of our own—by keeping voting free and accessible.
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum (www.urbanissuesforum.com) and author of the upcoming book, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com or on Twitter at @dranthonysamad.