Here at Winning Progressive, we strongly believe in encouraging people to get involved in the political system. Such involvement can take many forms – such as volunteering for a campaign, calling your elected officials, writing a letter to the editor, etc. – but the necessary and fundamental first step in such involvement is voting. The higher the proportion of people who regularly vote, the more likely the political system will be responsive to the interests of the public at large and the less relative power narrow corporate interests will have.
Unfortunately, today’s Republican Party appears to not view increased voter turnout so favorably. Instead, the GOP been on a decade-long effort to reduce and restrict voting, especially among the poor, young people, people of color, and other Democratic-leaning groups. This effort started with attempts to reduce voting in specific elections through tactics such as:
* Caging – Caging involves sending letters marked “do not forward” to voters, compiling a list of all of the letters that are returned as undelivered, and then challenging the voters on that list when they show up to vote. This approach ignores the fact that the letters might be undelivered because of a mistake in the address list, or because the voter is a college student or in the military, rather than because of a problem with the voter’s qualification to vote. The tea party and other conservatives were found to be planning a major caging effort in Wisconsin for the 2010 election, and caging has been carried out by Republicans in Florida, Ohio, Philadelphia, and other areas in the 2008 and 2004 elections.
* Misinformation – There has been a long string of examples of information targeting Democratic or minority voters with misinformation designed to reduce their voting. Such misinformation includes phone calls announcing that polling places have been moved or fliers informing people of the wrong election day or that people with unpaid traffic tickets will get arrested if they try to vote. Such misinformation targeting Democratic or minority voters was found to be “widespread and deliberate” in the 2006 elections in Virginia, and a conservative organization known as Womens’ Voices has engaged in such misinformation campaign in numerous states such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and North Carolina.
* Voting Booth Allocations – In states with Republican Secretaries of State, voting booths have sometimes been allocated in ways that ensure that there are far fewer booths per registered voter in heavily Democratic areas – such as in cities and on or near college campuses – than there are in heavily Republican areas. Such mis-allocation leads to long lines in Democratic precincts that discourages people from voting.
* Polling Place Challenges – Long lines in heavily Democratic precincts are made even longer by deliberate efforts by conservatives to challenge the qualifications of virtually every voter that shows up, with the intent of discouraging both the challenged voter and people who leave the line after staying in it for a few hours.
With many elections decided at the margins, the combined effect of these tactics on the outcome of elections can be significant, as is well-documented by this report on the 2004 Presidential Election in Ohio titled Preserving Democracy: What Went Wrong in Ohio.
With the 2006 and 2008 elections not going as well for Republicans, conservative activists decided to make a more concerted effort to restrict voting. As a result, we have seen an increasing number of state legislative proposals targeting voting. As the Democratic National Committee’s Voting Rights Institute explained in a new report A Reversal In Progress: Restricting Voting Rights For Electoral Gain, these efforts typically fall into the following six categories:
* Restrictions on Voter Registration Drives
* Cutting Back on Early Voting
* Repealing Election Day Registration
* Creating Citizenship Challenges
* Changing the Electoral College
* Passing Laws Requiring Voters to Show Photo IDs
While Republicans attempt to justify such voter suppression efforts on the grounds that there is purportedly widespread voting fraud occurring, a five-year long investigation by the Department of Justice under President W. Bush found “virtually no evidence of any organized effort” to fraudulently impact federal elections and other analyses have similarly found no evidence of fraud.
The good news is that progressives are fighting back against this attack on voting rights. Voters in Maine last month turned back conservatives’ efforts to end same day voter registration in that state, and in Ohio organizers have reportedly gathered enough signatures to stop the implementation of GOP-passed restrictive voting legislation until the people can vote on that legislation in 2012. And Democratic Governors in North Carolina, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, and Minnesota have successfully vetoed restrictive voting legislation this year.
Unfortunately, restrictive voting legislation has passed in a number of states – such as Wisconsin, Tennessee, Kansas, and Texas – and has been introduced in virtually every state. And it is virtually certain that conservatives will carry out tactics such as caging and misinformation campaigns again this time around. As such, in order to win in 2012, all of us progressives will need to work extra hard to ensure that voters are properly registered, that voters have the requisite forms of identification, etc. that will enable them to vote, and that we protect the vote on election day.
Here are some ways you can help fight for your right to vote:
* Check out the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights’ Map of Shame, which is an interactive map that provides state-by-state information and resources about what is needed to vote on election day and the status of legislative proposals to restrict voting. The map can help you start early in making sure that all of your family, friends, and colleagues are properly registered and prepared to vote.
* Sign up for the Democratic National Committee’s Voter Protection Initiative, which is working to stop restrictive voting legislation and to protect the vote on election day.
* Contact your Governor and state legislators and let them know that you oppose restrictive voting legislation such as photo ID laws, cutting back on early voting, and restrictions on voter registration drives.
* Write a letter to your local newspaper editor in support of making informed voter participation easier, rather than restricting it.