From Sandra Khalifa at CAMPUS PROGRESS:
If there has been any doubt regarding the intent behind this year’s upsurge in voter ID legislation, Governor Scott Walker’s latest move leaves little room to question the conservative disenfranchisement agenda, at least in the state of Wisconsin. In what seems like a blatant attempt to lessen the accessibility of photo identification, Governor Walker’s administration has announced the closure of sixteen DMV centers throughout the state – for “economic” purposes.
“What the heck is going on here? Is politics at play here?” asked Rep. Andy Jorgenson (D-Fort Atkinson). The Department of Transportation plans to close the DMV center in Jorgenson’s county of Fort Atkinson, with the next nearest station more than thirty minutes away by car.
An official from the Department of Transportation, however, insists that there is no correlation between the state’s recent passage of legislation requiring photo ID to vote and the planned closing of sixteen centers that provide the required identification.
Randy Newson, the executive assistant at the Department of Transportation, said the closings were part of a plan to provide service in every county efficiently. While sixteen centers will be closing, nine centers will start extending hours.
The Wisconsin State Journal reports that one lawmaker observed the majority of the sixteen centers to be in Democratic areas, while the centers that would have extended hours lie heavily in Republican areas. It’s no coincidence that those without photo IDs – students, low-income communities, and people of color – are more likely to vote for Democrats. Over 500,000 eligible voters in Wisconsin lack the proper form of identification mandated by the state’s new photo ID requirements, including close to 200,000 young adults between the ages of 18 and 24.
Governor Walker has said that he believes the new law will survive any legal challenge. But as Campus Progress previously reported, sixteen U.S. senators, including Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, have asked the Department of Justice to investigate the constitutionality of voter ID laws. Walker’s decision to close sixteen DMVs represents a concerted effort to make it harder to comply with the law, and ultimately a brazen attack on the constitutional right to vote.
From Katrina vanden Heuvel at POSTOPINIONS at The Washington Post (Opinion):
With only a week left before the United States of America could default on its debt, it’s easy to look at the federal government and wonder how we ever made it this far. Who would have guessed that a committed gang of extremists could bring down the economy? And yet, that’s where we find ourselves today, cornered by a manufactured crisis and running out of time.
Unfortunately, the assault on our democracy is not confined to Congress or the standoff over the debt ceiling. It is also seeping into the states, where voting rights — the fundamental underpinning of any democracy — are being curbed and crippled.
In states across the country, Republican legislatures are pushing through laws that make it more difficult for Americans to vote. The most popular include new laws requiring voters to bring official identification to the polls.
There are only two explanations for such action: Either Republican governors and state legislators are genuinely trying to protect the public from rampant voter fraud, or they are trying to disenfranchise the Americans most likely to vote against them. The latter would run so egregiously counter to democratic values — to American values — that one hopes the former was the motivation.
And yet, a close examination finds that voter fraud, in truth, is essentially nonexistent. A report from the Brennan Center for Justice found the incidence of voter fraud at rates such as 0.0003 percent in Missouri and 0.000009 percent in New York. “Voter impersonation is an illusion,” said Michael Waldman, executive director of the Brennan Center.ka
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) disagrees. He argues that voter fraud is a serious problem that requires serious action. But as proof, Kobach cites just “221 incidents of voter fraud” in Kansas since 1997, for an average of just 17 a year.
The facts, however clear, did not deter the Kansas legislature from passing one of the strictest voter ID laws in the country. Neither have they deterred other states that have passed such laws this year, or dozens of others considering similar action.
That’s because the facts of voter fraud are, in reality, wholly irrelevant to the Republican push for stricter laws. Republicans aren’t concerned with preventing a problem that isn’t occurring. They are concerned with preserving their party’s position in power, and they are willing to disenfranchise millions of people to do so. No other explanation could possibly pass the smell test.
This is seen, as well, in the fact that a number of new restrictive voting policies wouldn’t prevent voter fraud, even if it were occurring. In Ohio, for example, a recently signed law to curb early voting won’t prevent voter impersonation; it will only make it more difficult for citizens to cast their ballot. Or take Florida’s new voter registration law, which is so burdensome that the non-partisan League of Women Voters is pulling out of Florida entirely, convinced that it cannot possibly register voters without facing legal liability.
What’s worse is that these aren’t a series of independent actions being coincidentally taken throughout the country. This is very much a coordinated effort. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a corporate-funded organization that works with state legislators to draft model legislation.
I asked Alexander Keyssar, one of the country’s premier voting rights scholars, for some historical context. When was the last time an effort of this nature was so central to the agenda of an American political party? [...] Keyssar, author of “The Right to Vote,” noted that “it is very reminiscent of what occurred in the North between 1875 and 1910 — the era of Jim Crow in the South — when a host of procedural obstacles were put in the way of immigrants trying to vote.”
Defenders point to the fact that, in addition to young people and minorities, the elderly, who tend to vote for Republicans, are among the groups likely to lack an ID. True. But rather than exonerate Republicans, this information is even more damning. Take Texas for example: This year Texas passed a voter ID law, but wrote in a provision that explicitly exempts the elderly from complying with the law. The law also considers a concealed handgun license as an acceptable form of ID, but a university ID as insufficient. That there is still a party in American politics willing to use disenfranchisement as a political tactic is gut-wrenching. Today, 46 years after President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, it must be the job of the American people to fight back against the forces that are disfiguring their nation on behalf of their party.
From John Nichols at THE Nation:
In the heat of Wisconsin’s brutal battle over Governor Scott Walker’s assaults on unions, local democracy, public education and social services, one of his closest allies suddenly shifted direction. State Representative Robin Vos, Republican co-chair of the powerful Legislative Joint Finance Committee, determined that making it harder for college students, seniors and low-income citizens to vote was an immediate legislative priority, and pressed lawmakers to focus on enacting one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the nation.
As ALEC’s chair for Wisconsin, Vos was doing what was expected of him. Enacting burdensome photo ID or proof of citizenship requirements has long been an ALEC priority. ALEC and its sponsors have an enduring mission to pass laws that would make it harder for millions of Americans to vote, impose barriers to direct democracy and let big money flow more freely into campaigns.
Republicans have argued for years that “voter fraud” (rather than unpopular policies) costs the party election victories. A key member of the Corporate Executive Committee for ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force is Sean Parnell, president of the Center for Competitive Politics, which began highlighting voter ID efforts in 2006, shortly after Karl Rove encouraged conservatives to take up voter fraud as an issue. Kansas Republican Kris Kobach, who along with ALEC itself helped draft Arizona’s anti-immigration law, has warned of “illegally registered aliens.”
At least thirty-three states have introduced voter ID laws this year. In addition to Wisconsin, Alabama, Kansas, South Carolina and Tennessee have passed similar bills. Only a veto by Democratic Governor John Lynch prevented New Hampshire from enacting a law the Republican House speaker admitted was advanced to make it harder for “liberal” students to cast ballots, and that one state representative described as “directly attributable to ALEC.”
ALEC’s goal is to influence not just state politics but also the 2012 presidential race, to “give the electoral edge to their preferred candidates,” as Cristina Francisco McGuire of the Progressive States Network pointed out in March. “It’s no coincidence that they are waging the fiercest of these battles in states that are also the likeliest battleground states in 2012, where suppressing the youth vote could have a dramatic impact,” she wrote. The one class of voters that ALEC seeks to protect with resolutions and model legislation—overseas military voters—happens to be likely to vote Republican.
While ALEC worries about the candidate with the most votes winning, it has no problem with policies that increase the likelihood that the candidate with the most money and corporate support will prevail. Its 2009 Resolution Supporting Citizen Involvement in Elections bluntly “opposes all efforts to limit [citizen] involvement by limiting campaign contributions.” A resolution approved last year expresses support for the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. ALEC even opposes moves to give shareholders a say in the expenditure of corporate funds on campaigning.
Of course, ALEC is not opposed to uniformity in election procedures as such. It just wants the rules to be set by CEOs, campaign donors and conservative legislators. Restricting voting and direct democracy while ensuring that corporations can spend freely on campaigning makes advancing the conservative agenda a whole lot easier. “Once they set the rules for elections and campaigns,” says Wisconsin State Representative Mark Pocan, a longtime ALEC critic, “ALEC will pretty much call the shots.”