Tag Archives: Voter rights

Voting rights, judicial wrongs and a call to action

Like many American citizens, I am saddened by the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling re. the Voting Rights Act.  I haven’t had time to hear the critics who have not had time to think about their response – unless, of course, there’s a leak at the Supreme Court.   My response is that of a concerned citizen who has shuddered from the cold wind of incursion as I have observed the insidious maneuverings with voter rights in recent elections.  The ax fell today when five Justices, led by Chief Justice Roberts, gutted the iconic center of the Voting Rights Act.

One of the arguments  particularly disturbs me, i.e. Chief Justice Roberts’ justification that there is now “parity” between whites and African Americans in voter registration.  The right to vote, access to the polls, involves much more than registration, as we who challenged the Voter ID Constitutional Amendment know all too well.

More chilling is the thought of leaving further explication of the Voting Rights Act to the United States Congress.  The Congress that originally passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965 is not today’s Congress – not only in composition but in motivation, relationship to the voters, commitment to preservation of the tenets of democracy.

The environment is also not the same.  21st Century economic realities, technology possibilities, Influences on the voting public, the power of one citizen’s vote are all very different from the one-man-one-vote world of a half century ago.

What has not changed is that every citizen has a right to register and a right to unfettered access to the voting booth or its modern equivalent.

The fact is, today’s decision affirms the imperative of constant vigilance.  Though the heavy blow dealt by the decision is hard to take, it is also a clarion call to vigilance and action to preserve the inalienable right to vote.  My fear the decision will cast a shadow on the voting process, that it will discourage some who surmise that the system has scant interest in defending a basic right.

We need to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, listen to the wisdom of others, move the issue of voter rights to the front burner, polish off our perceptive paranoia, and keep a very close eye on what comes next.

I had to get this off my chest before I move on to learn more, be on guard, and keep a keen eye on the prize.


Voting Procedures Still on the Public Agenda at State and National Levels

Voter registration, an issue that some had optimistically assumed was resolved two decades ago by the  National Voter Registration Act  has emerged – no, erupted – as a major issue, a mighty weapon wielded by forces that are only too well aware that the place to stifle the democratic process is the voting booth.  Tinkering with the electoral process has taken various forms shaped to the vulnerability of the venue.   In Minnesota, the pressure point was the Voter ID Amendment to the State Constitution.  Originally portrayed as a benign detail the pernicious proposal was soundly trounced by the electorate in the last election.

An unintended consequence of that ill-fated rush to exclude has awakened Minnesotans to the importance of voters’ rights and inspired elected officials scrutinize the details with unaccustomed care.

The first legislative measures to take stage center are related proposals to allow early voting and to eliminate a requirement that people have a valid excuse to vote by absentee ballot.   Thirty two states offer some form of early voting in which there is no requirement for a valid excuse.  In some cases the votes are counted immediately; in others votes are not tabulated until election day and voters have a chance to change their vote. Many Minnesotans consider early voting a non-issue since they have assumed that Minnesota has had early voting in place all along.

The proposal now before the state Legislature would allow Minnesota voters to vote up to 15 days before an election.  On-site registration would still be available following the same requirements as are currently in place for Election Day registration.  While opponents fear easy early voting gives too much power to parties and voter fraud, proponents of absentee voting argue that it is more convenient for voters and that it would shorten the lines on Election Day.  Governor Dayton has not weighed in except to be very clear about the fact that any decision will have to have bipartisan support.

With heightened awareness of the import of the electoral process per se, Minnesotans may be interested to learn more about what is happening in other states and at the national level.  The Brennan Center for Justice which has long studied voting practices recently produced a major proposal to “modernize voter registration and bring America’s election system into the 21st Century.”  The plan, known as the Voter Registration Modernization (VRM), is the centerpiece of the Voter Empowerment Act introduced last month by a raft of legislators and prominently mentioned in the President’s State of the Union Address.

Those who hatched their nefarious plans to skew the American electoral process by tinkering with the “details” may find that shining light on those details has illuminated the gaps in a system that is now enjoying unprecedented attention.

Minnesotans out-voted every state in the nation in the last election.  We captured the national headlines with defeat of the Voter ID Amendment, once on its way to easy passage.  We have reason to be proud of our record.  We have a concomitant responsibility to follow what is happening in the State Legislature and in Congress.  We know from experience what it takes to keep a collective eye on the electoral process — constant vigilance is the price of liberty.

Voters Face the Veiled but Pernicious Intent of Voter ID Amendment

Crying wolf – for real.

Well fed wolves in sheeps’ clothing are pulling the wool over the eyes of naïve voters in state after state.  Good people are following like lambs to the slaughter a well-orchestrated, determined and pernicious drive to skew the election of 2012 – and elections to come.

Though by nature Minnesotans are not mean-spirited we may have too much confidence in the wise and independent judgment of some elected officials who may themselves be innocents in a national crusade to purge the rolls.  We quibble with the legislative process and grump about Legislative intransigence.  Still, Minnesotans are accustomed to wrapping ourselves in the virtual security blanket of good government.  We tend to our own business and trust that others will butt out of our open democratic processes.

If we were around in the 60’s we have vivid memories of the terrible struggle for voters’ rights in the South.  Still, we are shielded so that for most 21st Century Minnesotans passage of the voting rights amendment is a legislative blip from another time and place.

Most Minnesotans have always known same day registration and a hassle-free – even pleasant – experience at the neighborhood voting site.  Reading the wise words of former Secretary of State Joan Growe in last week’s StarTribune was a great reminder of the intent and effective application of state law we take for granted, a law by which Minnesotans abide and that has effectely protected the system from fraud.

Still, one of the two Amendments to the State Constitution that will face us on November 6 is the quietly stealthy Voter ID Amendment, the silent killer of an open electoral process.  We know, but somehow want to ignore, this blatant intrusion on freedom of many of our friends and families to exercise their inalienable right to have a voice in the democratic process.

Though the tide appears to be turning, the  we ignore the implicit threat at our peril.  Polls continue to indicate that Minnesotans, particularly young voters, are oblivious to the pernicious underpinnings of the Voter ID amendment.  If you’re able bodied, enjoy discretionary time, and are the proud owner of a valid ID, you’re safe.  No problem.  Let’s face it – that’s an alibi, not a reason to ignore the clear and present danger.

For the elderly and American Indians who lack a valid state-issued ID (excludes a tribal ID), for people with disabilities, for those who never had or cannot afford the cost of a birth certificate, for those who don’t have time to go through the hoops, and for those who lack transportation to the county clerk’s office, the amendment is an insurmountable obstacle.  Prior restraint or fear of confrontation can be a barrier to felons who have a right to vote but an instinctive fear of encountering the System.

What Minnesotans should fear is the intrusion of a well-organized cadre of wheelers and dealers whose intent it is to skew the electoral process by barring access to the voting booth to those they fear will vote “wrong.”  For these manipulators this small but significant segment of the general populace is understandably inclined to vote for Democratic candidates who they believe will protect their hard won rights..

Everyone has heard the stories – the problem is we remain complacent, blithely ignoring reality as we wrap ourselves in the security of living in a good government state.   In our innocence we are disinclined to look for culprits or to probe the source of malicious maneuvering with the facts by the media.

The pernicious implications of the Voter ID and inherent but subtle.  The Voter ID Amendment is a lethal tool that doers of evil can and will use with abandon.

Young voters, ask your grandma or a visually impaired friend or an documented immigrant mom about the implications of passage of the Voter ID.  Learn the facts and cast a vote that’s informed not instinctive.  Seasoned voters, have one of those facts of life talks with the young people in your life.  This is not the time for sheepish surrender to the inevitability of voter suppression.

Eroson of Voters’ Rights – A Slow Rising Tsunami

The elective franchise, if guarded as the ark of our safety, will peaceably dissipate all combinations to subvert a Constitution, dictated by the wisdom, and resting on the will of the people.   (Thomas Jefferson)

Over time the founding fathers, women, Native Americans, African Americans, felons who have paid their debt to society have placed great value on the hard won right to vote.  In the wake of the Voting Rights Act the electorate focused on exercising right rights;  good government groups and state officials  moved on, focusing on getting out the vote – voter registration drives, collaboration, poll watches, elimination of barriers ranging from the responsibility of employers to allow workers leave time to accommodations for language or physical impediments to voters’ exercise of their Constitutional right.

That was the calm before the storm.  Today we are experiencing a sea change in voter rights – actually not so much a visible tsunami as a mighty undercurrent that scoops up the debris of race and class – even age – discrimination.   Largely dispersed beneath the relative calm of the electoral process, voter suppression surfaces as “white caps” – primarily state-level initiatives that are, in fact, a determined drive to purge  those whose vote might stem the tide favored by the have’s.

In its waning days the Minnesota Legislature passed the law that places the Voter ID Amendment on the ballot for November.  In spite of valiant efforts on the part of good government groups such as the League of Women Voters, church groups, the AARP and the ACLU – even Jesse Ventura – the Amendment failed to set off storm warnings among the well-credentialed populace.   The subtle campaign to winnow voter ranks was maneuvered in large part by State Representative Mary Kiffmeyer (IR Big Lake) whose years as Secretary State taught her just how to steer the voting process.

At this writing several groups (ACLU, LWV, Jewish Community Action and Common Cause Minnesota) have petitioned the state Supreme Court to strike down the proposed Constitutional Amendment; the opponents argues on the semantic confusion that the ballot question falsely declares that the state will provide free ID to eligible voters.  Far more pernicious is the implicit presumption that the Amendment, if approved by the voters, will threaten hard-won voter rights such as same-day registration and possibly restrict voter registration initiatives.

Precedent abounds.  Aggressive limits in a host of states sound the alarm that voter suppression, clothed in the innocent garb of voter ID, is a driving and coordinated force.  Florida lives up to its justified reputation for election shenanigans, well-earned in the Gore-Bush debacle of 2008.  The ruckus in Florida swirls around the diabolical initiative to halt voter registration drives while 180,000 Floridians have learned from authorities that they are off the roles because they are not citizens.   Though Florida takes the lead in voter suppression it is a bellwether of national campaign that is well-organized, coordinated and financed.  At close view it looks a lot like a tsunami in slow motion.

In truth this is not about voter ID but “electorate cleansing.”  The effort is insidious, implicit, ubiquitous and amorphous.   A serious probe of the depths of the well-orchestrated campaign exposes Minnesota as more of a pawn than a player.  Showing an ID at the polls is not much of a bother for the have’s – until we see it as the tip of an iceberg that shuns the sunshine of an open process.

In Minnesota voter rights supporters can find countless refuges in the storm.  It is useful, if risky, to cite but a few;   — the state and local League of Women Voters have decades of experience and a local presence for voter information and support.  The Voter Participation Project sponsored by the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits educates and promotes through their network of nonprofit organization. Faith communities are taking action across denomination lines to defend voters’ rights.

As always, the Secretary of State is the pivotal player in organizing and monitoring the electoral process.  Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie will launch MCN’s 2012  “Promote the Vote” campaign on Wednesday, June 13, 2:00-3:30 p.m. at the Wilder Center, 451 Lexington Avenue North, St. Paul.  Free and open to all.