Tuesday, September 24, 2013

It's National Voter Registration Day!

Rachel Maddow reminded her readers this morning that today is National Voter Registration Day. Seems like a very good time for a Nifty PSA!  Here is a little background about the currently dismal track record of our American citizenry regarding the exercise of our right to vote, and a little more about the dangers of allowing that dismal record to continue. Below, you'll find some useful links to learn more. 

"In the United States, voter registration is the responsibility of the people, and only 70 percent of Americans who are eligible to vote have registered." (RegistertoVote.org)

Let's do the math: There are more than 300 million citizens of the United States. 30% of 300,000,000 is 90 million people.  Even if only half of those people are over 18 years old and eligible to vote, there would be 45 million eligible voters who have not yet registered to vote.

Among the 70% of eligible citizens who have registered to vote, the number who actually do vote is shockingly low. The per centage of actual voters by age cohort ranges from less than 30% for registered 18-29 year olds, to a high of just over 60% for 60-69 year olds.  There is not a single age cohort from age 18-49 years old which has a voting record of more than 40%.

Why is it that in a nation that fought a historic battle for independence - not to mention the right to representative self-government - so few of the people today actually exercise that right by voting?  In a world where self-government and constitutionally-guaranteed individual freedoms are a rare and precious commodity, it beggars belief that people who have it do not appear to cherish it and fail to guard it vigilantly. The assumption seems to be that gains once made can never be lost. But millions of Americans are confronted with another, grimmer, reality.

"...that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth." (Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address)

The underpinning ideal of our democratic republic is that the government is of the people, by the people and for the people, and our method of ensuring this as a people is through our constitutionally guaranteed right to vote. The people are empowered to fire legislators who do not represent their best interest. This power of the people is meant to balance the power of the corporate and religious elites who usually succeed in buying control over society - thus using it to further their own ends at the expense of the people - unless they are prevented from doing so by robust legal protections. The great American experiment was the first time in human history that a serious attempt was made to prevent political power from becoming concentrated into a few hands, where it can be abused. Wealthy aristocracies and priestly classes had controlled every society on earth until the American republic came into being. Tearing down the scaffolding which supports gross economic and political inequality is the very foundation of what makes America exceptional and it is the heart and soul of the American Dream. The United States became a beacon of hope and opportunity for ordinary people all over the globe - and it still is today - but the pressure has never ceased from conservative groups determined to return us to the medieval kind of social, political and economic inequality that has historically been the norm for human societies.

The balance of power between regular working people and powerful elites can only be maintained when the people vote. Various laws have been enacted over the centuries to try to protect this balance by protecting the rights of individual citizens against powerful elites, but the tension is always there, with the powerful constantly chipping away at citizen protections. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act  thus opening the door once more to the kind of voter suppression that the powerful can and will force onto the less-powerful whenever it is given the opportunity to do so. Within weeks, several states rushed to pass restrictive voting laws which will disenfranchise thousands of eligible American voters.

These voter suppression laws are written and passed by legislatures filled with representatives hand-picked by enormously powerful and wealthy corporate and religious groups in order to ensure an outcome which will suit their own interests and not those of the people of the United States. In a democratic Republic, the idea that corporate or religious elites could rise to such power and influence that they could establish a de facto feudal economic system and authoritarian theocracy - almost exactly the conditions over which this country fought the War of Independence - is startling.  It should only be possible if a majority of the people allow it to happen, through ignorance, through apathy or through intimidation.

Ignorance and apathy have been manifestly evident everywhere. Even people who vehemently describe themselves as "not racist/classist" nevertheless point to racist/classist justifications for these profoundly unAmerican laws and believe them to be simply "common-sense". The most frequently cited justification for these laws (and denial of their role in voter suppression) is some version of "I can't drive/buy liquor/open a bank account without a driver's license and neither can anyone else so I don't buy the argument that these people can't get a license!"

The claim that one cannot function in society without a license (and therefore it is already necessary for everyone to have one) is false, but there is also a subtler and more deeply disturbing denial of the truth by Voter ID supporters. Most people who support Voter ID refuse to accept the fact that voter fraud is almost non-existent (therefore eliminating the only justification for these dangerous democracy-crushing laws) and they also deny that there is any hardship involved in procuring a driver's license.

The reality is that thousands of Americans neither have a license nor can afford to get one. Many thousands of others choose not to drive and also do not wish to purchase a driver's license.  Many thousands of others are denied a driver's license - due to age or infirmity, for instance. These people can and do function in our society every day. Yet, millions of their fellow citizens are comfortably prepared to strip these citizens of their right to vote.

Gee, you don't suppose there could
be a politically-motivated strategy
behind voter ID laws?
There are fees which must be paid to obtain a driver's license. There are fees to keep the license valid year after year. The licensing process requires documents that many thousands of Americans simply do not have in their possession - original birth certificates, for example. Obtaining these documents costs more money. And time. Usually, obtaining those documents requires providing even more documents or proof which many thousands of Americans either cannot get (because they no longer exist or never existed due to clerical failures), or cannot afford to get because - once again - obtaining official documents always involves paying fees. For many thousands of American citizens, the fees involved are prohibitive. For many thousands more who do not intend to drive a vehicle, the fees are both prohibitive and senseless - why should any American citizen be forced to purchase a driver's license when he or she does not drive?

The "common-sense" apologist for these vote suppression laws argues that it is just one of the expenses that citizens must pay to get the drivers license without which no one can function in American society. The fact is that many thousands of people can and do function in American society without a driver's license, but the ones who do not have one or choose not to have one are being penalized with what is essentially a poll tax - they will be forced to pay for an unwanted or unaffordable piece of ID strictly so that they will not be denied their right to vote.

The argument for the so-called "free" state ID's is similarly flawed. These alternative state voter IDs are not free because in order to fulfill the documentation requirements to get that "free" ID, the citizen must pay numerous fees to obtain that documentation. You can't get the ID without the documentation and you can't get the documentation without paying fees. Once again, if the only reason to purchase these documents is to obtain the "free" state ID in order to exercise your right to vote, then that ID is a poll tax by another more politically correct name. These laws unfairly target the poor, the young and the elderly. It is the young and the poor that voter suppression advocates would really like to shut down, and with the help of the Supreme Court, they may very well succeed.

Will the American people allow this to happen?

Don't just stand there... do it!
When all eligible voters in the country perform their civic duty at every election, and when all eligible voters make it their business to stay informed about the issues that face the nation, then it becomes far more difficult for any one group, no matter how well-organized and determined, to seize control of the government. That is what Americans must do.

Make sure you are registered to vote. Don't assume that you are registered. During the 2012 primaries, thousands of people were shocked to discover that their names had been stricken from the voter lists without their knowledge. Florida has purged nearly 200,000 names from its voter list, including seniors and veterans and it continues to purge. Pennsylvania tried to deny voting rights to nearly 10% of its eligible citizens. The 2013 ruling by SCOTUS has opened the door to further restrictions which could prevent tens of thousands of eligible voters in dozens of states from exercising their right to vote. That is the intended outcome behind these laws: there really are groups of your fellow citizens who feel that large numbers of Americans should be deprived of their right to vote.

Voter suppression threatens our Republic, but there are still enough voters to put a stop to it if only every citizen who can vote, does so. There are as many eligible voters who do not vote as there are who do vote - more, in fact. Voter turnout could potentially be double what it has historically been. The current voter suppression tactics - ambitious though they undeniably are - would not disenfranchise enough people to overcome the will of the people if only the majority would take a stand against these undemocratic actions, register now and vote in every election.

Your vote counts. Your vote can help save the USA - seriously. It really is that important.

Remind your friends and family to be sure to register and be sure to vote.

Resources for Eligible Voters:

Register to Vote  General information about voter eligibility (and how to find out if you are eligible) as well as state regulations on when and where to vote, with appropriate direct links.

Fair Elections Legal Network: Gives an overview of recent states' legislation designed to further restrict voting rights and provides resources and strategies to help citizens to protect their rights.

Voter ID Toolkits:  Practical help in navigating the "free" state ID process. State-specific toolkits for Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Texas.

Can I vote?  Need help with voting? You've come to the right place. This nonpartisan web site was created by state election officials to help eligible voters figure out how and where to go vote. Choose a category below to get started.

Rock the Vote   Rock the Vote is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization in the United States whose mission is to engage and build the political power of young people.

Our Time.org   Declare Yourself is a national nonpartisan, nonprofit campaign to empower and encourage every eligible 18-29 year-old in America to register and vote in local and national elections.

League of Women Voters:  The League is proud to be nonpartisan, neither supporting nor opposing candidates or political parties at any level of government, but always working on vital issues of concern to members and the public.

Register To Vote. org   RegistertoVote.org is a nonpartisan organization committed to reaching the estimated 30 percent of eligible Americans not registered to vote. We simplify the voter registration process, making it faster and easier for you to get involved and become an active voice in our democracy.

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