On Sept. 12, Elisabeth MacNamara, president of the League of Women Voters, presented powerful evidence to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary voter suppression has become the new tool for winning elections in this country. MacNamara’s testimony is a call to arms for anyone who truly cares about our American way of life and our system of democracy.
With less than 50 days to go before one of the most important elections in our country’s history, the right of millions of Americans to express their will is in jeopardy.
Under the guise of providing electoral integrity, 41 states have introduced at least 180 voter restriction bills, including 34 with photo identification provisions since 2011. Why are small-government, conservative Republicans crafting these unnecessary, intrusive voting laws?
The answer is dangerously simple — voter restriction laws disproportionately impact young people, the elderly, the poor, and especially people of color — all of whom vote predominately for Democrats.
A study by the Brennan Center For Justice demonstrates a staggering 5 million eligible voters could be disenfranchised this election season because of these newly-enacted state laws.
In Wisconsin, court documents indicate more than 300,000 registered voters do not have a driver’s license or state ID; the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation estimates 750,000 registered voters do not have the required photo ID; courtroom testimony in Texas suggests as many as 2 million registered voters could be disenfranchised if the state’s voter ID law goes into effect; in South Carolina 217,000 voters do not have the required ID necessary to vote.
Several states have employed other suppression techniques. Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, and West Virginia have eliminated or reduced early voting periods popular with African Americans, other ethnic groups, and retired voters. Florida, Georgia, Ohio, and Wisconsin have made it more difficult for groups such as the League of Women Voters to register new voters.
There is no justification for these draconian laws. The Carnegie Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism recently completed an analysis of voter fraud since 2008 and found a total of about 2,000 cases in all the millions of ballots cast and stated unequivocally voter impersonation fraud is virtually nonexistent.
For more than 200 years American history has chronicled the expansion of voting rights from a nation where only white male land owners could vote to one giving all citizens, aged 18 and older, the right to vote. Those gains came gradually and were hard earned, sometimes in blood. We fought a civil war to recognize African Americans as citizens and then amended the Constitution to ensure voting rights for all men, black and white. After 70 years of struggle, the 19th Amendment was ratified, giving women the right to vote. The 24th Amendment abolished the poll tax. The 26th Amendment extended voting rights to citizens 18 years of age or older. Voting rights were also a core value of the Civil Rights movement of the 50's and 60's. The Voting Rights Act of 1965, The National Voter Registration Act, and the Help America Vote Act helped make voting the most accessible to generations of Americans.
Our system of democracy, our freedom to vote is a source of pride to all Americans. Who among us then would vote "Yes" to changing that and going back to a privileged-only electorate? Why then are we allowing it to happen?
I admire MacNamara and The League of Women Voters for taking this important battle to Congress and into courtrooms around the country. I also implore all of you reading this article to vote on Nov. 6th.
Our vote is the single best way to fight back against Republican extremists who are terrified of losing their power in this country.