Right to Vote

Mar 16, 2012

Generalizations are always dangerous, but here’s two that are pretty safe. Most Republicans are not happy that Barack Obama was elected president four years ago. And in Michigan, Democrats are unhappy with Governor Snyder and the Republican legislature.

I don’t think I’ll get much argument there. But now consider this: Two years ago in Michigan, fifty-five percent of registered voters didn’t vote at all. When you consider that some people don’t ever register, the picture is even worse.

What’s ironic is that for a people who love to complain about  government, when it comes time to choose that government, we really don’t seem to give much of a damn.

But while it’s easy to beat up on people for not voting, the fact is that we don’t make voting as easy as we could -- and there are efforts underway to make voting harder still.

The other day, I asked ACLU leaders what they were most concerned about in Michigan, and one answer was, Voter Suppression. There are a number of bills working their way through the legislature that would make it harder to vote.

Their sponsors aren’t billing them that way. They are being advertised as “clean government bills,” aimed at preventing voter fraud. But that’s not what is really going on. What is significant is that every one of these bills are being sponsored by Republicans.

And most are clearly aimed at the poor and minorities, groups which tend to vote Democratic. Voting already has gotten harder in the last few years. Michigan now requires picture ID to vote, and students can no longer vote en masse on campus.

They have to vote where their drivers’ license says they live. But now a new bill would require voters who ask for an absentee ballot to show a picture ID or swear out an affidavit.

Another bill would require people registering to vote to show picture ID, and a third would require anyone attempting to vote to attest in writing that they are an American citizen.

That bill is especially unneeded, because you can’t register to begin with without being a citizen. Nevertheless, all these bills have been passed by the senate and sent to the house.

Kary Moss, executive director of the Michigan ACLU, is fond of saying “we’re the most conservative group in the nation -- we are trying to conserve the Bill of Rights.” These bills are bad, she said, because they make it harder for the poor to vote. Many don’t drive and don’t have a government-issued photo ID, and, she argues, shouldn’t have to jump through hoops or pay to get one.

Additionally, some people may be intimidated by being asked to sign affidavits and declarations of citizenship. Incidentally, despite popular myth, a massive Department of Justice investigation a few years ago found that there is essentially no voter fraud in America.

There is credit card fraud. But earlier this week, I bought an expensive meal in Florida with a credit card. Nobody asked for ID.

There’s no reason we couldn’t design a system to make it easy for everyone to vote, no matter who or where they are.

No reason, that is, except one. Some people don’t want everyone to vote. And what could be more unAmerican than that?  

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