From new photo ID requirements to permanently disenfranchising citizens with past felony convictions to ending same-day registration, many states have introduced bills and passed legislation this year that will put in place obstacles that make it significantly harder for millions of people to vote in 2012. Five million, in fact, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, an institute that focuses on issues such as voting rights and campaign reform.
In a report on the voting law changes the authors, Wendy R. Weiser and Lawrence Norden, write:
Ahead of the 2012 elections, a wave of legislation tightening restrictions on voting has suddenly swept across the country. More than five million Americans could be affected by the new rules already put in place this year—a number larger than the margin of victory in two of the last three presidential elections.
As writer Ari Berman points out in this video, these changes are coming “just in time for Barack Obama’s reelection campaign.” While those leading the charge for voter suppression laws cry foul on charges of intentional disenfranchisement, claiming the moral high ground as warriors against voter fraud, Berman points out in a recent Rolling Stone article, “A major probe by the Justice Department between 2002 and 2007 failed to prosecute a single person for going to the polls and impersonating an eligible voter, which the anti-fraud laws are supposedly designed to stop.” He continues:
Out of the 300 million votes cast in that period, federal prosecutors convicted only 86 people for voter fraud – and many of the cases involved immigrants and former felons who were simply unaware of their ineligibility. A much-hyped investigation in Wisconsin, meanwhile, led to the prosecution of only .0007 percent of the local electorate for alleged voter fraud. "Our democracy is under siege from an enemy so small it could be hiding anywhere," joked Stephen Colbert.
Writing for Al Jazeera, Heather Digby Parton gives some historical context to this current state of affairs, arguing that, against the interests of the wealthy and privileged, voting rights for all Americans “was one of the great American democratic accomplishments of the 20th century.”
In the United States, there has always been tension about the franchise, going all the way back to the beginning of the Republic. Aristocrats were afraid of it for the simple reason that it would mean the government might have to represent and defend people whose interests interfere with their own interests: to maintain their wealth and pass it down to their heirs.
Whenever you give the vote to poor people and others who need government's protections against the predations of privilege, you are endangering that arrangement - and the privileged fight back. Conservatives are traditionally their soldiers in that battle….[Today] conservatives have been able to leverage racial resentment and a sort of perverted populism to help their wealthy benefactors keep their money.
The Brennan Center for Justice report looks to be “the first full accounting and analysis of this year's voting cutbacks” and seeing them all together—along with their possible consequences on future elections—is sobering, to say the least. It begs us to keep in mind what Utne Reader associate editor Danielle Magnuson wrote in an earlier post on this topic: “voting for our leaders is not a privilege but a sacred right. A disenfranchised person’s vote has the same weight as that of a wealthy and powerful person—and that’s the way it should remain.” Unfortunately, many in charge around the country seem to disagree.