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Voter Suppression: ADA Pushes Back

Posted by Will Rice (will) on Aug 05 2011 at 12:51 PM
ADA Today >>

By Richard Means

Because Republicans are once again pursuing a voter suppression strategy--this time under the guise of  “voter ID” laws--ADA has reactivated its successful anti-suppression campaign of three years ago.  Staffers in the Washington office and in chapters across the country are researching the scope of the problem, a website dedicated to the issue is being relaunched, and opinion pieces denouncing the practice are being distributed to national media outlets. 

As a former Chicago prosecutor of actual election fraud (as opposed to the phantom kind targeted by the new laws) and now an election-law attorney in private practice, I’ve been tapped to spearhead these efforts. An  op-ed I authored on the subject is scheduled to run in dozens of daily papers this summer. In it, I explain why voter ID laws enacted by Republican legislatures and governors across the country this year have nothing to do with protecting the sanctity of the ballot and everything to do with discouraging turnout among traditionally Democratic voters.

Until recently, it was difficult in many states for a voter who wanted to be registered not to be.
We have expended great efforts to make it easy for people to register and stay registered as they move from place to place in our mobile society. We have stretched voting hours and reconfigured our polling places to make it easier for seniors and the disabled to cast their votes. We have expanded the very concept of Election Day: with absentee voting, nursing home voting, early voting and even provisional voting, which permits votes of the apparently unregistered to be counted after it is determined that the voter is qualified.

The new “voter ID” laws run counter to all these trends. The ostensible target of the new laws, voter fraud (impersonation of dead or absent voters, multiple voting or voting by the unqualified), rarely happens. When it does, as I know from professional experience, such frauds are invariably committed--not by individual voters-- but by political operatives.

Americans are committed to the free exercise of the ballot; we tend to believe any problems
with our democracy can best be cured by more democracy.  And yet, political scientists and civic activists have long fretted over low voter turnout and increasing mistrust of government. Their prescriptions have generally advocated structural changes to increase participation-- not stifle it, as the Republican efforts attempt to do. And such efforts aren’t limited to ID laws: GOP-dominated state governments have also been cutting back on the days and hours the polls are open, which disproportionally effects low-income voters with less control over their free time than higher-income professionals.

Americans for Democratic Action has confidence that, when these attempts at vote suppression are exposed, responsible Republicans will repudiate these tactics and reject those party leaders who pursue them. On this issue as so many other, people of good will are deeply disappointed that the long-respected Grand Old Party could be hijacked by such a devious gang of opportunists. When they understand this outrage, they will show their displeasure at the poll place-- no matter how cleverly Republicans are trying to block them from it. 

Richard Means is ADA’s Chicago area chapter chair and is an election lawyer. When he served as a county prosecutor in the 1970s, he was in charge of election-fraud prosecutions.