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Friday, March 11, 2011

The GOP's war on voting

The Plum Line - The GOP's war on voting

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By Adam Serwer

In 2007, then-Republican governor of Florida Charlie Crist moved to restore voting rights to ex-felons in the state. It was an unusual move for a Republican, since the GOP generally supports felony disenfranchisement laws because they disproportionately affect blacks who tend to vote for Democrats.

As Peter Wallsten writes this morning, as a result of the new rules, 154,000 people since 2007 have had their voting rights restored, compared to around 8,000 per year in the time prior. Naturally, Gov. Rick Scott (R) and Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) are moving to make it harder for the formerly incarcerated to vote again:

Bondi had not revealed her specific proposal publicly by late Tuesday. Her office said the plan would likely eliminate the near-automatic restoration of rights, pushed by Crist for most ex-offenders. Bondi wants to add a waiting period of up to five years after a felon serves his or her sentence before rights can be restored.

Let's be clear about who is affected by this. According to the Brennan Center, a quarter of those disenfranchised by such laws in Florida are black. Florida's original felony disenfranchisement law was enacted during Reconstruction, as an effort to limit the political power of newly freed blacks.

Felony disenfranchisement laws serve no civic purpose -- no one ever stopped themselves from committing a crime simply because they might lose the right to vote. The formerly incarcerated have served their time, the argument for punishing them post-release by denying them the right to vote is pure politics masquerading as tough-on-crime moral uprightness. Florida Republicans are moving to restrict the voting power of a Democratic constituency in a presidential swing state, nothing more, nothing less.

Go to fullsize imageThis is happening all over the country. Newly empowered Republican legislatures have been imposing onerous voter ID laws in at least 32 states, even though in-person voter fraud is virtually nonexistent. Texas went as far as exempting concealed carry permit holders and people born before 1931 from its voter ID law, a transparent admission that such laws can needlessly disenfranchise voters and that the intent of the law was to disenfranchise likely Democratic constituencies. New Hampshire Republicans are trying to ban many college students from voting because they "vote as liberal." These days, the most important battles over access to the ballot box don't happen on election day, and they don't involve dramatic examples of flagrant voter intimidation. They happen in state legislatures, around the basic rules for how to show up and vote on election day.

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This is something to consider when Republicans treat the New Black Panther voter intimidation case as an outrage. Not a single voter has said they were intimidated in that case, but Republican legislatures all over the country are actively pursuing policies that could disenfranchise thousands of people because they are more likely to vote for the other side. This also helps explain conservative hostility to the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division in general -- the last thing Republicans want is the federal government intervening to protect the franchise when the GOP is busy trying to restrict it to their own constituencies.



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