Forum

One man, one vote? Not always the case

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

There has been a significant amount of positive coverage given to groups who are working tirelessly to register voters. These individuals volunteer their time to make democracy more effective by getting as many people to participate in the political process as possible. Yet there is a dark counterpoint to these efforts that has not received as much attention but is every bit as important to the political landscape: a concerted effort to undermine these efforts and prevent thousands of American citizens from voting.
Quite simply, the efforts of thousands of volunteers to register voters are being invalidated by a small group of powerful individuals who are canceling registrations and intimidating voters. A good example can be found in Ohio, where Republican Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell is not accepting registrations printed on paper that is not 80-pound stock. If any other paper is used, the applicant is mailed a correct registration form. Yet many election officials have complained, fearing that this obscure element of the law is being enforced for the sole purpose of causing thousands of registrations to arrive after the deadline. It should be no surprise to anyone that the number of new Democratic registrations vastly outweighs the number of new Republican registrations and that the counties where this is being most strictly enforced contain poor minority neighborhoods.
There are other, more indirect ways that voters are being disenfranchised. The gold standard of disenfranchisement remains Florida, a state that denied over 1100 voters the right to vote in 2000 by wrongly identifying them as felons. Once again, it should be no surprise that these voters were mostly black. This time around, Florida is employing a whole slew of strategies to restrict the black vote. There remain significant fears that the felon list will once again intentionally contain incorrect information. Furthermore, a number of investigations into local Democratic organizers have made many worried. In Orlando, Ezzie Thomas, a well-known black activist and Democratic operative who historically has registered voters and assisted the elderly with absentee ballots, has come under investigation by local authorities.
The Republicans deny that there is a political motivation behind this investigation. Yet when they interrogate over 50 black individuals who registered to vote with Thomas, the Republicans are sending a very clear message to the black community of Orlando: getting involved with this election will cause you to come under suspicion. As one interviewee put it, ?I felt threatened, embarrassed, and like I was being accused of being a criminal.? Others said that after being interviewed, they were afraid to vote.
Investigations like this are taking place across Florida and other swing states. These actions bring back memories of the Jim Crow era and the days in which preventing black people from voting was an openly acknowledged tool of Southern conservatives. Republicans don?t have a monopoly on these efforts, but they are significantly more likely to use them than their Democratic counterparts, who benefit from high voter turnout. Democrats usually commit their own fraud by using questionable methods to get out the vote, such as distributing cigarettes to homeless people.
Every individual who believes in the democratic process should be outraged by these actions. There are no easy ways to stop those in power from exercising authority in arbitrary ways. Even once voters have registered, there are ways that minorities are prevented from actually voting. In 2000, Florida required minority voters in many counties to produce three forms of identification instead of the one required by law. If voters were unable to meet this arbitrary requirement, they were not allowed to vote.
While these tactics are difficult to stop, there are a number of ways that this process could be improved and that the right to vote could be better protected. Many states offer same-day registration, where any voter can register to vote at a polling booth immediately before polling. This would make it significantly easier for people to vote as it would prevent election officials like those in Ohio from throwing out registrations when the voters aren?t looking. Other methods exist to protect the vote, but until we implement any of them, we must be consistently vigilant as to how our election officials act.