Lawmakers Ramp Up Efforts to Counter States’ Strident Efforts to Restrict Voting

September 25, 2012

by Jeremy Leaming

The campaign to keep certain groups of people from voting – African Americans, Latinos, college students, the elderly – has included efforts to shut down voter registration drives, limit early voting, and onerous voter ID laws. As noted here frequently the voter suppression efforts have taken place mostly in states controlled by rightwing lawmakers, and not surprisingly they disproportionately impact urban voters. 

Voters represented by civil liberties groups, labor groups, the Department of Justice and the Obama campaign team have taken court action to stop provisions of many of the suppression tactics. Earlier this summer Attorney General Eric Holder knocked the Texas voter ID scheme as akin to a Jim Crow era poll tax.

And more congressional lawmakers are ramping up efforts against the voter suppression campaign. U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a Civil Rights hero, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) are pushing for passage of the Voter Empowerment Act aimed at modernizing voter registration to “ensure equal access to the ballot box for all Americans ….”   

In a press statement announcing the push, Lewis said, “It should be easy to vote, as simple as a glass of water, in a society that believes in the immutable right to voter of every human being to determine his or her own future. We must eliminate every barrier and impediment to the electoral process to make voting fair, accessible, and an accurate representation of the will of the people. The vote is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democratic society to build.”

The Brennan Center lauded introduction of the measure, noting it was based on a proposal the group introduced in 2008.

“As the leading democracy of the world, our voting system should be fair, free, and accessible to all eligible Americans,’ said Wendy Weiser, director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “No matter your political party, we can all agree that every eligible American should have the opportunity to vote. Modernizing voter registration is something everyone can get behind. It is an innovative reform that could add more than 50 million eligible citizens to the rolls, permanently.”

Many of the proponents of the onslaught of onerous voter restrictions peddle the claim that the nation’s elections are beset by voter fraud. The only fraud occurring, however, is the one that maintains voter fraud is real and demands over-the-top restrictions on voting.

In a recent ACS Issue Brief, Loyola Law School Professor Justin Levitt blasted Florida’s voter overhaul law, and said the claims of voter fraud are wildly overblown. You’re more likely, he wrote, to be felled by lightning than uncover voter fraud.

In a piece for Slate, Nick McClellan provides a state-by-state map that reveals – you guessed it – very little voter fraud. Shills of big business and peddlers of libertarian dogma, such as attorney Michael A. Carvin, argue that voter fraud is rampant; you just have to look for it. Lots of people have searched for it, however, and inevitably they find claims of voter fraud to be overblown. See McClellan’s map or read Levitt’s Issue Brief.

The voter fraud claim is cover for another tawdry campaign to suppress the vote. The superrich in this country and their supporters like the status quo, which entails government officials pushing economic policies that harm the middle class and coddle the wealthy. One way to protect those policies is to limit certain people from voting.