by Jesse Jackson

The story of American democracy - part of what makes us exceptional - has been the expansion of voting rights to more and more citizens. Yet now, conservatives linked to the Republican Party are systematically seeking to constrict the vote, not expand it.

We can't let them get away with this.

In the early republic, voting was limited, often reserved for white male landowners. Over time, however, the right to vote was extended to working people, to women, to those 18 and older (old enough to fight; old enough to vote). The passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act was one of the transformative victories of the civil rights movement. Progressive movements have pushed reforms to make voting easier - same-day voter registration, extended voting days and hours, voting by mail.

Now, however, across the country, we witness a systematic effort to suppress the vote, to make voting harder. Tactics include:

Voter ID Laws

According to a study by the Brennan Center, more than a half-dozen Republican-dominated states have passed legislation requiring an official state photo ID to vote. This makes voting harder for those without a driver's license: the poor, students, urban dwellers, seniors and minorities. Brennan estimates that 5 million people could be hit by the laws. In 30 states, legislators have received "voter fraud" legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council, the notorious right-wing network funded by the Koch brothers and others. Knowing that these efforts ran directly into the Voting Rights Act guarantees, Alabama's Shelby County brought suit to overturn Section 5 of the Act - an effort just rejected by the U.S Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit.

Voter Purges

Ohio, for example, has purged some 1,100,000 voters from its rolls since 2010. Cuyahoga County, which includes Democratic-rich Cleveland, led with 267,071 voters removed from the rolls. Franklin County, including Ohio's capital, Columbus, removed 93,578 voters. It does not go unnoticed that Obama won this critical swing state by less than 300,000 votes in 2008. Those purged came disproportionately from counties with high minority populations. Similarly, in Florida, another key state, voter officials seem to gearing up an effort to purge the lists, with a focus on Latino voters. And many states ban people with a felony on their record from voting, even after they've served their sentence.

Intimidating Voter-Registration Groups

The majority of those signed up in registration drives tend to be low-income or minority voters likely to support Democratic candidates. So conservatives have moved legislation to threaten voter-registration groups. In Florida, a new law imposing harsh penalties for registration mistakes led the League of Women Voters to discontinue its program altogether.

Eliminating Same-Day Registration; Curtailing Early Voting

In Maine and Ohio, conservatives sought to eliminate same-day voter registration (a citizen uprising blocked them in Maine). Five states - again including the key swing states Florida and Ohio -have passed laws rolling back early voting options.

Targeted Tricks And Trash

Negative ads disgust voters and discourage voters. Now, with unaccountable super PACs that don't have to identify their donors, it will get uglier. We'll witness phone calls designed to confuse African-Americans about when Election Day occurs, or direct mail warning Hispanics that failure to carry proof of citizenship will lead to arrest.

We've seen this before. In 2006, the Republican National Committee paid for fliers in Virginia telling African-Americans to "skip this vote." An aide to former Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich was convicted of using robocalls to tell African-Americans not to vote in 2010.

But super PACs can do this with no accountability. They can be created a month before the election and dissolved the day after. Their donors can be anonymous. They disavow any connection with any campaign.

This is ugly stuff. These are the tactics of a minority party seeking to use money, power and dirty tricks to distort the vote. It has already started and it will get worse unless people rise against it. We must reclaim our democracy from those who would traduce it.


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Trampling the Right to Vote | Politics

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