Friday, October 19, 2012

The Assault On Voting Rights

If there's a theme to this election year, the title of this post says it all: The Republican Party has been waging an on-going, multi-pronged attack on the right of American citizens to vote.  Republican legislatures have passed voter ID laws.  The governor of Florida ordered a voter-roll purge that even Republican county officials have found too extreme and probably illegal.  We read articles that insist that voting is not a right; that voting should be restricted to "stake-holders".  One of the lower moments occurred over the summer when the state of Ohio, implementing a law passed by the Republican-dominated legislature, restricted the rights of active duty military personnel to vote early and the Obama Administration sued; the right and Gov. Romney turned this entire episode in to an instance of Pres. Obama trying to restrict military voting when the exact opposite was the case.

Just the past couple days have brought more evidence the right's attack on voting continues.  Mitt Romney is caught on tape telling employers they should tell their employees how to vote.  The egregiously horrible Rep. Joe Walsh has done the same thing.  An employee of a company hired by the Republican Party in Virginia has been arrested for destroying voter registration forms.  In Maricopa County, Arizona, home to notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio, notices about the election specifically sent to Spanish speakers were mailed with the wrong date on them.

If you're noticing a theme here, it should be apparent.  One of America's two major parties would prefer we have fewer people voting.  People who support that party are all over the place insisting that these various shenanigans and rule changes are fine because voting is a privilege not a right.  Like pretty much every other thing the right has done over the past generation, it is a relentless, tireless assault any- and everywhere that not least has the effect of wearing down opposition.  Couching anti-democratic rhetoric in the tired logic of sensibleness is perhaps the most offensive; after all, how dare anyone claim someone who begins their argument saying, "What is the matter with . . ." is attacking something at the heart of practical American politics?

Unlike most of the other advanced polities with democratic practices, the United States does not require voting.  Many countries have such high voter turnouts because people will be fined if they don't show up at the polls.  Not here.  As a right, like free speech or assembly, we in the United States let people exercise or not exercise this basic right and duty at their own discretion.  Freedom, in other words, includes the freedom not to participate.

I was in a discussion group over the summer and someone insisted we should do much the same as countries where voting is a legal obligation.  Sounds sensible, doesn't it?  Perhaps even logical!  All the same, it runs contrary to a basic tenet of the whole concept of political freedom, US style.  Part of the burden of freedom is the weight we all carry from those who prefer not to participate.  Part of being a free society includes the freedom to make choices others would not make, choices that effect other people's lives.  The most we can do is insist that people vote.  We can hector them, plead with them, offer them rides to the polls.  We cannot, nor should we, compel by legal means, any single vote.

I, for one, have always thought more voting is better.  Big voter turnouts mean more people are engaged, feel they have a stake, a voice, are a part of the process.  I honestly don't care for whom anyone might cast their ballot on November 6.  If a bunch of folks who were all wearing Romney pins couldn't find a ride to their polling place, I would be the first in line to offer them a ride.  Because it's about participating.

Before I hit "Publish", I actually have a rule for this post, should anyone care to comment.  Any comment that attempts to argue the idea that restricting access to the polls is somehow legal, or at least should be; any comment that attempts to argue that employers either do or should attempt to coerce a vote from their employees; any comment that denies the reality that voting is a right all citizens over the age of 18 (with the exceptions, of course, of those who have surrendered that right for reasons of felony conviction); any of these, or variations on them, will be deleted.  Period.  My Give-a-Shit button for nonsense is now permanently broken.

Just a warning.

Virtual Tin Cup

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