Why Are Republicans Frightened of Poor People and Students?

Updated Below

The GOP’s legislative assault on everything and everyone that it doesn’t like continues unabated.  The midterms ensured that the GOP will be able to push through changes that attempt to fundamentally change the political paradigm in this country.  This is nothing new, Republicans are quite good at using government and the legislative process to proscribe political power and win elections.  We’ve seen this in Texas, where former Rep. Tom Delay is facing prison for gerrymandering a redistricting process.  It’s happening in Wisconsin with Gov. Scott Walker’s is attempt to cripple unions and, by extension, their ability to support candidates they choose.  Typically Democrats are able to moderate or stop these attempts, but lackluster liberal efforts in November mean massive GOP majorities in the first term of the Tea Party in government.  That means they can try to do what they want.

The GOP has “repealed” the new health care act, de-funded Planned Parenthood, attempted to bust unions across the country, and taken away a woman’s right to choose in various and creative ways.  Now the GOP is seeking to control who can and cannot vote under the guise of preventing “voter fraud”, the frequently alleged but very rarely proven electoral straw man.  What Republicans are really seeking to do is dis-empower Americans who don’t always agree with the GOP.  In Florida that means further punishing ex-felons who have served their time and paid their debt to society, but are believed to vote Democratic.  In New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Texas, and a large handful of other states GOP voter suppression is targeted at students, low-income Americans, and seniors by requiring a state ID to vote and tightening residency requirements to disqualify students from voting where they reside the majority of the year.

New Hampshire, proud home of the first presidential primary, is seeking to disenfranchise thousands of voters.  New residency rules are aimed to make it more difficult for students to vote where they live.  These voters are losing access to the ballot box for only being old enough to be the first part of the oft misquoted and mis-attributed cliché, “If you’re not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you’re not a conservative at forty you have no brain”. The GOP is seeking to punish students for being young, for voting their emotions (isn’t that what just swept the Tea Party into power?), and because a larger portion of young voters vote for someone other than the Republicans.  As NH Speaker of the House said, “…Voting as a liberal.  That’s what kids do…”

The Speaker and his colleagues are pushing through bills to end Election Day Registration and require a student’s parents to prove permanent residency in the city where the students attend school if the student wants to vote there.  Courts have consistently upheld the right of students to vote where they attend school.  These proposed laws would force the majority of students to vote out-of-state or in their hometown while skipping class to do so, depressing the student vote.  Even college republicans are crying foul on this bill.

In Wisconsin voter suppression is all about IDs.  A new law would require all voters to present a state ID when voting.  State IDs cost twenty-eight dollars, require a trip to the DMV, additional documents to prove your identity, and would mean out-of-state students must surrender their out-of-state license.  Poor people are disenfranchised if this bill passes as well.  Low-income and homeless citizens often don’t have access to documents like a birth certificate to prove their identity, let alone the money or the time to travel to the DMV to get their license.  Without the ID, they won’t be able to vote, regardless of who they support.

The ID and residency requirements won’t affect the middle class or soccer moms or NASCAR dads or whatever terrible formulation we’re attaching to a group of swing voters the Republicans want to court.  It will dis-empower people who are already powerless, who can only speak through their ballot.  It will ensure a less engaged society.  Voting habits rarely change.  Generally you either vote or you don’t.  Making it more difficult for students to cast their first ballot or low-income voters to continue to vote means a nation with fewer voters and a less engaged citizenry.

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In Florida it’s not students, but former felons who are seeing their ability to vote become more difficult.  Former Governor Charlie Crist loosened the rule for ex-felons to have their civil rights restored.  The 2007 rules made restoration nearly automatic for most former felons.  In 2007 more than 100,000 felons applied and received their rights.  Governor Rick Scott and his Republican Attorney General apparently think that is too easy for felons.

You see, in 2008 candidate Obama cleaned-up in Florida.  Republicans blamed Crist, the new rules, and those 100,000 plus new voters for President Obama’s victory in Florida.  Now that the GOP is in power, it’s time to ensure that it is as difficult as possible for former felons to rejoin civil society.  Four people: the Governor, the Attorney General, and two other Republicans will decide how many hoops former felons will have to jump through to get their most basic civil right back.

The restoration of voting rights is a vital part of the rehabilitation of offenders.  When someone commits a crime, we strip them of their rights for a certain amount of time.  When they have completed that time they have paid their “debt to society”.  Once someone has paid their debt, it’s time to let them participate in civil society again.  Otherwise we’re punishing them indefinitely.

It’s already difficult for former felons to reintegrate into society.  Their choices mean that they will have a harder time finding work and housing.  Being a former felon is already stigmatizing.  The last thing that we need to do is make sure that they can’t participate in civil society by denying them the right to vote.

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These proposals do nothing but make it harder for populations who have tended to vote democratic to vote.  The GOP in Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Florida join North Carolina, Texas, Colorado, and 26 other states who have decided, if you can’t convince your constituents of your position, lock ’em out of the process.  Making elections less accessible is a tool to ensure the status quo remains the status quo.

At a time when we should be focusing on making voting easier and more accessible, when we should be encouraging a new generation of committed and engaged citizens, one party is trying to consolidate power by limiting rights.  The proposed laws have nothing to do with ensuring fairness in elections.  If elected officials were truly concerned with fairness, we would be seeing bills to extend early voting to all states.  There would be a debate about the merits of same-day and election-day registration.  We would be funding civics education in high schools across the country and encouraging pre-registration for 16 and 17-year-old teenagers.  States would be building capacity for online registration and increasing funding to local elections departments to ensure precincts have a proportionate number of voting machines for their voting population.

These proposals are nothing but a partisan ploy to depress the turnout of people whose peers tend to vote for the other side.  Students, low-income Americans, and ex-felons are watching their rights and their voice, their political power, be legislated away.  It’s time for all of us to stand up and say no.

Update:

After an incredible amount of organizing by college Democrats and Republicans and their allies in the state, two bills in New Hampshire were rejected by a wide margin Yesterday.  One bill would have tightened residency requirements and another would have ended Election Day registration.  Rock the Vote has complete coverage.

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