By Ralph Nader
When will the authoritarians and their political henchmen stop harassing American voters and let all citizens vote? No other Western country comes close to imposing so many obstructions for certain categories of people to keep them from the voting booth. In Canada, England, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, it is very easy to vote.
Voter suppression is real and getting worse. Voter fraud is virtually non-existent, but this spurious claim is used as the excuse for unnecessary restrictions. Voter turnout, not surprisingly, is lower than in any other Western country.
According to the New York Times, here are seven ways the state of Alabama is obstructing voters. This former plantation/slavery state doesn’t overtly keep people of color, especially black people, from voting. That would clearly violate the federal civil rights laws. No, instead of race, Alabama electoral tyrants use class as a proxy for racial bias.
In 2014, the usual corporatist Supreme Court 5 to 4 majority lifted the federal oversight of the Voting Rights Act for misbehaving states like Alabama and paved the way for voter suppression and obstruction.
- Alabama requires photo identification to vote. Studies have found that “among registered Alabama voters, blacks and Hispanics were more likely than whites to lack photo identification.”
- In 2015, Alabama started the process of closing 31 driver’s license offices in the state—places where people could get photo IDs. The reason given was “budget cuts.” (This from a state that is overly reliant on corporate welfare). The impact was clearly racial when one sees where the majority of closures occurred.
- Alabama wanted “to require proof of citizenship to vote in state and local elections,” which is not required in federal elections. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit blocked that move in 2016.
- Alabama tried to suppress voters by closing polling places. By November 2016, Alabama closed 66 polling places, with a clear racial impact that likely also affected rural lower-income white voters.
- Alabama bans money transfers from one political action committee to another—ostensibly to ward off corruption. The main impact, however, was on the Alabama Democratic Conference (ADC), which is a black get-out-the-vote endeavor. Not having rich patrons, the ADC has to rely heavily on other entities for contributions.
- Alabama has also purged voter rolls of voters who haven’t voted for four years or more. That’s a clever disincentive. If voters show up after “verifying registration details,” some can cast “provisional ballots.”
- Finally in 2017, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed legislation “re-enfranchising thousands of people convicted of felonies…, but [fellow Republican, Secretary of State John Merrill] refused to use state resources to publicize it, or to automatically register people who were turned away before it passed.”
Citizens in Florida have a referendum on the state ballot to re-enfranchise 1.7 million ex-felons, many of them non-violent offenders, who have served their time. In 2000, Florida’s Secretary of State hired a consulting firm that somehow wrongly misidentified people as ex-felons and took thousands of voters off the rolls. That number was far greater than the vote difference between Bush and Gore (537 votes), before Justice Scalia’s Supreme Court majority conducted their treasonous judicial coup d’état and stopped the statewide recount ordered by the Florida Supreme Court.
There are still many states with antagonistic election laws and regulations that allow state officials to take away peoples’ right to or their facility in voting.
States have long obstructed ballot access for third party or independent candidates, thereby depriving voters of more choices and voices. Fortunately, in the past fifteen years many court challenges have gotten rid of many petty obstacles. But many states still require independent or third party candidates to collect more signatures than Republicans or Democrats to get on the ballot. Texas and California by far require more signatures from independent and third party candidates than any single entire Western European country. (Ballot Access Newsletter) There is a simple solution. It’s called universal voting. In Australia and a few other nations, voting is a duty, overwhelmingly accepted by the public. That makes obstruction of voters a serious crime. Australia’s turnout in federal elections is over 95 percent. No candidates or parties there have to spend bundles of money to persuade people to vote.
Some libertarians object to universal voting. If, however, voters can write-in their choice, vote for themselves, or vote for a binding non-of-the-above option, that ought to take care of the civil liberties issue. Jury duty is a civic responsibility and the only constitutionally mandated duty.
It is a legal duty to obey the laws enacted by our legislative bodies whose authority comes from us. Doesn’t it make sense that we should have a legal duty to vote?
At the very least isn’t universal voting worthy of a national debate in the coming election period? Get your candidates and parties to take a stand on this taboo subject one way or another.