Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The House's 'War on voting'

The executive director of a non partisan, non profit organization devoted to expanding education about statewide elections raises a good question about what's going on in the legislature.  In a column about an apparent "war on voting" in the legislature based on bills that would make it harder to vote by requiring photo ID cards and reducing the opportunity for early voting, Damon Circosta notes that it's not unusual for the majority party to try to lock in its electoral gains in various ways. The Democrats nearly perfected that process during the century-plus that they ran the legislature, except for a couple of sessions when Republicans ran the House.

But, Circosta argues, voters elected the new Republican majority in hopes they wouldn't do the same things Democrats did. As he put it, "But lost in all of this partisan warfare is the notion that we did not elect this new crop of leadership to act like those who came before them. We elected them precisely because they told us that they would be different."

Because it isn't, the likely result is "voter discontent" and less involvement in politics.

Here's Circosta's column:

By Damon Circosta

RALEIGH - Perhaps the most overused rhetorical ploy is when politicians declare a "war" on something.

Formal declarations of real war -- the kind with tanks, missiles and opposing nations -- are thankfully exceedingly rare. But lawmakers often declare war to attract attention to their cause. Think Lyndon Johnson¹s "war on poverty" or Richard Nixon's "war on drugs." When a problem is so insidious that it merits a declaration of war, people take notice.

Given some of the recent bills proposed in the N.C. General Assembly, there seems to be a "war on voting."

So far this session we have seen proposals that would eliminate a popular program allowing people to register to vote during early voting; decrease the days and times early voting is accessible; limit the verification methods used on Election Day to only certain types of photo identification; and require ballot instructions to be in English only. As if that wasn't enough, the war on voting also includes a steep reduction in funding to our State Board of Elections and the end to programs that reduce corporate, union and other special-interest influence in elections.

I doubt we will see any lawmaker hold a press conference explaining why there are so many bills aimed at making it harder to vote while also making it easier for special-interest dollars to find their way into our political system. It's much more popular to declare wars on societal ills like poverty and drugs than to declare war on civic participation and voting.

Telling people that you prefer they don't participate in democracy won't win you a lot of friends. But make no mistake. If these proposals find their way into law, people will have a more difficult time getting involved with elections, and those who wish to use big money to tilt things in their favor will have a much easier time.

On some level, we should expect to see a slew of election-related legislation. In 2010, for the first time in over a century, we saw control of both chambers of the General Assembly switch political parties. When that happens there is a natural inclination by the new crowd to lock in their electoral gains by making it more difficult for voters who they think may not agree with them.

Democrats, when they were in charge, were not immune to such shenanigans and Republicans appear to be operating from the same playbook. But lost in all of this partisan warfare is the notion that we did not elect this new crop of leadership to act like those who came before them. We elected them precisely because they told us that they would be different.

Over the last decade we have seen a sharp increase in voter frustration.

Part of this frustration certainly stems from disenchantment with how our elected officials comport themselves when they are tasked with setting up the rules for elections.

By trying to shape election law for short-term partisan gain, our politicians fuel voter discontent. Fewer and fewer of us feel inclined to participate in a process we see as tainted. And when only a handful of us get involved with politics, then our representative democracy doesn¹t really represent us at all.

No lawmaker would be so foolish as to come out and openly declare a war on voting, but it would be refreshingly honest to at least hear our elected officials say that they are in fact making these changes for their own electoral gain. At least then we citizens would be on notice that our democracy is under assault.


(Damon Circosta is the executive director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education, a Raleigh-based nonprofit and nonpartisan organization, dedicated to helping citizens more fully participate in democracy.)


Jim said...

Jack [and Damon], let's next start a movement to ensure that all folks who claim to be consumers of Chivas Regal get to vote at the annual meeting of the Pernod Ricard Group. Will you recognize the parallel?

Anonymous said...

Seems ironic that the description of his organization makes specific reference to expanding voter participation by CITIZENS, yet he denigrates what amount to efforts to insure that those who vote are in fact citizens. (With a tiny area of exception, naturalization as a citizen requires one to be able to read, write and speak English, and to pass a test on that ability. Why in the world would one NEED ballot instructions in other languages when no one who cannot understand English is eligible to vote??)

Anonymous said...

Have you been to the Dr's office lately? They require ID.

Anonymous said...

Among the presidents we elected back when poll workers actually asked for ID and there was no early voting are a decent Democrat (JFK), a decent Republican (Reagan), a couple of awful Democrats (Carter, LBJ), and a couple of awful Republicans (Nixon, W).