The U.S. national anthem ends by questioning whether the “star spangled banner yet waves o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
In 2012, deliberate measures to suppress voting and voter registration of poor, non-white, elderly, formerly incarcerated and disabled Americans make that question more than a choral ending to our national song.
In October 2011, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law published a report by Wendy R. Weiser and Lawrence Norden titled “Voting Law Changes in 2012” that includes the following findings:
- Over the past century, our nation expanded the franchise and knocked down myriad barriers to full electoral participation. In 2011, however, that momentum abruptly shifted.
- State governments across the country enacted an array of new laws making it harder to register or to vote. Some states require voters to show government-issued photo identification, often of a type that as many as one in 10 voters do not have.
- Other states have cut back on early voting, a hugely popular innovation used by millions of Americans.
- Two states reversed earlier reforms and once again disenfranchised millions who have past criminal convictions but who are now tax-paying members of the community.
- Still others made it much more difficult for citizens to register to vote – a prerequisite for voting.
Weiser and Norden’s report adds the following conclusions.
“Based on the Brennan Center’s analysis of the 19 laws and two executive actions that passed in 14 states, it is clear that:
- These new laws could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.
- The states that have already cut back on voting rights will provide 171 electoral votes in 2012 – 63 percent of the 270 needed to win the presidency.
- Of the 12 likely battleground states, as assessed by an August Los Angeles Times analysis of Gallup polling, five have already cut back on voting rights (and may pass additional restrictive legislation), and two more are currently considering new restrictions.”
The proponents of the new laws restricting voting claim to be interested in preventing voter fraud. That is a false claim.
Claims of voter fraud have consistently been exposed as baseless. The Brennan Center exposed the falsity of that myth in a publication titled “Truth About Fraud,” which concludes that “one is more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit voter fraud.”
The new laws are the real fraud. They are intended to discourage, intimidate, suppress and prevent voting by poor, non-white, formerly incarcerated, elderly and disabled citizens.
They are intended to defraud our neighbors of their right to exercise that most cherished right of our supposedly participatory democracy – voting.
In the background of this deliberate and coordinated scheme to limit voter participation lurks a familiar entity: the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.
This is the corporate lobby group that pays for state legislators to attend meetings where corporate lobbyists spoon-feed them “model” legislation they later introduce in their state legislatures.
Writing for The Nation, John Nichols commented in April that ALEC’s recently exposed and now disbanded “Public Safety and Elections” task force “has been the prime vehicle for proposing and advancing what critics describe as voter-suppression and anti-democratic initiatives – not just restrictive Voter ID laws but also plans to limit the ability of citizens to petition for referendums and constitutional changes that favor workers and communities.”
What are followers of Jesus doing about this blatant defrauding of our neighbors and corruption of the democratic process? What is your congregation doing to register and encourage voting by people who are targeted for disenfranchisement? What is your pastor saying about it? Why won’t you do something about it? And what does it mean if you don’t, for whatever reasons?
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the priest and Levite who saw the robbed and beaten man in the Jericho Road refused to treat him as a neighbor.
This year, five million Americans risk political disenfranchisement because of voter ID requirements, restrictions on voter registration efforts and similar schemes.
And as in the great parable, current priests and Levites appear disturbingly willing to ignore their plight.
Wendell Griffen is pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, and a circuit court judge in Arkansas. He served previously on the Baptist Center for Ethics / EthicsDaily.com board of directors.