It's Simply Wrong to Restrict Access to the Voting Booths
We all remember the Colonial rallying cry "no taxation without representation." It wasn't about taxes per se: The Colonists believed - since they were not represented in England's Parliament - that they were not obliged to follow English laws.
A democracy exists when citizens combine to agree to follow the laws established by a government that they collectively vote into office.
The system is very imperfect, and there is often vehement opposition by those who have to abide by decisions they personally do not agree with. At the end of the day, however, disappointed citizens comply with unpopular laws while holding out the hope of changing these laws in the future. Witness the rallying cry of electing Mitt Romney to kill Obamacare.
It naturally follows that a democratic government would ensure that as many citizens as possible are eligible to vote. Indeed, America has been defined by a continual broadening of the electoral base, providing more and more citizens with access to the voting booth.
First, the burden of being a property owner was relaxed in most states early in the 19th century, allowing for the election of Andrew Jackson, the "people's president."
Constitutional amendments were subsequently passed ensuring, in order, the voting rights of black men, women and all individuals over 18. Pursuant to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the federal government monitors state actions that could unfairly restrict the right to vote.
Today, felons constitute the largest class of citizens who are often denied the right to vote by their respective states. Currently, almost 6 million individuals have thusly lost the right to vote. (The Supreme Court has upheld the rights of states to exclude their felons as long as the practice is not found to be racially discriminating.)
One can make a reasonable, albeit debatable, case for keeping felons out of the voting booth, but the spate of laws passed by states to tighten voting requirements are another story altogether.
By cutting back on early voting, making voter registration more difficult, and insisting upon official photographic identifications, many state governments have recently sought to limit the participation of certain segments of society, segments that just happen to have a tradition of voting for Democratic candidates.
It is not coincidental that these restrictions have been put in place in states controlled by Republican legislatures and governors. For example, Florida's 2011 law made it next to impossible for longstanding voter registration efforts - such as those by the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote - to continue. The law also called for a purging of voter lists using data proved to be dated and erroneous.
In Pennsylvania, roughly 9 percent of registered voters currently lack the appropriate identifications that - due to a March 2012 law - will now be required in order to vote in this fall's elections. Most of these individuals, it is believed, are traditionally Democratic voters who live in the city of Philadelphia.
The expressed rationale behind such moves has been to cut down on voter fraud. Importantly, however, there is no evidence that voter fraud takes place even at the minutest level. Let's be clear on this. A movement to tighten up voting restrictions is based on a totally false premise.
These restrictions could well make a difference in this fall's presidential election. Indeed, that is their intent.
"Last month, the state's House Republican leader, Mike Turzai, included it in a checklist of conservative legislative accomplishments," The Washington Post recently reported. "As he >told >an audience to resounding applause: 'Voter ID, which is going to allow Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.'"
But what does this say about the commitment of the Republican Party to a democratic government? Are they willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater?
What is the commitment of almost 6 million felons to federal and state laws when they have no say in the process? Should Gov. Romney win the election by just carrying states where voters were excluded from the polls, what will be the commitment of the disenfranchised voters to state laws enacted by legislatures that were voted into office without their participation?
Your political leaning should not matter on this one. Democracies are legitimized by the participation of their citizens in the electoral process. Cutting off the political participation of your political opponents is simply wrong. It weakens our democracy.
At the end of the day, individuals prohibited from having a say in the making of laws have far less "ownership" of the laws that are enacted and far less of a moral obligation to obey them.
Just ask our Colonial forefathers.
Paul Ericson is a retired social studies teacher at Pinecrest High School. He previously served with the U.S. Army and the Central Intelligence Agency.
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