Saturday, June 04, 2005

REPUBLICANS TO ELDERLY VOTERS WITH SOCIAL SECURITY CARDS: GET LOST






This vote counting system was replaced with a paperless DIEBOLD voting machine that counted 4,258 Bush votes in an Ohio precinct with only 638 voters




(This column ran in the June 10, 2005, THE ALBANY (Ga.) JOURNAL)


"I don’t anticipate that being a major problem."

Representative Ed Rynders’ response when asked how he would feel if elderly voters without drivers’ licenses are turned away from the polls because they were unaware of the 2005 change engineered by Republicans in Georgia’s voter identification law.

I’ve known and liked Ed Rynders since the days we played basketball at the YMCA. He’s a lot smarter and more politically astute than some people think, and he differs from many Republicans elected to office in that he appears to genuinely respect opposing points of view. But I am troubled by the adjective "major" that he used in the above quote. Troubled because the Republicans who took control of this year’s Georgia legislative session were determined to change the voter ID law (over universal Democratic opposition) to prevent elderly voters from continuing to use their Social Security cards as identification at the polls, and they didn’t seem to care that a "minor" problem would result in disenfranchising thousands of elderly Georgians who regularly perform their civic duty by voting.

Sometimes Republican controlled legislatures do act to address pressing needs- such as the urgent concerns over safeguarding our ports and borders from terrorists smuggling portable nuclear weapon. Oh wait, bad example. Almost four years after 9-11-01, our ports are still porous, cargo on commercial aircraft is still largely uninspected, and chemical plants are still vulnerable to terrorist attack. Instead, Homeland Security agents have been busy protecting Americans from... (wait for it) ... illegal downloading of the new Star Wars movie, Revenge of the Sith. MSNBC’s website reported on May 25th:


"Federal authorities on Wednesday shut down a Web site used to find movies on the Bit Torrent file-sharing network, which was used to distribute the new "Star Wars" movie even before it was shown in theaters.... Search warrants were executed in 10 cities across the United States, said Jamie Zuieback, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Homeland Security Department."


So it should come as no surprise that the newly Republicanized Georgia legislature came to the issue of voting in Georgia’s upcoming elections with a slightly skewed vision. One might hope that Georgia’s Republican Party, which now controls both houses of the State legislature, would be concerned with issues such as reducing long waits at the polls, eliminating the corrupting influence of money in campaigns, and alleviating the anxiety caused by a lack of a paper trail when casting electronic votes. One would be wrong. In spite of the fact that many voters were discouraged by long lines in many locations during last November’s general election, and computer glitches were widely reported around the country- one precinct in Ohio’s Franklin County recorded 4,258 votes for Bush in a precinct with only 638 voters- Georgia’s Republican controlled legislature took no action on any of those issues.

Although Leesburg’s Republican State House member Ed Rynders says he would support legislation requiring a paper trail to confirm computer ballots, he had no explanation for his party’s failure to introduce legislation that would have allayed voters’ concerns that their ballots be accurately counted, unlike the Ohio imbroglio. (As a side note to Hilary haters/fans: the Count Every Vote Act introduced by Democratic Senators Hilary Clinton and Barbara Boxer seeks to repair voting irregularities of the 2000 and 2004 elections by creating a paper record of every vote recorded. Because it doesn’t involve the private medical decision of a Florida family or confirmation of a judge who will rule in favor of litigants who are her financial contributors, the bill has no chance of getting to a floor vote in Bill Frist’s Senate.)

However, Representative Rynders did vote in favor of one Republican initiative which not only passed Georgia’s legislature, but was identical to legislation proposed by Republicans in other states- the photo ID bill that will prohibit elderly voters from voting with their Social Security cards as they have in past years.

As Georgia State Senator Kasim Reed pointed out in a letter addressed to the Atlanta Constitution, the new photo ID bill:

"... contains no voter education component to let the public know that the forms of acceptable identification have been reduced from seventeen (17) to six (6). None. Therefore, a senior citizen who voted with his or her Social Security card in November of 2004 could show-up at [the] precinct and be turned away because he or she was never told that the State of Georgia changed the rules without providing... any notice."

Since the Republican Party chose to address this issue above all others, surely there must have been massive numbers of illegal voters who were able to fraudulently vote under other persons’ names? When asked how many instances of Georgia voter fraud from lack of photo ID were presented to the Legislature, Mr. Rynders ducked the question:

"Q. How many instances of voter fraud involving a lack of photo ID were presented to the committee reviewing the bill or to the State House of Representatives before they were asked to vote on the bill?

A. My vote was based on a pro-active measure as a deterrent to past and future potential voter fraud."


Senator Reed was more forthcoming:

"I serve on the State and Local Governmental Operations committee which first heard HB 244 and its Senate companion bill. At no time during any of these hearings did the proponents of this bill cite even one example of voter fraud which would have been prevented by the passage of HB 244. After hearing almost no meaningful testimony, the Committee passed the bill completely along partisan lines, with every Republican supporting it, and every Democrat opposing it."

Georgia’s top election official, Secretary of State Cathy Cox, was quoted in a New York Times article on Georgia’s photo ID bill as stating that there had not been a single instance of voter identity fraud during her tenure. And since Georgia’s 159 counties have only 53 driver's license offices, and more than a third of Georgians over 75 lack a valid driver's license, the bill will disparately impact the rural elderly. Meanwhile, Secretary Cox noted that other Republican sponsored legislation would encourage voter fraud by loosening requirements for voting by absentee ballot.

So why did the Republican Party in Georgia and other states decide to enact identical legislation which would have the practical effect of restricting ballot access to the poor, the elderly, and rural voters while allowing greater access to absentee voters? The answer is simple: electoral math based on polls which reveal the demographics of who votes Democrat or Republican. Subtract elderly, poor, rural voters from the equation, and Democrats will suffer a net loss of votes. Increase absentee ballots cast, and Republicans receive a net gain of votes. With some recent statewide and national races hinging on only a few thousand- or in the case of Florida in the 2000 Presidential election, a few hundred- votes, every vote for the opponent eliminated from the polls increases the chances of Republican victory.

And what was Mr. Rynders’ response to the probability that African-American voters will be disproportionately disenfranchised because more than 10% of African-Americans do not have automobiles?

"I expect everyone who is serious about the privilege of voting will make the necessary arrangements regardless of ethnicity."

So there you have it. The Republican Party puts obstacles in the path of likely Democratic voters. First they have to find out about election law changes, then cadge a ride 25 to 50 miles to a DMV license station; but if they don’t or can’t accomplish that trick by the time next year’s election arrives, then they aren’t "serious about the privilege of voting."

A neutral observer might note that the Republicans aren’t "serious about the privilege of governing" if they are willing to use their newfound power to disenfranchise innocent American citizens to solve a non-existent problem.

25 Comments:

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I guess GA must be a little unique as a member of the Union- but getting a driver's license is the privilige. Voting is a right, isn't it? Or am I no longer living in the United States?

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