Across the country, voters in a number of states will face obstacles to casting ballots in the 2012 elections, in large part because of model legislation drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the organization backed by, among others, billionaires Charles and David Koch. It was ALEC’s draft legislation that inspired a spate of recently passed voter ID laws that, if allowed to stand, are expected to marginalize the impact of students and people of color at the polls in Texas, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Tennessee and Kansas. (Under the Texas law, for example, a college ID is not an acceptable form of identification for voting, but a military ID is.)
In a recent article published at The American Prospect, author Patrick Caldwell sheds light on ALEC’s M.O. For all the talk about preventing voter fraud—which was been shown to be a minimal threat to voting integrity—these new laws appear to be more about deciding just what kind of person gets to vote.
One of the most jarring examples of ALEC’s influence is the recent overturning of Maine’s longstanding same-day voting law by a newly elected Republican legislature. Maine’s law had been on the books since 1973, allowing the state to boast a much higher level of civic participation than the nation at large.
After trying and failing to pass a voter-identification law, they succeeded in repealing same-day voter registration. Republican Gov. Paul LePage signed the bill in June.
The push against voting rights in Maine is just one example of the most direct assault on ballot access since the Jim Crow era. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the influential corporate-funded group that writes model bills for Republican state legislators, has pushed Republicans across the country to impose new restrictions on voting and to overturn progressive laws like Maine’s. “I don’t want everybody to vote,” ALEC co-founder Paul Weyrich said three decades ago. “As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”
In Ohio, where voters will vote next month on whether to overturn an ALEC-modeled law passed earlier this year that would greatly curtail collective bargaining for public employees and abolish binding arbitration for the settling of disputes, the assembly also passed a law that is designed to repress the vote through new absentee-ballot restrictions and new rules for poll workers.
In some states, Caldwell writes, the voter ID laws seem to directly target African Americans:
As many as one in four African Americans lack the identification these states now require, leading Georgia Congressman John Lewis to call the laws “poll taxes by another name.” (Under the Voting Rights Act, voter-ID laws in Texas and South Carolina must be approved by the Department of Justice because of those states’ history of minority-voter suppression. At press time, the department had not yet ruled.)
The people of Maine will have the opportunity to overturn the state’s new voting restrictions and restore same-day voting by voting yes on Question 1, a public referendum question that will appear on the November 8 ballot. According to Project Maine Votes, a coalition of 18 groups that support the restoration of full voting rights, more than 70,000 signatures were gathered in less than a month on a petition to get Question 1 on the ballot.
In Ohio, where the legislature passed House Bill 194, which will shorten the time period allowed for early and absentee voting, Ohio activists, with the help of the AFL-CIO, gathered more than enough petition signatures to prevent the new restrictions from taking effect in the 2012 elections. The Ohio law would also forbid a poll worker from informing a voter that she or he was casting a ballot in the wrong precinct, setting that voter’s ballot up for rejection in a recount.
Elsewhere, the labor-allied One Wisconsin Now is calling attention to an attempt by tea party-aligned members of the state legislature to alter the formula by which the states electoral college votes are determined in the presidential election.
You can read Patrick Caldwell’s article, “Who Stole the Election?” at The American Prospect.