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GOP Targets African-American Women in Voter Suppression Efforts

Ever since 1980, African American women have been decisive in creating a gender gap that has helped elect Democratic Presidents.

How will the American Presidential election be won in November 2012? By the Republicans buying the election? Perhaps. But money cannot always buy an election. That is why Republicans have spent the last 4-6 years passing a spate of voter suppression laws in “swing states” that will make it more difficult and costly for the young, the elderly, minorities, union members and single and elderly women to cast a vote for Barack Obama.

Although the Republican effort is not exactly a secret, few Americans are discussing it with the urgency it deserves. The nonpartisan  Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law says that since the start of 2011, 16 states—which account for 214 electoral votes—have  passedrestrictive voting laws. Each law is different: some curb voter registration drives; others require new and costly forms of identification; and still others insist that voters produce government-issued photo IDs at the polls. The Brennan Center also points out taht:

“[T]he scope of the suppression movement and its potential impact are  staggering ... as many as 11 percent of eligible voters—roughly 21 million Americans—lack current, unexpired government-issued photo IDs. The percentages are even higher among seniors, African-Americans and other minorities, the working poor, the disabled and students—constituencies that traditionally skew Democratic and whose disenfranchisement could prove decisive in any close election.”

The American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups have been trying to gain injunctions against laws passed by Republican-dominated state legislatures, but with mixed success.

The Republicans argue they are preventing voter fraud. But is there a significant amount of voter fraud? Or is this a partisan effort to find a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist? The Bush administration spent five years (2002 to 2007) searching for voter fraud and found only  86 cases. The Brennan Center for Justice, as well as the ACLU, have also  found infinitesimal instances of voter fraud.

The sudden need for unexpired passports, the demand for government-issued photo identification, is simply a flagrant way of suppressing the votes of those who are more likely to vote Obama. The new identification requirements make it difficult, if not impossible, for some citizens to  exercise their constitutional right to vote. In some states poll hours have been expanded for likely Republican voters and decreased for probable Democratic voters. Many elderly people no longer have their birth certificates. Many minorities and young people don’t own cars and therefore don’t have driving licenses. Young people often don’t have access to any of these records when they live far away from their parents. But those who vote by absentee ballot—suburban voters who tend to be independents or Republicans—are not required to have photo IDs. Ironically, this from a country that has consistently—in the name of liberty and freedom—refused to force its citizens to carry identifications cards.

What few critics seem to realize is that women—who constitute at least half of all these targeted groups and who vote more often than men—will be even more disenfranchised. Ever since 1980, African American women have been decisive in creating a gender gap that has helped elect Democratic Presidents. And in 2012, these women—in addition to single and elderly women—may be prevented from protecting Obama’s signature health care program, women’s reproductive rights, the right to abortion, funds for Planned Parenthood, and Social Security and Medicare—the very safety net that the Romney/Ryan Republican ticket has campaigned to eliminate or change in fundamental ways.

Consider the  case of Viviette Applewhite, a 93-year old resident of Pennsylvania. She marched with Martin Luther King Jr. but cannot get a photo ID because all her papers were stolen from her purse. On three occasions she has tried to obtain a birth certificate from The Pennsylvania’s Division of Vital Records. Although she paid the fees, she never received one. Now, a newly engaged lawyer has been trying, once again, to obtain her birth certificate. On July 25, 2012, however, the Pennsylvania court  upheld the law that may very likely prohibit her from voting. (Editor's note: A day after the court decision, the state issued her a voter ID card.)  

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