Voting Isn't Enough

Three bits of conventional wisdom from the election season:

1) Barack Obama is the Great Black Hope of the Democratic Party and dark horse candidate for 2008.

I've got one thing to say about "Obama-rama." How come every time a brother is being considered for the top job, the anti-affirmative action crowds starts asking: "Is he the most qualified?" What's funny is: these are the same folks who voted for W. Twice.

And don't tell me black voters vote for black candidates just because they're black. Put Condi Rice on the ballot and I guarantee you, most black voters will put N.P. next to her name -- Negro, Please.

2) In the wake of revelations that the Bush administration has been playing evangelical voters like "Onward Christian Soldier" at a revival meeting, the Religious Right has rediscovered the 186th Psalm: "O put not your trust in princes, nor in any child of man: for there is no help in them."

3) The polls indicate the Democrats will regain Congress. Even to a Generation (Malcolm) Xer like me -- "you can't expect a chicken to produce a duck egg" -- regime change in Washington would be a good thing, to the extent it sends a message to the "unitary executive," and the rest of the world, that we haven't lost our ever-lovin' minds.

Of these three strands of conventional wisdom, it's number 3 that inspires in me very little "audacity to hope," to quote the title of Obama's new book. It's fitting we turned the clocks back over the weekend, just days before Halloween, both of which point to the phrase for this week: poll tax.

Turn back the clock to 1966. U.S. Supreme Court case Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections. Virginia resident Annie Harper filed suit, arguing it was unconstitutional under the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment for Virginia to require that voters pay a tax to cast a ballot -- poll taxes being one of several ways segregationists used to disenfranchise blacks in those days.

The 6-3 majority opinion noted: "a state violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution whenever it makes the affluence of the voter or payment of any fee an electoral standard. Voter qualifications have no relation to wealth."

Last week, the new Supremes ruled that Arizona's new voter ID laws -- requiring photo Ids and proof of citizenship -- will stay in place for the November 7 elections.

This is where the Halloween-aspect comes in. Voter ID? Voter fraud protection, right? Ah, check under the mask. According to Alex Keyssar, Stirling Professor of History and Social Policy at the Kennedy School of Government, "the rationale for such laws is that they are needed to prevent fraud -- although almost nowhere have the laws' sponsors been able to document the existence of significant fraud occurring because non-legal voters have pretended to be, or impersonated, legal voters."

Bonnie Sauders, president of the League of Women Voters of Arizona adds: "We see this new requirement as a form of poll tax. The new requirement means that you have to buy something in order to vote (the ID and official application process ain't free)."

And Justin Levitt, associate counsel with the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center, points out how eligible citizens might have problems getting on the voter rolls in North Carolina or South Dakota because in those states they require a voter's registration information to match information on motor vehicle registration or Social Security documents.

Then, we've got Harvey Wasserman, who co-authored the book "What Happened in Ohio?" telling us that "since 2000, under (Ohio Sec. of State Ken) Blackwell's supervision, Boards of Elections in Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland and Toledo have eliminated some 500,000 voters from their registration rolls. Nearly all are in heavily Democratic urban areas. In a state where some 5.6 million people voted for president in 2004, this represents nearly 10 percent of the electorate."

The canaries in the mine shaft of democracy are singing. Pull off the Halloween masks and it's 1966 again. Poll taxes disguised as voter fraud protection -- "democracy" at home -- while incumbents stay-the-course of imposing "democracy" half way around the world.

What we need are anti poll-tax citizens who refuse to turn the clock back and who realize that voting is just not enough.

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