by CHARLES M. BLOW
Are too many Democratic voters sleepwalking away from our democracy this election cycle, not nearly outraged enough about Big Money’s undue influence and Republican state legislatures changing the voting rules?
It seems so.
A Gallup poll released this week found that: “Democrats are significantly less likely now (39 percent) than they were in the summers of 2004 and 2008 to say they are ‘more enthusiastic about voting than usual’ in the coming presidential election.” Republicans are more enthusiastic than they were before the last election.
Some of that may be the effect of having a Democratic president in office; it’s sometimes easier to marshal anger against an incumbent than excitement for him. Whatever the reason, this lack of enthusiasm at this critical juncture in the election is disturbing for Democrats.
First, there’s the specter of the oligarchy lingering over this election, which disproportionately benefits Republicans. According to a report by Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont, “So far this year, 26 billionaires have donated more than $61 million to super PACs, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And that’s only what has been publicly disclosed.” That didn’t include “about $100 million that Sheldon Adelson has said that he is willing to spend to defeat President Obama; or the $400 million that the Koch brothers have pledged to spend during the 2012 election season.”
During a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, Sanders put it this way: “What the Supreme Court did in Citizens United is to say to these same billionaires and the corporations they control: ‘You own and control the economy; you own Wall Street; you own the coal companies; you own the oil companies. Now, for a very small percentage of your wealth, we’re going to give you the opportunity to own the United States government.’”
Then, of course, there’s the widespread voter suppression mostly enacted by Republican-led legislatures.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, at least 180 restrictive voting bills were introduced since the beginning of 2011 in 41 states, and “16 states have passed restrictive voting laws that have the potential to impact the 2012 election” because they “account for 214 electoral votes, or nearly 79 percent of the total needed to win the presidency.”
A provision most likely to disenfranchise voters is a requirement that people show photo identification to vote. Millions of Americans don’t have these forms of ID, and many can’t easily obtain them, even when states say they’ll offer them free, because getting the documentation to obtain the “free” ID takes time and money.
This is a solution in search of a problem. The in-person voter ID requirements only prevent someone from impersonating another voter at the polls, an occurrence that the Brennan Center points out is “more rare than being struck by lightning.”
The voting rights advocates I’ve talked to don’t resist all ID requirements (though they don’t say they are all necessary, either). They simply say that multiple forms of identification like student ID and Social Security cards should also be accepted, and that alternate ways for people without IDs to vote should be included. Many of these laws don’t allow for such flexibility.
Make no mistake about it, these requirements are not about the integrity of the vote but rather the disenfranchisement of voters. This is about tilting the table so that more of the marbles roll to the Republican corner.
Look at it this way: We have been moving toward wider voter participation for a century. States began to issue driver’s licenses more than a century ago and began to include photos on those licenses decades ago. Yet, as the Brennan Center points out, “prior to the 2006 election, no state required its voters to show government-issued photo ID at the polls (or elsewhere) in order to vote.”
Furthermore, most voter laws have emerged in the last two years. What is the difference between previous decades and today? The election of Barack Obama. It is no coincidence that some of the people least likely to have proper IDs to vote are the ones that generally vote Democratic and were strong supporters of Obama last election: young people, the poor and minorities.
Republicans are leveraging the deep pockets of anti-Obama billionaires and sinister voter suppression tactics that harken back to Jim Crow to wrest power from the hands of docile Democrats.
There is little likely to be done about the Big Money before the election, and, although some of the voter suppression laws are being challenged in court, the outcome of those cases is uncertain.
These elements are not within voters’ control, but two things are: energy and alertness.
If Democrats don’t wake up soon, this election might not just be won or lost, it could be bought or stolen.
Charles M. Blow is a New York Times Columnist and nationally-known commentator: “I invite you to visit my blog By The Numbers, join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, or e-mail me at [email protected]”