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News Analysis: Assault on voting rights

JABARI ASIM Special to the AmNews | 12/8/2011, 2:10 p.m.

NEW ERA, NEW TACTICS

In previous decades, opponents could freely employ poll taxes, grandfather clauses, literacy tests, intimidation and lynching as weapons to prevent minorities from voting. The modern era's discouragement of overt racism requires the use of cunning, more insidious maneuvers. The most chilling passages in "Defending Democracy" are those providing details of the new tactics.

According to the report, block-the-vote operations target states in which minority voters have demonstrated significant influence or where Census figures indicate substantial population growth among communities of color. Attacks on voting rights include proposals to enact photo ID requirements (bills have been introduced in 34 states), attempts to challenge the core protections of the Voting Rights Act, efforts to curtail or eliminate early voting, absentee ballots and voter registration campaigns, and enacting laws denying felons the right to vote.

Unsurprisingly, each of those measures disproportionately affects Black and Latino voters-and not by accident. "Defending Democracy" traces many of these efforts to legislation drafted by the conservative group the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The report quotes the founder of ALEC explaining, "Our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down."

Clearly, the 2008 presidential election provided a motivating spark for ALEC and its cohorts. As the New York Times recently noted, in 2008, Obama "won in places where no Democrat had won in a while, including Virginia, North Carolina, Indiana and Colorado. And he won in quite a few states that Democrats cannot traditionally rely on, like Florida and Ohio." Less than a week after the Times report, the Associated Press noted, "Efforts to restrict early voting have been approved in Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin." Its unpatriotic ideology aside, the movement apparently conceals a method behind its madness.

And money, too. Lots of it.

FINANCING UNFAIRNESS

A slippery, shapeless entity with countless tentacles extending into such disparate worlds as health care, politics, business deregulation and environmental concerns sounds like something out of a space movie or a spy novel, but Koch Industries' long, powerful reach more than proves that reality is often stranger than fiction. With resources in the billions stemming from Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups and other products, the Koch brothers use their money to steamroll anybody-or any government-that dares stand in their way.

According to Jane Mayer of the New Yorker magazine, the Kochs "have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama administration policies-from health care reform to the economic stimulus program-that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as 'the Kochtopus.'"

The Kochs carry out their schemes through a variety of innocent-sounding front groups. A partial list includes the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, the Institute for Justice, the Institute for Humane Studies, the Bill of Rights Institute, the Cato Institute, the Independent Women's Forum, the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment, Citizens for a Sound Economy, Citizens for the Environment and Patients United Now. According to Mayer, "Americans for Prosperity, in concert with the family's other organizations, has been instrumental in disrupting the Obama presidency." What could be more disruptive than preventing millions of potential supporters from casting their ballots in the next presidential election?