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Away from the spotlight, Republicans are assaulting voting rights

Jonathan P Hicks | 11/16/2011, 4:53 p.m.
The public face of the Republican Party has been characterized lately by a series of...
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The public face of the Republican Party has been characterized lately by a series of Three Stooges-like scenes, with presidential candidates offering everything from embarrassing debate gaffes, incoherent defenses against accusations of sexual misconduct and at least one candidate's shocking inability to articulate any coherent thought about American policy in Libya.

Away from the spotlight, Republicans on the state level have been far more successful creating an imprint that will have a damaging impact on this country for years to come. Across the country, the party is busy unleashing efforts to suppress the vote of Democrat-leaning citizens, particular African-American and young voters.

In state after state, Republican legislators and governors have tightened laws to make it more challenging for people to register to vote and for voters to cast their ballots.

Take Florida, for example. There, the Legislature voted to reduce advance voting to one week from two. Florida has also made it more difficult for college students to cast votes away from their home addresses. More chillingly, people who register voters are now threatened with fines if they make any error in the registration process, which certainly threatens every civic group that has made voter registration part of their community service. In fact, the League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan group, said it considers the new rules to be reverting to "Jim Crow-like tactics."

And it's not confined to Florida. There are another seven states that now require voters to produce photo identification when they go to the polls. So in Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas or Wisconsin, an elderly African-American woman who goes to vote and does not produce a driver's license (or doesn't have one) will be turned away. Multiply that by the number of likely minority voters who will show up without identification and you have a significant reduction in the Black vote. So far this year, 34 states have introduced voter suppression legislation, with laws being passed in 14 of those states.

In a report, the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law said the new laws "could make it significantly harder for more than 5 million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012." What's more, the Brennan Center said, the states that have already cut back on voting rights are those that will provide 185 electoral votes in 2012-more than two-thirds of the 270 needed to win the presidency.

The changes to voting laws are occurring so quickly that it's still unclear how deep their impact will be. But the Republicans are on a mission to do everything in their power to prevent the re-election of Barack Obama, and they have reasoned that suppressing the votes of young people and African-Americans is a perfectly suitable way to accomplish their goal.

Former President Bill Clinton summed it up best: "There has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and the Jim Crow burdens on voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today."

It's not just the job of the Congressional Black Caucus or the Brennan Center to raise the national consciousness about the greatest assault on voting rights since the end of Reconstruction. This is the time for our elected officials, civic and national leaders, as well as the media, to speak out forcefully against this outrage and make plans to counter these stealth attacks on this basic American right-before it's too late.