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Where politics and faith dance in the shadow of the windmill.

Civic Roadblcks

Voter suppression is again on tap as Dave Murray reports.

LANSING, MI – Proposed election law changes are based on Republican attempts to target black, Latino and possibly Arab voters, the head of the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus testified Tuesday.
But Republicans said there are loopholes in election laws that have allowed non-citizens to vote. They also said they want to prevent fraud by ensuring voters are properly identified and requiring training for groups registering voters.

Well that settles it, doesn’t it? Who can be against better registration? And oh, the messiness of those registrations — shouldn’t someone be doing something about it? Hence the novel idea to put a stop to all this by tighter deadlines for turning in registrations and greater “control.” This pleases Kent County clerk Marry Hollinrake; it will likely make her work easier at the office. But the move comes at a price.

The obvious one, naturally is that with fewer voter registration drives among poor and minority communities, the fewer voters.  And the fewer poor and minority voters there are, the fewer Democratic voters. No wonder folks like ALEC and other conservative advocates have liked this. And truth be known, this is not the first time that conservatives have raised roadblocks to participation.

There’s a second cost, less obvious but no less serious: civic engagement. Even in the best of circumstances the poor vote in relatively low numbers, however the organizers of the registration drives are a different matter, they are often the community activists who feed a vibrant political culture. They form or come out of that social starata of mediating institutions that all healthy societies need. Institutions of self government are made stronger when the community and its volunteer networks have a stake. It’s not just political parties.

Registration drives do as much for those running them as they do for the actual enrollment. Activists become more engaged in their community; in their participation they not only nurture a commitment to their causes but build a stronger link to their community. And by their actions they also help nurture a notion that change is possible through these democratic means. Putting up barriers stops that civic hope.

Of course, there is a partisan benefit here, a discouraged opponent makes your policies easier to enact, however it is action that comes at the cost of alienation. In an era of increasingly opaque government and civic life, this alienation only reinforces the helplessness that make it harder for these communities to take charge of their own affairs. No one, least of all the economic and political conservatives, is served by this failure of self governance.

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Filed under: Elections, Michigan, , ,

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