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

Your Papers, Please

[Note: I keep two public blogs, this and Written and Noted, a more eclectic site. I’ve just posted a more detailed most on objections to Voter ID. Here’s the summary]

Voter ID laws nominally arise in the context of some sort of asserted fraud. But documented cases are precious few.  The fall back is that the requirement is basically innocuous, “no harm no foul,” yet even here there can be a substantive impact on actual residents. Jonathan Alter at The Washington Monthly provides plenty of details of the impact in Pennsylvania.

In the run-up to passage of the bill, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Carol Aichele promoted a study estimating that 99 percent of the state’s registered voters already have valid photo ID from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation that would allow them to vote. In other words, the whole thing was no big deal.
It turned out that 9.2 percent of the state’s 8.2 million registered voters — 758,000 people — did not have ID from PennDOT.

If then the amount of reported electoral fraud is minimal, that naturally raises another question, why the push for the law? For the moment, let’s throw out the crassly partisan one, that it’s actually a sneaky way to stop Democrats from voting (albeit contrary to statements in the Alter article above), what then might be the other objections to be raised? Three suggest themselves: A Statist perspective, Voting as a property right, and Jim Crows long, dark  shadow.

These three objections are dealt with fully in Three Objections to Voter ID.

Filed under: Elections, , , ,

Two Cheers. Maybe.

There was understandable cheering this last week when Governor Snyder vetoed two of the bills in the seven bill voter reform pacakage. Some of the more noxious forms of voter suppression (check this box if you are really a citizen) were taken off the table is good news. But other measures would take away much of these gains. “Streamlining” was  how MLive reported it. The Secretary of State called it  SAFE, but for voters in poor neighborhoods, it was anything but.

The principle piece of mischief in the bill (SB 751) is the mechanism for cleaning up the inactive files. There’s a sensible reason, if you’ve moved out of district you shouldn’t be enrolled on the poll book. Fair enough. As the law reads as passed, the Secretary of State sends out a card seeing if a person is at the address. If they don’t get it or don’t return the card within 30 days of the election, the person is  put in the challenged roll; if that person doesn’tt vote that November, they are removed from the roll entirely — deregistered. Because obviously, they’ve left.

Even if they still live in the neighborhood.

As a matter of practical politics, the SoS sends out the cards for the mid-term (gubernatorial) election, nobody’s home, and voila! the voter is removed from the poll book for the upcoming national election.

This seemingly neutral plan is functionally a direct attack on poor voters who often change residence, even if in a neighborhood. Add to it, that  the poor (and many others) do not bother to vote in the mid-term election, and one has the result where a person may think they’re registered and come November in a presidential year find that they are not. Of course, this can be addressed with strong voter registration drives, and here again the package of bills puts the barriers in place to make these drives more cumbersome and so less effective.

But wait there’s more.

The fundamental mischief is not in the process outlined above, but in what lists are used to determine who should get this “drop cards.” The law reads

Sec. 509aa. (1) A clerk may use change of address information supplied by the United States postal service or other reliable information received by the clerk

Two observations merit attention. First this is information “received by the clerk,” that is, provided to the clerk by third parties. Who may present this information is left unclear. Second, there is the the question of what constitutes “other reliable information.” This is no where specified in the bill. As was seen two years ago in Macomb County, such information could be something as vague as foreclosure notices. Importantly, “other reliable information” is also likely to be filled with a number of false positives.

The second piece of mischief is with one word, “shall.”

(2) Upon receipt of reliable information that a registered voter has moved his or her residence within the city or township, the clerk shall send by forwardable mail all of the following to the voter:

That shall obligates the clerk to act. In effect this makes the office of the clerk a tool for any third party group. Third party groups could include political parties obviously, business groups, even one supposes, PACs. Just so long as they have “reliable information,” it’s kosher.

In short, what we have here, is one of those classic ALEC-inspired measures to keep marginal voters away from the polls. It’s not a measure designed to help Gov Snyder (though it can take effect this election), it’s far more likely target is the presidential contest of 2016. Weirdly, in this very aggressiveness we can see the conclusion of conservatives that President Obama is or was considered likely to win.

Filed under: Elections, Michigan, , , , ,

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.

Filed under: Elections, Michigan, , ,

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