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The Battle for Democracy Is Year-Round

A federal right to vote will effectively neuter politically-motivated state lawmakers and election officials who care less about a robust democracy and more about rigging elections.

While Democrats and Progressives focus on getting out the vote every two years come election time, Republicans focus on suppressing the vote every single year, year-round. And less than a month after this last election, Republicans are already looking ahead to 2014 and beyond.

For example, former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu was one of Romney’s top political surrogates during the election, and earlier this week he explained to forum-goers in New Hampshire why President Obama was re-elected. “They aggressively got out the base of their base,” Sununu said of Democrats, “the base of their base that’s dependent, to a great extent economically, on government policy and government programs.”

Sununu was pushing the talking points that we’ll be hearing for the next two years or more. We’ve heard similar explanations for Romney’s loss from a parade of Conservative talking heads including Rush Limbaugh who compared the President to Santa Claus, and Bill O’Reilly who said Democratic voters are voting to “get stuff,” and even Mitt Romney himself who blamed his loss on the President handing out gifts to minorities, women, and impoverished Americans.

And, of course, therefore Republicans think that if they can just keep that “base of the base” – Reagan’s fictional Welfare Queens and their dark-skinned relatives – from voting, then Republicans will begin to win again.

But there’s also something much more sinister in the Republican plans. The post-election belittling of Democratic voters as “moochers” (to use the words of Ayn Rand) has nothing on the pre-election efforts to stop Democratic voters from voting.

In the last two years, more than 20 restrictive voter suppression laws were passed by Republicans in 17 states including five battleground states. Voter suppression ID laws, new obstacles to voter registration, and cuts to early voting hours were all employed by Republican state legislators, Governors, and election officials around the nation to suppress the vote of working Americans and, particularly, minorities. As Mother Jones uncovered, the most notorious of these ploys, the Voter suppression ID laws, disproportionately affected minorities, young people, seniors, and the poor – or those who Sununu would refer to as the Democrats’ “base of their base.”

Despite President Obama winning re-election, these laws did indeed leave a mark on the electorate. As a post-election poll sponsored by Hart Research and the AFL-CIO found, Democrats and minorities were far more likely to wait in long lines to vote. Obama voters were almost twice as likely to wait in a long voting line as Romney voters. And, African Americans and Hispanics were more than twice as likely to wait in long voting lines as white voters.

What Republicans didn’t account for this election is the effect these laws would have on Democratic voter enthusiasm. Chanelle Hardy, the vice president of the National Urban League, explained the surge in African American voter enthusiasm saying, “We’d been struggling for many years in our communities with how we make the argument that our parents and grandparents had handed down to us: ‘you must vote, because people fought and died for you to have the right to vote.’ It starts to become a little less motivating the further away you get away from those really visceral memories of what it took to get to the polls,” said Hardy, “But then you bring back a 35-state assault on our ability to vote, and it starts getting really reminiscent. All of the things our parents were telling us and our grandparents were telling us become visceral to a new generation.”

Republicans are hoping this minority enthusiasm wanes after another round of new Voter ID laws in 2013 – an off-year for elections. As MSNBC reported, Republicans in Montana and the battleground states of Virginia, Iowa, and Nevada are gearing up to pass more Voter suppression ID laws, or make existing laws even more restrictive in the upcoming legislative session.

In Wisconsin, Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos floated the idea of his state adopting a new Voter Suppression ID law, too. In a recent interview, Vos said, “Having photo ID is something that is broadly supported by the public … It is something that I really hope we will have in place by the next general election.”

Republicans like Sununu sleep well at night because they honestly believe they are protecting the nation from that nearly-half of the electorate that now relies on government insurance programs to get by as a result of the damage the banksters caused to our economy in 2007-08 or because they’re retired or disabled. They believe that if they can just keep poor and minority voters from the polling stations on Election Day, then Republicans will win, and can then cut loose the social safety net, stop government spending to help people down on their luck, and usher in a new era of Ayn Randian “personal responsibility.” In fact, most Republicans would likely agree with Ted Nugent who, in The Washington Times, recently called for “suspending the right to vote of any American who is on welfare.”

But the real truth here is that Republicans have just never really been all that interested in democracy. From the battles between Jefferson and the Federalists over how our Senate would be elected, to the numerous suffrage fights for African Americans and women that always confronted fierce opposition from Conservatives, more democracy always meant less power for the rich, and that has always unsettled the Right.

Prominent Conservative strategist Paul Weyrich explained in 1980, “I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections, quite candidly, goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

Weyrich went on to found the American Legislative Exchange Council – ALEC – which, not so coincidentally, authored several of the restrictive Voter ID laws passed all around the nation in 2011 and 2012.

The point is, Republicans will not rest in their efforts to suppress poor and minority voters in future elections. Senator Barbara Boxer understands this, which is why she plans to introduce an election reform bill to put an end to long voter lines by creating federal standards to ensure that polling stations are properly equipped and staffed. But this is just the bare minimum of what needs to be done.

Ultimately, patriotic Americans will only win this fight when a federal right to vote is guaranteed for every eligible American – and “eligible” means working people, poor people, and minorities every bit as much as it means rich Republicans.

A federal right to vote will effectively neuter politically-motivated state lawmakers and election officials who care less about a robust democracy and more about rigging elections.

There’s no time to celebrate electoral victories because, to keep up with the Right’s relentless assault on voters, the fight over voting rights in America must continue 365 days a year.

Only after a federal right to vote is enshrined in our Constitution or passed into law by Congress and survives the test of the Supreme Court can we know for sure that our elections are secure and our democracy reflects the voice of all Americans.

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