Suppressing the vote

One talking point President George W. Bush is very fond of when justifying the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is the need to bring freedom and democracy to the region. Meanwhile, closer to home, Bush’s party is trying to block thousands of voters from casting their vote, either through “legal” methods or via dirty tricks.

In 2000, voters — predominantly black voters — were “purged” from voting rolls in Florida. BBC journalist Greg Palast documented how Gov. Jeb Bush’s office sent a letter to the Texas based company hired to complete such a list and told them not to worry about checking if the names on the list were indeed felons. Estimates about how many voters were disenfranchised that year range from several hundred thousand to one million. Either way, since the overwhelming majority of such voters would have cast their vote for Al Gore, this stunt was instrumental in handing the election to Bush.

This year, while voters purged “mistakenly” through the list in 2000 are still largely ineligible to vote, a new list was created. Only after a judge ruled that the list must be made public was it discovered that the list again included a large majority of likely Democratic voters that had every right to cast a vote. This is far more than neglect; it appears to be intentional.

Now the GOP has announced they will send thousands of paid poll workers to Ohio to question the right of individuals that dare step into the booth expecting their constitutional right to vote be exercised without any intimidating interrogation.

A person who has had unfavorable experiences with people in authority, as many voters in poorer neighborhoods are bound to have had, will no doubt be intimidated by this and may even choose not to vote altogether. That’s exactly what the GOP is banking on.

Even on our own campus, shifty things happened when registered Democrats suddenly found their party affiliation had been switched to Republican after they had signed a “petition.” It’s still not clear why this was done, but it happened here at home.

Such scams are by no means the exception anymore. John Pappageorge, Republican state legislator in Michigan, who also happens to be white, said recently, “If we do not suppress the Detroit vote, we’re going to have a tough time in this election.” Since about 80 percent of Detroit’s constituency is black, that may be true, but that a party official would contemplate — let alone enforce — with such tactics is outright unacceptable.

In another instance a flyer was handed out in predominantly black neighborhoods in Milwaukee. The flyer (reprinted on this page) bears a heading by “The Milwaukee Black Voters League” and is an attempt to scare black voters away from voting. Among other things it says that individuals who (or whose family) have had as little as a “traffic violation” cannot vote in the election. The flyer then ends with the claim “if you violate any of these laws you can get ten years in prison and your children will get taken away from you.”

My point is not that the intimidation tactics and dirty tricks are employed by Republicans. The large majority of the Republican Party would likely not condone such actions.

But some members of the Republican Party, likely a very small yet powerful group, stoops to such lows because they think the ends — a win for Bush — would justify the means. This is a way of thinking that falls in line with most of the Bush administration’s policymaking habits. By doing so, a minority hijacked the Republican Party, committing deplorable actions in its name.

Such thinking cannot be allowed to have a place in a democracy, as it undermines the very fabric such a society should be built on: the right for every person to vote freely.

It is too late for such actions to be stopped, as most have already occurred or are well under way. That does not change the unacceptable fact though that a large number of voters will be disenfranchised in this election just as they were last time.

No matter who comes out a winner from this election, the way in which votes are suppressed means that something very precious has been lost: the idea of a free and fair state for all.

Sebastian Meyer is a junior majoring in geography and is the Oracle Opinion Editor.