The Universal Notebook: Yes on 1, no on voter suppression

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On Nov. 8, Question 1 on your ballot will read, “Do you want to reject the section of Chapter 399 of the Public Laws of 2011 that requires new voters to register to vote at least two business days prior to an election?”

Unless you are a corporate big-wig or a member of the moneyed elite, you should be voting yes on 1 and saying no to voter suppression.

In June, the newly empowered Republican majority in the Maine Legislature voted to eliminate the state’s same-day voter registration law. As New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice documented, the Maine GOP’s effort to make voting more difficult is part of a nationwide voter suppression campaign being waged by conservatives.

The Brennan Center study found, “Legislators introduced and passed a record number of bills restricting access to voting this year. New laws ranged from those requiring government-issued photo identification or documentary proof of citizenship to vote, to those reducing access to early and absentee voting, to those making it more difficult to register to vote. In total, at least nineteen laws and two executive actions making it more difficult to vote passed across the country, at least forty-two bills are still pending, and at least sixty-eight more were introduced but failed.

“As detailed in this report, the extent to which states have made voting more difficult is unprecedented in the last several decades, and comes after a dramatic shift in political power following the 2010 election.”

Now why would tea party Republicans, who claim to be concerned about the erosion of individual liberties, make a concerted effort to make it harder for citizens to vote? Could it be because the conservative wing of the Republican Party has nothing to offer the poor, the elderly, immigrants, minorities, and students, the very people most likely to vote absentee or register to vote on Election Day? You bet.

Question 1 will be decided against the backdrop of the Webster Witchhunt, the orchestrated campaign by Maine GOP head Charles Webster to root out voter fraud among Maine college students. Secretary of State Charles Summers, happy to oblige, was unable to document a single case of voter fraud – but just for good measure, he attempted to intimidate college students by sending them letters warning that if they vote in Maine they have to register their cars in Maine.

That’s not true and Summers knows it’s not. The Maine chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has asked Summers to apologize to the students he tried to shake down.

Next door in New Hampshire, Republican lawmakers tried to go Maine one better, introducing legislation that would have prevented college students and members of the military (when is the military going to realize it has no friends in the tea party either?) from registering to vote at all. The bill died after the speaker of the House was caught on tape telling a tea party group he supported the unconstitutional proposal because “the kids (are) coming out of the school and basically doing what I did when I was a kid. Voting as a liberal. You know, that’s what kids do. They don’t have life experience and they just vote their feelings.”

What a stupid thing to think. Even stupider to say it out loud.

At the heart of American conservatism is an arrogant elitism that would be better served if, as the Founding Fathers intended, only white male landowners were allowed to vote. The reason George Bush had to come up with the brilliant brand “compassionate conservative” is that conservatives are not naturally compassionate. That’s why audiences at Republican presidential primary debates hoot and holler with glee whenever one of their candidates supports the death penalty, blames the poor for being poor, or advocates letting people without health insurance die.

On Nov. 8 we have a chance to start repudiating this hateful right-wing agenda. Expanding voting rights empowers the people. Curtailing voting rights empowers the powerful. A vote for same-day voter registration is a vote for freedom and individual liberty. Vote yes on Question 1.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Yarmouth. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.