I recently saw a hilarious sketch at Second City. At a polling place on election day, an election official informed voters that voting had been privatized by the Tea Party, and because of that, they were required to take a literacy test in order to vote. White voters, even the crazy, shirtless, drunken ones, were passed through on easy questions, where as minority voters were given ridiculously hard ones.
It doesn’t seem quite as funny to me anymore, as I read headlines of Tea Party activists organizing to intimidate and suppress votes this election day, particularly those of minority voters.
The New York Times chronicled the efforts of Tea Party groups to eliminate “voter fraud” – the incredibly rare phenomenon of people voting illegally. In Milwaukee, they’ve sponsored billboards, warning people that they face three years in jail if they vote illegally, training “poll watchers” to observe polling places on election day, and even following buses taking groups of people to the polls.
In Southwest Houston, Tx., Sandra Francis, an African-American woman, said she was told by poll officials that her voting registration had been canceled and was told to leave or they would call the police. Her daughter was denied the right to vote because she was wearing an Obama t-shirt. After being told three times that she was not allowed to vote, Francis made poll watchers call the state, confirming she was a registered voter.
Sandra Francis insisted on her right to vote, but not everyone is so bold. “It really disturbed me. I was really kind of hurt by the incident. But I was determined that I was not going to give up. I was not going to give up my right to vote,” Francis told the local news.
Although voter registration fraud has hit the headlines a lot in the last few years, actual cases of voter fraud are difficult to confirm. The Justice Department reported fewer than 20 cases of confirmed voter fraud between 2002 and 2005.
Voter intimidation and suppression, though, have a long history. Jim Crow laws, literacy tests, and poll taxes were used for years to keep black voters from choosing their elected officials. And the Center on the American Way says race-based voter suppression tactics are not just a thing of the past. They report incidents in recent elections where flyers or phone calls told voters their polling place had changed, that they were not registered, that the day they were supposed to vote had been changed to several days after election day. Michigan state Rep. John Pappageorge was even quoted as saying, “If we do not suppress the Detroit vote, we’re going to have a tough time in this election.”
Passionate argument over the political process is part of the fabric of American life. But at the end of the day, we all agree that we have the right to our own opinions and to influence our government through our right to vote. Argue with people, knock on doors, hold rallies, or raise money if you want your guy or gal to get into office. But it’s difficult to imagine anything more un-American than taking away the electoral voice of our fellow citizens.
Photo credit: Cameron Nordholm