November 23, 2011

Maine Voices: Efforts to restrict voting
pose threat to democracy

Proposals to require a picture ID are designed to keep likely liberals away from the polls.

By Rodney S. Quinn, a Democrat, who is a resident of Westbrook and a former Maine secretary of state.

WESTBROOK — Politicians have sought to control or manipulate voting ever since George Washington campaigned for the Virginia House of Burgesses. In those days the voter stood personally before the candidates and, after enjoying a free tankard of ale, publicly stated his preference.

click image to enlarge

Election clerks at the Boys & Girls Club polling place in South Portland distribute ballots on Election Day.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

Fortunately for a growing nation, the trend of voting eligibility has been generally on an upward trend. Even though it took a century and a half to include women, from the days when voting rights were restricted to a few land-owning white men, the franchise has been increasingly inclusive of all citizens.

But such improvement has never been without opponents. Nor have stratagems to reverse voting expansion been uncommon. Power for the privileged few has never been easily (or gracefully) yielded.

It took Republicans a generation to capture Maine government and, once in place, they now seem more than anxious to remain secure in the warm leather seats of Augusta. Their recently overturned attempt to prevent Election Day registration is a case in point – as is the announcement that next year they hope to require photo IDs in order to vote.

Even with the strong voter rejection of their first effort, hope springs eternal in the breasts of these newly empowered GOP statesmen.

While the proponents sing a song of voting purity, in fact this proposal is raw political partisanship designed for the sole advantage of the Republican Party. One only needs to consider the century-long Jim Crow laws and poll taxes used to keep the less affluent in their place.

The true motivation of this photo ID proposal rests in the accepted belief of Republican strategists that casual voters approve more liberal positions, especially on economic issues.

Beyond economic fairness, there is the undeniable increase in support for the feared donkey. In the past decade – since Karl Rove and his protege George W. Bush were ushered into Washington by the Supreme Court – it's clear that there has been a generational shift toward the Democratic Party among young or new voters. Since there is little chance of reversing this voter trend, GOP strategists have turned to keeping these dangerous folks away from the polls.

The strategy is nationwide. Urged on by strident calls for action from national Republican leaders, 20-odd states have proposed such similarly cute methods of keeping "lesser" citizens quiet where political decisions are concerned.

Picture IDs restrict not only new voters, but also the poor, the unemployed, the homeless, the indigenous, the isolated and the young. Picture IDs promise to result in a larger share of the pie for the affluent.

A case may be made for the proposition that democracy in America is showing signs of sickness, and there is little doubt that small voting turnouts contribute to the illness. Governments with high voting turnouts have less wealth inequality, lower levels of political corruption, and higher levels of citizen satisfaction.

Lisa Hill, a professor of politics at the University of Adelaide in Australia says: "Here in Australia, where we love freedom as much as anyone else, we have mandatory voting that is well managed, corruption-free, easy to access, cheap to run and has an approval rating of more than 70 percent."

While political troglodytes in Augusta are scheming, democracy is weakening. Is voting a right or is it not?

Being enabled to enjoy the benefits of democratic life requires participation by citizens – even the least of them. Citizens owe it to each other to vote, and government owes to them a right to vote as freely and openly as possible.

The lifeblood of democracy is citizen voting.

This far too clever legislative enterprise is one more reason to be thankful that Maine legislators are subject to term limits.


– Special to the Press Herald

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