By Betty Mills
If I told you the Republican Party as a policy of the party has spent millions of dollars to prevent people from voting, you might be inclined to doubt it. After all, this is the party of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.
Ever hear of the word “caging?” You’re thinking zoo or dog training or maybe canary? There is another much more sinister definition at play in the electoral fields of this country. It is one of the techniques deliberately employed by the Republican Party to prevent certain groups of people from voting, primarily people of color, of low income, students, Democrats.
Here’s how it works. The Republican Party in a state mails out letters to registered voters with non-forwarding instructions. When a given number are returned as undeliverable, those names are submitted to election authorities as potentially fraudulent and therefore should those particular voters show up at the polls, their right to vote will be challenged.
In 2004 in Ohio, the Republican Party mailed 232,000 letters to newly registered voters. Some 30,000 were returned as undeliverable. The party made no attempt to find out if the voters in question had merely moved, or if the addresses had been misprinted, or some other mishap had occurred.
Next step is to hold a major news conference just days before the election claiming widespread voter fraud that threatens the integrity of the election, using those 30,000 returned addresses as evidence. This scenario is in play in many other states, but especially where the party’s success is considered vulnerable—Florida, for example. Actually according to groups that track such things, individual voter fraud is rare.
Using the claim of voter fraud, however, the Republican Party is busy getting state legislatures to pass laws requiring government issued picture ID at the polls. These laws disproportionately affect the elderly, students, women, people with disabilities, low income, people of color.
Some states require a birth certificate as proof of citizenship and thereby the right to vote. Getting your birth certificate may be easier ordered than done. If the voter was born at home in a rural area, they may not have a birth certificate for example. Here in North Dakota many birth certificates burned when fire destroyed the capital in the 30’s. For the poor, fees to remedy the situation may be out of reach.
In 1986 the Midwest Republican National Committee director Kris Wolf sent a memo to another RNC political director saying, “I would guess the program will eliminate at least 60,000 to 80,000 folks from the polls. If it is a close race, this could keep the black vote down considerably.”
Presumably Mr. Wolfe is blissfully unaware that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 makes it illegal to profile a minority group for voter suppression or else he is supremely confident that his party also controls the legal authority, which should prosecute such violations.
A Mississippi Republican legislator testified they “had several cases of voters fraud in the last several years. Not all of them would have been fixed by photo ID,” he said. Several? Over several years? To be subsequently classed as a major threat to the integrity of our electoral process?
According to Project Vote, caging is used almost exclusively by officials or members of the Republican Party. That is, to put it mildly, dismaying.
Or maybe stronger words apply like blatant, disgraceful, un-American, and pathetic. In a nation proud of its individual freedoms, its self-governing, its open government, this kind of behavior is an affront to some of our most cherished ideals.
Perhaps the words “voter fraud” triggers some automatic response which allows the unscrupulous to use such responses to their advantage. The Bush Administration implemented a crackdown on voter fraud only to discover that in seven years 120 people had been charged and 86 convicted. Seven years, 50 states, and 86 convictions. Hardly a voter fraud tsunami and certainly not grounds for making the right to vote as difficult as possible to achieve for certain segments of our population.
Regularly come election day, editorials bemoan the low voter turn out. Usually it is attributed to voter apathy, a sense among potential voters that their vote doesn’t count anyway, so why bother. Obviously for some of the non-voters, something far nastier is involved–a deliberate effort on the part of one of our major parties to suppress the vote of those they believe will not vote for them.
And they call themselves the Grand Old Party?