Everyone hates a cheater. That’s what I thought before the 2012 election. In Republican circles, targeting Democrat voters, to cheat them out of the right to vote, has become the new norm. Instead of being vilified, many Republicans are applauding the efforts—saying it will give them the win for Mitt Romney. The Republicans’ clever ways, to suppress voters during this election cycle, bring cheating to a new low.
Cheating suggests dishonest, false, deceitful and dishonorable acts. If a student cheats in school on a test, he or she may be suspended or expelled. In sports, players found to have cheated can be banned for life, such as former baseball player Pete Rose, banned for betting on baseball. And the NFL recently fined and suspended several New Orleans Saints’ football players, their coach and general manager for being part of a forbidden “pay for pain bounty”. With Republicans’ schemes to cheat voters out of their right to vote, little has been done to punish, prevent or deter future acts. And their antics will have a far reaching and chilling effect on our democracy, if not stopped.
Republicans invented in person voter fraud hysteria, without any real supporting evidence, as a means of enacting voter ID laws in 34 states. Republicans purged hundreds of legitimate voters from voting lists in some states. Billboards have been placed strategically in black and Hispanic communities in Ohio that voter fraud is a felony punishable up to 3 ½ years in jail and a $10,000 fine. These billboards misleadingly suggest that some voters will be in trouble with the law if they vote. Clear Channel agreed to remove them.
Pennsylvania voters are being told they need an ID when in fact the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled ID may be asked but is not needed to vote. Republican groups in Virginia, Florida and North Carolina have thrown out registration forms and improperly provided bogus addresses and names for others. There are pending criminal charges for some of these acts.
True the Vote, a Tea Party group that claims to be nonpartisan, says it wants to make in-person voting feel like “driving with the police following you.” True the Vote is currently under investigation prompted by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D. MD) for trying to improperly voters from voter lists. Congressman Cummings says “If these efforts are intentional, politically-motivated, and widespread across multiple states, they could amount to a criminal conspiracy to deny legitimate voters their constitutional rights.”
We must protect our democracy by passing better laws to protect the vote and prevent disenfranchisement of voters and use current laws to attack these actions. Rep. Cummings introduced the America Votes Act of 2012, HR 6419, to combat voter suppression efforts. There are federal statutes such as the 1965 Voter Rights Act but loopholes exist to allow the blatant acts performed by many Republicans during this election. Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland agrees stating:
It is time for Congress to once again take action to stop the latest reprehensible tactics that are being used against African-American, Latino, and other minority voters to interfere with (a) their right to vote or (b) their right to vote for the candidate of their choice, as protected in Constitution and in civil rights statutes. These tactics undermine and corrode our very democracy and threaten the very integrity of our electoral process.
Under legislation that was proposed by Senator Cardin, it would make illegal within 90 days of voting any communications that includes knowingly false information on: the time or place of the election; voter qualifications; criminal penalties associated with voting; and a voter’s registration status or eligibility. This is but one example of what is needed to close the gap of cheating voters out of their right to vote by punishing the cheaters.
Any tactic or attempt to dissuade or prevent voters from voting destroys democracy. Voting is the foundation upon which democracy stands. As President Lyndon Johnson said on signing the 1965 Voter Rights Act, “this right to vote is the basic right without which all others are meaningless.”
We cannot let Republicans or anyone else cheat us out of democracy. I want to take our country back to liberty, justice, freedom and yes, voting rights for all citizens.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a former prosecutor and founder of LegalSpeaks, a progressive blog on women and race in law and politics. As a legal and political commentator she has appeared in national, international and local media including the Michael Eric Dyson Show, local NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates, RT TV, CBC- Canadian TV, NPR, XM Sirius radio, the Baltimore Sun, Washington Post and Washington Times among others. She also contributes articles to the Huffington Post and the Women’s Media Center.