Monday, February 18, 2013

How Republican efforts to suppress the vote have backfired and helped to create a growing citizen movement to safeguard voters’ rights

For someone like me who toils away in grassroots politics, the past few months have been very gratifying. The Philadelphia Chapters of the National Organization for Women and the Coalition of Labor Union Women, supported by a grant from the Bread and Roses Community Fund, on January 14 held a non-partisan workshop on Running for Election Board/Committeeperson. We focused on running for Electing Board offices which are on the 2013 primary ballot. The workshop much to our surprise drew a crowd of about 100 interested citizens. The audience was much larger than CLUW and NOW could have organized on our own and was mostly due to the stellar organizing skills of deputy City commissioner Tracey Gordon.

More surprising than the number of attendees was the intensity of their interest. They were seriously engaged by principal speaker Commissioner Stephanie Singer’s lively, informative, and inspirational presentation. Nobody dozed off, despite the amount of technical detail. People seemed really hungry to learn how the election system works. Commissioner Singer‘s office then organized three additional workshops in various locations round the city—all very well-attended.

Why the sudden interest in what had been very low profile positions—Judge of Elections and Inspector of Elections? From comments made at the workshops as well as from conversations I had with some of the attendees, it’s clear that Republican attempts at vote suppression have backfired and there is growing grassroots interest in safeguarding the right to vote. Thanks to Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law more and more citizens realize the critical importance of a well-run Election Board.

Pennsylvania citizens also are becoming increasingly aware of how hard it is to vote in Pennsylvania and and how poorly we compare to other states which have some form of early voting. There is a growing consensus that we have to make it easier to vote. The Brennan Center justice report How to Fix Long Lines recommends three specific reforms :

There are three reforms that would dramatically reduce the excessive lines that plague voting, and have the added benefit of creating a more efficient and secure electoral system: Modernizing voter registration Providing early voting during a fixed national time period Setting minimum standards for polling place access

The Brennan Center posts a detailed blueprint to make this happen.

Low voter turn-out in mid-term elections has had serious consequences . If the people who came out in November 2012 had come out in 2010, we’d have a different congress and a different state legislature, with major consequences for redistricting. I think the only way to get more people to vote in mid-term elections is to make it easier to vote. People may be willing to wait in line for hours to vote for the President, but this generally doesn’t carry over to state legislators. And as president Obama has said, no citizen should have to stand in line for hours to vote!!!

My passion at this stage in my life is civic participation. For me and for many other progressive activists, Republican attempts to suppress the vote have been the galvanizing force. The President’s’ Commission has added to the momentum. This is the time to tackle voting rights issues!!

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