Why a federal judge had to rein in GOP Secretary of State Ruth Johnson
Published: October 10, 2012
Jump ahead more than 30 years and you get this October 2011 report in Rolling Stone:
"As the nation gears up for the 2012 presidential election, Republican officials have launched an unprecedented, centrally coordinated campaign to suppress the elements of the Democratic vote that elected Barack Obama in 2008. Just as Dixiecrats once used poll taxes and literacy tests to bar black Southerners from voting, a new crop of GOP governors and state legislators has passed a series of seemingly disconnected measures that could prevent millions of students, minorities, immigrants, ex-convicts and the elderly from casting ballots."
"What has happened this year is the most significant setback to voting rights in this country in a century," Judith Browne-Dianis, who monitors barriers to voting as co-director of the Advancement Project, a civil rights organization based in Washington, D.C., told the magazine.
Yeah, you might say, but that's coming from Rolling Stone. What do you expect?
The thing is, as the tactic has played out, we've seen Republicans themselves reveal what's really motivating them.
In June, Republican Mike Turzai, the House majority leader in Pennsylvania, told fellow members of the state GOP exactly what he thought passage of a controversial voter ID law would accomplish in the Keystone state:
"Voter ID, which is gonna allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done," he said to applause.
In an attempt to do some damage control, Turzai's office issued a statement claiming:
"Rep. Turzai was speaking at a partisan, political event. He was simply referencing, for the first time in a long while, the Republican presidential candidate will be on a more even keel thanks to Voter ID. The reference was nothing more than that to a statewide Republican crowd."
Just last week, however, a Pennsylvania state judge put the law on hold, ordering that voters don't need to show ID to vote in November. A trial will be held after the election to determine if the law should be implemented.
That victory is one in a string of court wins for those battling voter-suppression. Voter ID laws have recently been nullified in three states. There have also been victories in cases involving challenges to restrictive voter registration, early voting and student voting laws.
"By my count, Pennsylvania's is one of 11 voter suppression laws passed by Republicans since the 2010 election that have been invalidated by state or federal courts in the past year, including in crucial swing states like Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Borman's ruling in the lawsuit against Johnson brings that number to 12.
Also, bear in mind there's no credible evidence that voter fraud is a significant problem anywhere in the United States.
But that hasn't stopped the GOP from flooding state legislatures with bills, whatever their stated claims, that are truly intended to help Republicans win elections by devising ways to keep legitimate voters away from the polls.
As noted by the group People For the American Way earlier this year:
"The right to vote is the most fundamental cornerstone of a functioning democracy. Yet right-wing governors, legislators and election officials around the country have been working to make it harder for Americans to exercise that right, through voter ID laws, restrictions on voter registration, cutting back opportunities for early voting, and other suppressive measures."
It's a phenomenon so widespread in our culture that it's become fodder for satire.
There's a recent episode of The Simpsons, for example, where Homer shows up at his local polling place and is asked to present a photo ID.
"But I've lived here all my life," he says.
"Stopping all Americans from voting is for the protection all Americans," he's told.
"But I'm a 40-year-old white guy who didn't go to college and gets all his news from monitors at gas stations."
He's let right in.
Which is funny, when it's happening to a cartoon character. But out here in the real world, it is a matter of critical importance when obstacles are put in place to make voting more difficult.
For Ruth Johnson, though, what's been of critical importance — at least the way she presents it — has been keeping noncitizens from reaching the ballot box. So important, in fact, that she ordered the citizen question to be put in front of prospective voters even though Gov. Rick Snyder, bucking pressure from his own party, vetoed the legislation authorizing her to do just that.
The fact that the citizenship question looks very much like similar efforts under way in red states across the nation never comes up during the hearing conducted by Judge Borman. But, you might say, it is clearly the elephant in the courtroom. And so we want to hear what Johnson has to say in response to those who view her efforts through a cynical eye.
"I don't think this is a partisan issue," she says with steadfast assurance. "Every eligible voter should be encouraged to vote."
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