November 6, in addition to all the pivotal elections of leaders in our nation, Michiganders will see three referenda on the ballot: 18-1 legalizing marijuana for recreational use; 18-2: requiring that congressional districts be drawn by independent commission rather than the party in power; and 18-3: relaxing voter registration and absentee ballot rules to make it easier for people to vote. This is third in the series, as we review those in this space, to help us think through what is at stake. You're welcome to submit your own thoughts, if you'd like. And find your ballot here.
Last week, I reviewed proposal 18-2, about gerrymandering, the way that elected officials rig the system to design districts in which they are assured reelection. It's pretty awful, and you can read that essay elsewhere. But gerrymandering isn't the only tool in the election-rigging toolbox.
Georgia, for example, is a mess. We've been reading about how the Secretary of State there has been disqualifying registered voters, putting their registrations "on hold," or cancelling existing registrations due to inactivity. No surprise that this is mostly affecting people of color.
Secretaries of State are elected officials, members of one or the other of our political parties. It is in their job description to oversee elections, but in worst cases, officials are using their office to keep away from the polls people who may vote against their party. This is mostly a war fought against black and other minority voters, as in Georgia this week. The Secretary of State there is also a candidate for Governor, and he is working mightily to disenfranchise folks not inclined to vote for him. (His opponent, who would be the first black female governor of Georgia, has been a community organizer for a while, and she has spent the past five years registering people to vote.) The Sec of State has frozen tens of thousands of voter registrations for reasons that mostly seem bogus or designed to intimidate, including a rule he made called "exact match." If your state i.d. isn't exactly the same as your voter registration — including spelling, typos and placement of hyphens -- you are considered to be voting fraudulently and can be turned away.
Several years ago, I changed my middle name. You can do that for about $8 and a trip to the courthouse. Afterward, I changed all the right legal documents — social security card, passport, driver's license, living will. All that. And my voter registration. But for years afterward, really, years, my old name appeared on the docket when i went to the polls. If the Georgia Sec of State had been in charge, I would have been turned away.
This Sec of State has been making voting rules stricter since he was first elected in 2010; he says he is trying to prevent fraud. This year he also tried closing multiple pollling places, mostly in poor black precincts (ostensibly to save money or because he said the toilets weren't wheelchair accessible). And yesterday, the first day of early voting, government officials ordered Black senior citizens off a bus that was taking them from a county Senior Center to a voting location, calling the shuttle "political activity" not allowed on county property. The intention is clear — keep away anyone who would vote for the other person.
The record of the Right, overall, is one of trying to keep people away, enabled powerfully by the US Supreme Court, which decided in 2013 to gut the Voting Rights Act, the 1965 legislation that had kept badly-behaving racist states in check for decades. We don't need it anymore, said Chief Justice Roberts; and, before the ink was dry, the GOP-controlled states began living large.
Georgia isn't the only one. In North Dakota, the state passed a law to require home addresses on state IDs; but Native American culture doesn't support street addresses; plus, we know that a lot of people simply don't have homes. Nevertheless, a federal court upheld the requirement. Kansas, led by Sec of State Kris Kobach (now also candidate for governor), made a rule requiring proof of citizenship beyond a state ID, which most folks don't have. Before the law was struck down, 31,000 potential voters had been turned away from registering.
They say they are trying to reduce fraud. But we do not have a voter fraud problem in the U.S. According to my math, based on a variety of reports, about 1 ballot in every 30 million may be fraudulent. That is actually a remarkable show of integrity and trustworthiness. However, voter fraud and election fraud are not the same thing, and there is a great deal of evidence that the people who run the elections are working hard to sway those elections by voter suppression and intimidation.
Only people afraid of democracy or hungry for power would want to keep you from voting. Some say voting is our most sacred American right. It seems to me that anything that we can do to make it easier is an immunization against tyranny.
It is open season on voting rights. So, Michigan voters are trying to put some things beyond the reach of power-hungry political parties. The measures of Prop 18-3 will change our state Constitution to ensure easier access to voting: easier registration; more accessible absentee ballots; and the ability to vote a straight-party ticket, which is currently banned — and which will shorten lines at the polls (long lines penalize people who cannot wait) and allow voters to make clearer choices. Amending the state constitution to enshrine these will ensure that, whoever is in the seat of power, the vote still belongs to the people.
So, I recommend yes. Let's keep electoral power where it belongs.
With you on the way, — pastor deb