Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Redistricting, state voting laws to limit voters in 2012?

*This article was originally published in the Viễn Đông on 12 October 2011. It was reported by Vanessa White.

SACRAMENTO, California—Recent redistricting lawsuits filed in California and other states, claim that new district lines could dilute certain voter voices within specific districts, jeopardizing future elections.
However such lawsuits could be part of a larger effort to dilute even more voter voices nationwide.
California Republican groups have filed two lawsuits against the California Citizens Redistricting Commission (CRC), regarding Senatorial and Congressional maps that were adopted on 15 August 2011.
The voter approved CRC had the task of drawing new Congressional, Senatorial, Assembly, and Board of Equalization districts to be used in State elections for the next ten years.
Both lawsuits claim that the CRC’s maps will disadvantage certain voters.
Though, according to Ms. Lois Beckett, who co-wrote a ProPublica article on redistricting last month called “The Hidden Hands of Redistricting,” corporate donors are funding redistricting lawsuits nationwide, hoping to influence state elections toward their favor.
Such donors are largely Republican and could be the same donors funding non-profit redistricting advocacy groups, according to Ms. Beckett.
“Redistricting groups aren’t required to disclose their donors by campaign laws,” she told Democracy Now! on 4 October 2011.  “We know that they’re having a big impact, but we don’t know for sure who their donors are.”
Ms. Beckett continued, saying that hiring map consultants are expensive-especially for lawmakers who desire certain lines drawn that will keep them in office.
The money needed to hire such map consultants comes from corporate donors, she added.
“Campaign contributions are not as effective as redistricting because redistricting shapes who can win an election in a state for 10 years,” Ms. Beckett told Democracy Now!
On a local level, the CRC public input hearings held throughout California this summer were filled with passion and hope, as concerned citizens expressed their desires to be heard through new district lines.
If lawsuits are funded by corporations with specific agendas, fueling the needs of wealthy businesses over the needs of voters funding such businesses, were the statewide public input hearings in California sufficient uses of time and energy?
Voting laws in other states
According to Mr. Ari Berman, who recently wrote a Rolling Stone article called “The GOP War on Voting,” Republicans who have been gaining power nationwide since the 2010 elections are doing everything they can to hold onto that power.
“Republicans are trying to shape an electorate in their own favor, and basically saying to people, ‘even if you disagree with us, now you can’t exercise your democratic right to vote us out of office,’” he told Democracy Now! on 4 October 201, describing different states’ recently passed laws.
Changes to states’ voting laws could take away over 5 million people’s voting rights nationwide, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a non-partisan public policy institute.
“Since the 2010 election, 34 states introduced legislation and 12 states passed legislation that’s basically designed to impede voters at every step of the electoral process,” Mr. Berman said, adding that some states are now requiring photo ID cards just to register to vote. “What people don’t realize about these photo IDs, is that 10% of American citizens do not have them, including 18% of young people and 25% of African-Americans.”
He continued, saying that states like Iowa and Florida are keeping ex-felons, who have already served their time and would have been able to vote previously, from voting.
Voting groups who help register new voters, like the League of Women voters, have to pay $1,000 fines in some states; while other states, like Florida, are cutting back on early voting, he added.
For example Florida and Ohio, which are states that can lean indiscriminately toward Republican or Democrat candidates, have eliminated voting the Sunday before elections. Historically, Black churches have mobilized constituents on such Sundays.
“All these voting laws, they are passed overwhelmingly by Republicans,” Mr. Berman said. “In this discussion of voting, it shouldn’t be a left or right issue.”
Support for funding voting laws
Mr. Berman told Democracy Now! that Republican officials nationwide are pushing for voting laws that will dilute the voices of voters who are largely minority, youth, and low-income.
Along with the Republican officials, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is also behind such voting laws.
In July, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) reported that the largest corporations, like campaign donors, involved in ALEC have been behind the changing of major state laws.
ALEC is a corporate funded council consisting of corporate leaders and politicians who meet behind closed doors and vote on bills to re-write state laws. The corporations are considered equals with elected politicians, voting on bills that affect state education, taxes, health care, worker rights and more.
The brief process for drafting bills through ALEC includes debate among all members, with voting done separately between private corporate members and public politicians.
Before ALEC politicians or alumni in the governors’ offices introduce the bills to the state legislature, the corporations’ names have been removed. Corporation endorsements or authoring of bills is then secret.
Mr. Berman told Democracy Now! that after the 2008 elections, ALEC drafted model laws regarding photo IDs for voting and following the drafts, five states passed similar laws that were nearly identical to the drafts.
Mr. Berman continued, saying that ALEC’s founder, Mr. Paul Weyrich, told conservative, Christian ministers in 1980 that he didn’t want everyone to be able to vote.
“As a matter of fact,” Mr. Weyrich said, “Our leverage in the election quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

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