Elections keep
Our land afloat;
But all’s not equal
When we vote.

You may believe that on Election Day all of officialdom momentarily unites in urging us to vote. Leaders–rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, business and labor–want us to do our patriotic duty, preferably for their side.

Unfortunately, all this supposed unity is merely one of the many great myths distorting American democracy. Indeed, just the opposite is too often true. Considerable funding and immense political effort go into discouraging many citizens from voting–especially if they are poor or people of color.

Nevada Republicans were remarkably bold in the 2010 elections. Latinos for Reform, a Republican 527 in the state, advertised extensively to urge Latinos not to vote to teach those treacherous Democrats a lesson. Ultimately, Nevada’s Latinos voted for Democrats by lopsided margins, casting the crucial votes that kept Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in office.

Meanwhile, Virginia’s long history of voting discrimination brought it under the strictures of the Voting Rights Act. With legislative redistricting looming this year, the state has appealed to Washington to be relieved of this onerous federal oversight. It claims to have finally mended its disenfranchising ways, even as African-Americans make up more than half of the state’s disenfranchised population. Right.

One may have thought that Congress had solved the whole unequal voter registration problem when it passed the Motor Voter Act in 1993. This required that states let folks register to vote at vehicle registration locations, as well as at welfare, food stamp, Medicaid, and other such convenient offices. That law was designed to boost voter turnout among our poorest citizens, who are too often unable to get representation of their interests because of their lower registration rates. Nice try. Characteristically, the Bush administration saw to it that this wasn’t enforced.

Along these same lines, most states either prohibit felons from ever voting again or else make re-registration purposely difficult. This tactic works together with common police profiling practices which see to it that most felons turn out to be minorities. Then there’s the flyers that falsely suggest anyone with a police record may be subject to arrest for being near the polls.

Once you’re finally a voter, your odds of getting your voice heard get worse. Thanks to the Supreme Court, corporations can now exercise their God-given rights as “persons” and plow as much money as they care to into campaigns. Courtesy of a recent Republican filibuster, there isn’t even a law exposing where that money comes from or how it’s spent. Evidence is mounting that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been illegally collecting and laundering money from foreign corporations to support Republican candidates.

Amid this wholesale buying of elections by rich donors, we’re also drenched with crocodile tears over “fraudulent” voting. It seems, according to conservative pundits, that do-good volunteers working with the poor are actually registering ineligible people. Of course the corporate media laps this up. Their solution, though, isn’t to track down alleged perpetrators, but to make it harder for all poor folks to register and vote. You get the idea.

No, our elections, heaven forbid, aren’t yet like those in Egypt, Haiti, or Belarus. But give us time.

OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut. http://otherwords.org

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