U.S. should aim at raising not lowering voter turnout

For an observer from Europe, where voter turnout is over 80, even 90 percent, while turnout in American mid-term elections around a measly 50 percent and around lowly 60 percent in presidential election years, it would seem that all efforts should be concentrated on raising voter participation by simplifying and coordinating voting laws.

Instead, “voter suppression” has become a major issue in the current election campaign with the Republican Party seemingly intent to further complicate voting procedures and stifle voter participation. Foremost here is the introduction in over 30 states, all but one of them with Republican majorities in the state legislatures, of requiring government issued photo-IDs in order to vote.

These new laws, which got their start in Indiana in 2006, primarily affect the elderly, minorities — American Indians, African-Americans, Hispanics, and low-income groups, who traditionally support the Democrats. They are among the 11 percent, or 21 million U.S. voters, who do not have government issued photo ID cards, according to New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice. To obtain ID cards cannot only be difficult but also cost money, a kind of tax, critics say, like the “poll tax” used against Blacks in the Old South to prevent them from voting, as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has described it.

The Republicans have called for the photo-ID laws to prevent voter fraud. But there is no widespread fraud in American elections. According to News21, quoted in an excellent overview of this whole issue on the website ProPublica, there have been only ten cases of voter impersonation since 2000 – that is one in 15 million voters. However, according to the same study, there have been almost 500 cases of alleged absentee ballot fraud and 400 cases of alleged registration fraud. But the new voter-ID laws would do nothing to avoid such fraud, as veteran reporter Lou Cannon points out on RealClearPolitics.

The blog FiveThirtyEight in the New York Times has claimed that the new ID laws may cause the turnout to decrease by between 0.8 and 2.4 percent in November. Since these voters, who now might stay home, are mostly democratic voters, it is difficult not to conclude that these efforts by a Republican party steadily marching ever further to the right are politically motivated.

A lower voter turnout could be crucial for the outcome on November 6. So much is at stake, also for the American democracy.

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