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Thursday, January 24 , 2019, 1:26 am | Fair 42º


Jim Hightower: Don’t Let Republicans Get Away with Voter Suppression

A vast right-wing conspiracy is trying to keep you from voting. Don't let it happen.

Vote! Editorialists remind us that it’s our privilege and patriotic duty to vote. Candidates of all stripes plead with us to vote. “Vote,” declares a billboard campaign sponsored by McDonald’s. Even Tiffany & Co. chimes in with a pricey pin that spells out “vote” in diamonds.

Jim Hightower
Jim Hightower
But not everyone is in the civic spirit. Rather than urging folks everywhere to join in America’s festive democratic exercise, there are ugly and aggressive efforts across the land to harass, intimidate and outright block legitimate voters. Ironically, at a time when massive turn-out-the-vote drives are being mounted, various Republican partisans are pushing some widespread voter-suppression drives.

A tricky one called “vote caging” has appeared in Colorado, Florida, Michigan and Ohio. It involves a letter from the Republican National Committee that’s been sent to households of older Democrats. Signed by Sen. John McCain, this first-class letter has “Do not forward” printed on the envelope. If recipients are having their mail forwarded to, say, a summer home, the RNC piece never reaches them. Instead, it goes back to the GOP. Here’s the game: An undeliverable letter can be used later at a polling place on Election Day to challenge the eligibility of the voter, asserting that said voter does not really live in the precinct.

Another variant of caging deserves an especially hot layer of hell for its practitioners. The Michigan Republican Party has threatened to use foreclosure lists to challenge the eligibility of people who’re losing their homes, claiming they don’t really live there. Just the threat will keep some of these hard-hit families from even trying to vote, for they’ll think to themselves: “You know, I’ve got enough problems right now without this hassle, so forget it.”

Then there are America’s wounded veterans in Veterans Affairs hospitals. In a move that leaves me whopper-jawed, President Bush’s secretary of Veterans Affairs issued an edict in May banning voter-registration drives inside VA facilities. For decades, nonpartisan groups routinely have been allowed inside so vets who served our country and suffered physical and mental harm could register. But now the Bushites have slammed democracy’s door on them. Under pressure from Congress and veterans groups, the VA officially reversed this inane policy last month, but registration campaigns say they still were being blocked even as registration deadlines passed Oct. 4.

College students are special targets of suppression this year. With predictions that the November election will produce the largest turnout of young people in history, there’s been an impressive outburst of creativity by Republican voting officials who want to dilute that turnout. In Colorado Springs, Colo., for example, the county election office, run by Republicans, sent word to out-of-state students at Colorado College that they could not vote at their school precinct if their parents claimed them as dependents for tax purposes. This is, of course, false. Curiously, it was directed at the liberal arts college, but there’s no sign that the same message was sent to Republican-minded students at the U.S. Air Force Academy, also located in Colorado Springs.

At Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, a voter registrar warned students that they could lose scholarships if they tried to vote there. At Radford University, also in the battleground state of Virginia, a registrar automatically denied all voting applications that listed dorm addresses. And at Virginia’s Old Dominion University, students got intimidating questionnaires from the local election board asking whether their cars were registered out of state.

The Supreme Court, by the way, has ruled that students can vote where they go to school.

These tactics to keep people from the polls are disgraceful insults to our nation’s proud democratic ideals. It should be easy to vote, and every vote should be encouraged. Easing the system and halting these nonsensical suppression efforts should be a priority of the next Congress. Let’s really mean it when we say, “Vote!”

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, writer, public speaker and author of Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow. Click here for more information, or click here to contact him.

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