The Real Privilege Is That Voting Is a Right

By Miguel Perez

July 17, 2012 7 min read

Just when we think Republican talking points can't get any more ridiculous and insulting, out they come with a new one that takes insolence to a higher level.

Did you hear the one about voting?

According to some GOP spinners, voting is no longer the fundamental right of every American, no longer the precious right our soldiers fight to defend.

Their new talking point: "Voting is a privilege."

If you are taken back by that statement, if you grew up believing that the real privilege as an American is that voting is a right, you are not alone. Some who have heard these talking points already are expressing indignation.

"If voting was a privilege, this would not be a democracy of any sort," one TV viewer noted on an Internet blog after listening to the latest GOP diatribe.

"I heard that," noted another blogger who saw a GOP talking head making the "privilege" argument "and I wanted to reach in the TV screen and yank him out by his hair roots and explain citizenship to him."

I had a similar reaction when I thought of the many Americans who have given their lives defending the freedom guaranteed by our right to vote. I felt offended for them. Calling voting a privilege dishonors their sacrifice and their memory.

Nevertheless, this is the excuse some Republicans now are using to try to justify their mean-spirited and highly undemocratic efforts to keeps millions of likely Democrats from voting in November.

As they disenfranchise the young, the elderly, and the racial and ethnic minorities with voter roll purges and unnecessary voter ID laws, they tell us that the right to vote now has to be earned, by jumping through hoops!

If you can't get a photo ID, perhaps because they are unaffordable or inaccessible, they say you should not have the privilege to vote — even if you have been voting for a half-century.

Of course, this latest spin was started on Fox News, where far right spokesman Jay Sekulow defended the controversial Texas voter ID law by making the privilege argument. But it was quickly followed by GOP strategist Alice Stewart on CNN. "Look, voting is a privilege in this country and there are certain, you know, requirements that we all have ... in order to cast a ballot," Stewart said.

Luckily, on CNN, someone was there to challenge her.

"You know what?" snapped commentator Roland Martin. "What she just said ... is shameful."

It also makes a mockery out of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, which asserts that the "right of citizens of the United State to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."

Yet, in their obsession to turn the clock back to the time of the Founding Fathers, some conservative extremists and tea party leaders have been making the privilege argument for several years.

Some have said we should put "certain restrictions on who gets the right to vote." Others have argued that voting should be limited only to property owners. And yet others would love to go back, at least to the early 1960s. After all, although the 15th Amendment was ratified in 1870, it took nearly a century — until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — for black Americans to fully realize their right to vote without poll taxes, literacy tests and other impediments created to keep them from voting.

Yet with today's voter ID laws — forcing Americans to spend money or give up a day of work to get an identification that will allow them to register to vote — Republicans are creating new poll taxes and other legal impediments to keep blacks, Latinos, and the young and elderly — the base of the Democratic Party — from voting.

Everyone knows this is a farce, a solution looking for a problem, because incidents of voter fraud in this country — thank God — are miniscule. And yet, the spinners go on television, stare at the cameras with straight faces and tell us that voter fraud is a serious problem that is threatening our democracy.

"No," I shout at my TV "you are!"

While studies have shown that more than 20 million Americans - 1 in 10 eligible voters — lack the kind of photo IDs required by some of the new GOP-driven state laws and could be prevented from voting, you hear the spinners arguing that they know of 50 cases of alleged voter fraud in Texas. Other states where these laws are being passed can't come up with even that many fraudulent voters.

Out of 300 million votes cast in this country between 2002 and 2007, one report noted that "federal prosecutors convicted only 86 people for voter fraud — and many of the cases involved immigrants and former felons who were simply unaware of their ineligibility." Another report noted that, "It is more likely that an individual will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls."

Republicans want us to believe our democracy is threatened by make-believe voter fraud. But if there is a threat here, it comes from those who are willing to disenfranchise millions of voters to stop voter fraud by the dozens. Their remedy is much worse than the illness.

So who is the real fraud?

These voter suppression measures are now being challenged in federal court, where the 15th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act surely will prevail. But the GOP persistence in pushing these measures, and their willingness to justify it by turning a precious right into a privilege, is only serving to expose their ulterior motive, which is to retake the White House at any cost.

When you are purging eligible voter from the rolls, as they have in Florida, or when you are passing voter ID laws and bragging that it will give your state to Mitt Romney, as they have in Pennsylvania, you are exposing your ulterior motives.

It's not voter fraud that drives these people; it's an undemocratic, unquenchable thirst for power. And it's scary.

To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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