Saturday, October 02, 2004

Protecting America from Democracy

Voter registration has been a huge effort this year. In Latino communities, people registering Latino voters are expressing concern over how difficult it is:

But in an hour of door knocking, each registered just one new voter. Everyone else they encountered was ineligible to register, many because they had not taken the steps to become U.S. citizens, even though they met the legal requirements.

In miniature, the experience of Auyb and Rodriguez shows how the continuing influx of Latinos is reshaping the partisan balance across the desert Southwest - and why the transformation may not arrive fast enough to help Sen. John F. Kerry erase President Bush's advantage in the region this November.

Slowly but inexorably, activists across the region are moving more Latinos to the polls; even with the difficulties experienced by Auyb, Rodriguez and other canvassers, their group, the Citizenship Project, has registered 3,000 new
Latino voters in Las Vegas this year.

As this story makes clear, non-voting US citizens are being registered to vote. The biggest roadblock to a colossal number of new registrations is the number of folks who haven't become citizens, yet.

Unfortunately, a bunch of radical white folks, behaving as if any newly registered Latinos must be non-citizens, are trying to prevent these citizens with somewhat darker skin from actually achieving a bit of representation in their state. These right-wing extremists are pulling out all the stops, trying to intimidate those who do register and stop them from voting.

A couple of groups in particular are working hard against democracy in Arizona, as reported in this article in The Progressive. Let's discuss their framing. Here are several excerpts from the The Progressive article, and the framing in each:

On the ballot in Arizona this November is a Republican-authored referendum called Protect Arizona Now or Proposition 200, which would do several things, including requiring proof of citizenship for anyone registering to vote.

Frame: Uh-oh, Arizona's under siege! "Huh?" you ask. Well, it must be, if it's in need of protection. Apparently there's a looming threat. A threat greater than poverty, hunger, job losses, death from lack of health care, or even hantavirus. What's that threat? Voters.

That's right, folks! People who haven't been voting could start. Hide the children! Shield the women! Voters are coming!

The purported reason for this bill is to prevent people who already aren't allowed to register to vote from registering to vote. The real reason is to frighten law-abiding citizens, so they won't register or vote - but only a select group of citizens.

  • News flash 1: It's already illegal for non-citizens to register. You don't need a new law to make it more illegal. Try enforcing the current law if there's a real concern.

  • Newsflash 2: No non-citizen, in this country where being a non-citizen means you have no rights, is going to bring themselves to the government's attention by putting their names on the voter roles. That goes double for illegal aliens.

I call this the Keep Arizona White law, given that it's really a harassment tool to be used against the burgeoning Latino population - the fastest growing group of potential new voters. I suppose you could also call it NIMVB legislation - Not In My Voting Booth.
McKee and other Protect Arizona Now members say that voter fraud is already high in the state and is bound to rise in the close election. The voter registration drives targeting the state have piqued their anger. "There
are several groups from around the country that have just besieged Arizona,"
says McKee. "Project Vote Smart, which really disappointed me. The infamous Southwest Voter Registration Project, Moving America Forward, New American Freedom Summer, the Urban Institute. They have been in this state only targeting Hispanic voters. That's the most racist thing I've ever heard."

That's a new one! Trying to get under-represented groups to vote is racist, trying to prevent them from voting isn't.

Quick! Fire up the wayback machine, we need to go back to the late 1870's and let all those black folks know that if they were allowed to vote, they'd be committing racism against themselves. Frederick Douglass should be ashamed of himself, the racist!
"Why would someone who supports the Constitution and wants to exercise his rights as a citizen intimidate U.S. citizens?" [Ross Dove of]asks.

You got me! Maybe it's because he's a racist? Because he refuses to believe that people he doesn't like could be citizens? Because he's afraid that the unfair advantages he gets from the current administration might be wiped away if more citizens vote?
"What they're saying is that they know there are illegals voting."

This sets the frame - people being registered, who swear as part of the registration process that they are U.S. citizens, must be lying, lazy good-for-nothings out to take advantage of the US government. That's what "illegals" is code for in the right's magical book of radical terminology.

It also implies that there are no Latino citizens in the state. It even implies that there is intentional fraud on the part of the registrars.

Look a little deeper, the implication is that you can't give Latinos the right to vote - it's too risky, because some of them may not be entitled. They only want to vote themselves some more o' that welfare money!

Luckily, white people have never committed vote fraud. Just ask Mayor "Vote Early Vote Often" Daley and the bulk-voting Republicans of 1960s Illinois!
On primary day, Dove says he sported "a black T-shirt with 'U.S. Constitutional Enforcement' on the back" and the image of a badge on the front. "I wear a tool belt," he says. On primary day, that belt carried tools, a camera, and a video recorder. Dove says he used the camera to take "some photographs of the polling places." He used the video recorder to film "all the conversations I had."

Implication: He was just standing around, minding his own business. He just happened to be photographing and videotaping people without their permission, but, shucks, he didn't mean anything by it. Vigilante justice and intimidation were the furthest thing from his mind!

Please. He dressed in such a way as to imply that he was an enforcement agent. He acted in such a way as to scare voters away (those who didn't look like him). In every state, impersonating a law enforcement officer is illegal. Trying to disenfranchise one group of voters based on the color of their skin is racism. In the United States, interfering with the right of citizens to vote is illegal.

He's not a "good guy" out to protect his beloved state, he's a law-breaker out to disenfranchise voters based on the color of their skin, because he knows they might not vote his way.
Dove says that more people want to monitor polls in November. "After the AFL-CIO threw their fit," he says, people started wanting to get involved. "They said, 'Let's get the T-shirts printed up and let's go," he says.

Whoa! That darned intemperate AFL-CIO! Instead of raising concerns about the blatantly illegal practices of these racist vigilantes, they went and threw a fit. Shame on them. They shouldn't lose control that way. Clearly they're dangerous.

Oh, wait. It turns out that "fit" was simply calling to people's attention the fact that citizen's rights were being denied illegally. I guess having that pointed out that might bother the law-breaker. Poor guy. Someone give him a hankie.
"The only people we will bother are people who are in violation of the law," says Dove. For instance, if he sees "a busload of Hispanic individuals who didn't speak English and who voted," he plans to follow that bus to make sure they aren't voting more than once.

Implies: Anyone who doesn't pass the color-match or language test is in violation of the law. Thus a busload of people who don't look or sound like a white guy MUST be voting illegally. As you may recall from above, there are apparently no U.S. citizens in Arizona of Latino descent...

In Mr. Dove's world, you're guilty until proven innocent. In Mr. Dove's world, being registered to vote does not entitle you to vote - unless you're white, like him. How else would Mr. Dove know they needed to be intimidated?

Mr. Dove would do well to remember that he is not empowered to enforce voter registration laws. If he is concerned that a particular voter who he knows first-hand does not have the right to vote, he can file a complaint, just like any other citizen.

Otherwise, he is empowered to vote. He is empowered to get others to vote. He is not empowered to prevent others from voting.

If he's worried about the influence of new voters on the outcome of the election, he's more than welcome to convince others of his views and to convince those people to vote. More power to him.

My advice: Go vote, but leave the t-shirt and the cameras at home.


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