Monday, May 12, 2008

Missouri! Motto: If You Want To Vote, That Better Be A Sun Tan

Time for another Ironicus Maximus political science lesson. Today's topic: Majority rule. If you were awake in Civics class that day, you learned that in a democracy 50% plus one vote is the line which a particular candidate must cross in order to be given the reigns of power, at least until the next election.

Today, for your continued edification we address the the question when is a majority just six drunk bubbas on the back porch? Answer: When you're in Missouri.

The battle over voting rights will expand this week as lawmakers in Missouri are expected to support a proposed constitutional amendment to enable election officials to require proof of citizenship from anyone registering to vote. "This isn't just show us your birth certificate" said State Representative Stanley Cox, a Republican and the sponsor of the amendment. "We're talking about bringing your mom and dad to the polling place with you and showing us their birth certificates. Oh, and you have to know who won the world series in 1956 too. Well, unless you're white. Then you get an exemption."

In Arizona, the only state that requires proof of citizenship to register to vote if you're brown, more than 38,000 voter registration applications have been thrown out since the state adopted its measure in 2004. "Hey look, if your last name is 'Gomez' do you really expect us just to take your word for it that you're a citizen," said one Arizona Republican lawmaker.

More than 70 percent of those registrations came from people who stated under oath that they were born in the United States, the data showed. "Swearing under oath doesn't get it," the lawmaker said. "Most of them Mexicans is catholic."

Supporters of voter suppression measures cite growing concerns that illegal immigrants will try to vote. They say proof of citizenship measures are an important way to improve the accuracy of registration rolls and the overall white voter confidence that they still control the process.

“The requirements we have right now are totally inadequate,” Mr. Cox said. “You can present a utility bill, and that doesn’t prove anything. Well, it proves you pay your utility bill, which probably means you have a job, which means you pay taxes. None of which should qualify you to vote."

From October 2002 to September 2005, the Justice Department indicted 40 voters for registration fraud or illegal voting, 21 of whom were noncitizens, according to department records. "What clearer evidence is necessary that our way of life is in danger?" Cox said. "Should we wait for a mushroom cloud over the voting booth?"

Lillie Lewis, a voter who lives in St. Louis and spoke at a news conference last week organized to oppose the amendment, said she already had a difficult time trying to get a photo ID from the state, which asked her for a birth certificate. Ms. Lewis, who was born in Mississippi and said she was 78 years old, said officials of that state sent her a letter stating that they had no record of her birth. “That’s downright wrong,” Ms. Lewis said. “I have voted in almost all of the presidential races going back I can’t remember how long, but if they tell me I need a passport or birth certificate that’ll be the end of that.”

"I don't know where Mrs. Lewis gets this inflated sense of entitlement," Cox said. "She ought to remember that it wasn't that long ago women couldn't vote at all, whether they had a birth certificate or not. Could happen again. Not saying it will, just that it could."

A 2006 federal rule intended to keep illegal immigrants from receiving Medicaid was widely criticized by state officials for shutting out tens of thousands of United States citizens who were unable to find birth certificates or other documents proving their citizenship. "Well, by now those people are too sick to make it to the polls anyway, so what's the problem?" said Thor Hearne, a lawyer for the American Center for Voting Rights, a conservative advocacy group.

“To those who have spent great energy opposing some of the voter registration or voter identification requirements, I would say their energy would be much better spent working toward trying to bounce those beaners back to where they came from,” Mr. Hearne said.

“The requirement is having a devastating effect on our voter registration work in Latino communities because so many citizens simply haven't been born white,” said Michael Slater, deputy director of Project Vote, a liberal advocacy group that is working with Acorn, a national organizing group, to sign up new voters in Arizona.

But Arizona officials say the measure is broadly popular in the state. “The white voters of Arizona feel strongly about proof of citizenship when registering to vote as a basic eligibility requirement that we totally made up,” said the secretary of state, Jan Brewer, a Republican. "Look, we don't mind if they watch our kids, or tend our gardens, but we dang sure don't want them electing our leaders, know what I'm saying?" he added.

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