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Blocking ballots 

Forget Republicans' spin — they don't want you to vote

"Your vote doesn't matter anyway. So all you Democrats, stay home."

-- Republican propagandist Sean Hannity, Oct. 18, 2006

So, Sean Hannity got truthful and acknowledged the Republican Party's linchpin strategy: Keep Democrats from voting. And if they do vote, make sure their votes don't count.

The "right" to vote is mentioned five times in the amended Constitution. Yet a partisan battle is underway over whether some groups can clamber over hurdles blocking the voting booth. That's why people are so mistrustful of elections, why Jimmy Carter told me in an interview six months ago that many Third World nations have more guarantees of fair elections than we do.

The GOP strategy is called vote suppression, and most often it targets African-Americans. Listen in to what a group called the National Black Republican Association is airing on radio stations in Georgia. Martin Luther King Jr. "was a real man," one speaker says. Another voice replies, "He was a Republican."

Would King rub political shoulders with the party of Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helms, Trent Lott and George "Macaca" Allen? Would MLK embrace Georgia Congressman Lynn Westmoreland, who tried to derail extending the Voting Rights Act, the embodiment of King's dream?

The GOP's logic is that if blacks believe MLK was a Republican, then why should they vote for Democrats -- or vote at all?

Republicans use the media to convince voters to stay home. Other times, the party employs legislation or bureaucratic obstructions to voting.

Examples: A California Republican sent a letter to Hispanics telling them it's illegal for immigrants to vote (not true if they're naturalized citizens). In Ohio, voting chaos reigned in 2004 and in the primary election earlier this year, because GOP election officials inadequately staffed and supplied minority and college precincts.

In several states, including Georgia, Republicans use the deceit of "fighting fraud" to deter minority, elderly and poor voters by requiring new photo IDs.

Three judges have struck down Georgia's law. Undeterred, the Republican-dominated Georgia Elections Board sent out 300,000 letters telling voters they needed a new photo ID to vote. After a lawsuit was filed by former Gov. Roy Barnes, new letters correcting the first batch are being mailed.

"This is the most sinister scheme I've ever seen," Barnes says.

Randy Evans, a GOP member of the elections board, and the engineer of many vote-suppression measures, offers a different spin. "Our concern was for educating voters," he says. "It was absolutely not an attempt to suppress voting. It was to prevent fraud. Voting has never been easier in Georgia."

But Republicans can't cite a single example of ID voting fraud. Meanwhile, they actually loosened the rules surrounding absentee ballots, for which there's plenty of evidence of abuse.

Vote suppression does swing elections. In 2000 in Florida, Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris purged more than 50,000 voters, disproportionately black, based on the claim they were felons. Only a few were. Had the vast majority who weren't felons voted, Al Gore would have won.

Chaining up the ballot box isn't a new idea. Nor is it uniquely Republican. In the 1950s and '60s, those blocking African-Americans from Dixie's voting booths were mostly Democrats.

Today, Republicans want blacks to remember that ancient history -- but to forget the last 40 years. AJC columnist Jim Wooten ranted last year that "Democrats in one-party Georgia were denying blacks the right to vote" in 1965, when the Voting Rights Act was passed.

That's willfully misleading. Democrats did prevent blacks from voting. But those racists rose again by switching to the Republican Party. President Lyndon Johnson, when he signed the Voting Rights Act, observed that the Democrats had lost the South for 100 years. And he was right: The most conservative white southerners flocked to the Republican Party.

Johnson's sacrifice was based on principle. In place of principle, the GOP has adopted cynical calculation. In 1979, right-wing strategist Paul Weyrich commented: "Our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down." The GOP repeatedly has been caught suppressing votes. Party officials have even signed consent orders acknowledging anti-democracy activities.

"They'd be happy if only white male property owners could vote, the way things were in 1789," quips David Worley, a Democratic member of the Georgia Elections Board and a vocal critic of the voter ID legislation.

Worley's observation isn't entirely exaggeration. Restricting the vote to the wealthy has been an explicit theme by right-wing talk radio hosts, including Atlanta's Neal Boortz.

The GOP also has targeted the elderly. Angered over measures such as the GOP's incredibly flawed health care programs, many aging voters are likely to support Democrats -- and thereby qualify for Republican vote suppression.

And the GOP definitely doesn't want a bunch of likely liberal young adults voting. As a CL cover story by Alyssa Abkowitz a couple of weeks ago showed, the new generation enters adulthood during dark days.

If they've been to college, they're much more likely than previous generations to have smothering debt. Good jobs have been shipped overseas, leaving America's young workers to man retailers' cash registers. The Republican military adventures need cannon fodder to ensure Halliburton profits.

With no wartime draft to focus their attention on how badly this country is being run, many young Americans slog away at jobs but otherwise drop out.

To wit: About 60 percent of all eligible voters cast ballots in 2004. However, only 51.6 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds voted -- and only 42 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds.

Every young adult should be clamoring to be heard by politicians. The soaring cost of education is a real political issue. Dramatically lowering the near usurious interest rates on student loans is another. Building a fair economy is another.

If you're attuned to those issues, the Republicans don't want you to vote.

For all voters, there's a solution to the blockade of the voting booth. Don't let those who would do what Osama bin Laden can't -- destroy our liberties -- steal another election. Vote!

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