Friday, February 4, 2011

Moving the Goalposts...Old Tricks and a Bad Ideas

I'll start this post with a confession...well two.

First - most of the time when I vote, either early or in the regular election, I almost always use my drivers license as a form of ID. Not because I 'have to'. My voter registration card is one of those documents that I usually either misplace or forget when its time to vote. So, without resentment or inconvenience, I show my drivers license.

Second - I rarely vote a straight ticket ballot. I nearly always vote Democratic, but there are times, such as this past November, when there are candidates whom I know and trust, and those whom I know of and feel are doing a good job, who happen to be Republican. And, as in the past election, in cases where a Republican is running unopposed, I want my ballot to reflect my 'choice' even though there is no real choice (I want the same thing with an unopposed Democratic candidate).

I say that because two pieces of state legislation which seem to be gaining traction don't impact me personally, but, in my opinion represent a disturbing trend in Texas politics and political culture.

One is a voter ID bill (SB 14) and legislation under consideration to end straight ticket voting. The Republican Party has a safely ensconced majority in the state legislature. Texas is so red the political map looks as if the Lone Star state is hemorrhaging. And it is, but not in the way one would think. We're bleeding all of the fairness out of our politics.

SB 14 will require voters to show their ID, because of some hysteria regarding voter fraud. Mind you legislators supporting the bill cannot provide evidence of voter fraud...its a preemptive strike. A preemptive strike against something that wasn't seen as a problem in 2000 - 2006. No one, as far as I know of, has been arrested, tried or convicted of voter fraud. But its a problem and so, this law is being pushed. State Senator Royce West says, "Passing what will be the country’s toughest voter ID law was made easier when more than 20 Democrats were ousted on the way to Republicans gaining a 101-member super-majority in the Texas House. This means Republicans can convene and pass legislation without a single Democrat’s ‘yea’ vote."

"Others will also feel the repercussions. Republicans are pushing through a bill for which testimony provided no projections on actual implementation costs. Analysts say this unfunded mandate will pass along costs to county governments. And while we mull the reality of laying off thousands of teachers, our colleagues don’t mind diverting resources to solve a problem that doesn’t exist."
Let's be honest, fear about fraud at the polls wasn't voiced in any serious way until the 2008 Presidential election. Record numbers of voters went to the polls. Long lines of...unprecedented in the memories of those who vote regularly, let alone pundants and poll watchers, stood to vote in both the primaries and in the general election. And most of those lines were in minority communities. They had to include people who were legally ineligible to vote...didn't they? Bare minimum, there are no discernible evidence of voter fraud - people legally ineligible to vote who actually voted - making SB14 necessary. 
Interestingly enough, in the 2000 Presidential election, in Florida, there was evidence of people eligible to vote who were illegally removed from voter rolls. There is was, nor is there now, any legislation in Texas to expend the resources to ensure that everyone who is eligible to exercise their franchise - the formerly incarcerated who are no longer on parole, for instance - are informed of their status. And it seems suspicious, if not just unfair, that efforts to 'protect the integrity' of the voting process is focused on who cannot vote vs. making sure that everyone who can vote does cast their ballot.
Similarly problematic is the effort to end straight ticket voting. I have a problem with this, not because of how this impacts me personally, but because of what such an effort represents.  Democrats, particularly in the southern part of Dallas county tend to vote straight ticket. It's been promoted by precinct chairs, politicians and they're supporters. It has been effective in Dallas County turning blue. It is credited for tipping the balance of power in judgeships, the District Attorney's office and the Commissioners Court. 
But straight ticket voting is not a Democratic Party privilege. Republicans can vote a straight ticket as well. It seems counter to the 'integrity of the process' to suggest that people who choose to vote a straight ticket are lazy or less intelligent in casting their ballot, than those who chose not to. People who choose to vote a straight ticket, are people who have determined that they are not in support of the head of the ticket of the opposition party or their down ballot compatriots. Those are the options we have chosen as a state. And there is no reason to take away that option unless...
I'm not good at video games, Madden Football, you name it. I own neither an XBox, Play Station or Wii. The last time I played, I played with my nephew when he was a teen-ager. Payton and I played basketball and he was whipping me unmercifully until I got the hang of it and was scoring some. After I made a couple of baskets, Payton would say, 'Oh yeah, Uncle Gerald, I forgot to tell you, you can't do that!'. And then, after I adjusted to the new rules, he would say, 'Oh, yeah, you have to do this...' I don't have to tell you how the game turned out. 
This smacks of a player whose opponent who, once he finds out his opponent is getting better at the game, changes the rules of the game. Kind of like getting to the Super Bowl and finding out the field of play is now 120 yards long and 60 yards wide and you have to cross the goal line twice for a touchdown. 

Elections do have consequences. But consequences aren't a license for unfairness...

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