In 2004, back in the mundane political days before Barack and Hillary, John and Sarah, Mitt and Paul, my colleague, Lindsay Hadley, grew frustrated with the American electorate.
A designer, Lindsay fired up her Mac and created some get-out-the-vote advertisements.
Lindsay’s ads had strong headlines: “Too bad voting for an American president isn’t as important as voting for ‘American Idol’” and “Too bad Trump’s choice for an apprentice is more important than our choice for a leader.”
Lindsay offered her ads to Indianapolis print and broadcast media outlets, and earned herself some news coverage.
“I just don’t get it,” she told The Indianapolis Star. “If they have time to vote for that, surely they have time to vote for the American president.”
Back then, “American Idol” pulled 65 million votes during May alone—the majority for winning contestant Fantasia Barrino.
Meanwhile, The Star said we’d be lucky if one third of the 113,898 registered 18- to 30-year-olds in Marion County bothered to vote for George W. Bush or John Kerry.
Fast forward to 2012.
The headline story is no longer voter apathy. Alas, in a place where voter participation pales in comparison to other nations, state after U.S. state seems hell-bent on voter suppression.
In Ohio, state officials eliminated weekend voting hours—a convenience for working people, and (oh, by the way) for African-Americans more likely to vote after church.
When one Ohio county’s election board tried to continue weekend voting, the secretary of state moved to oust two of the board members.
In Florida, the governor has been trying to purge voter registration rolls.
Pennsylvania is fighting a court battle over a new voter ID law.
In Texas, where voter ID also faces a legal challenge, the state Republican Party’s platform calls for repeal of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Indiana and Indianapolis offer their own vote-discouraging practices.
With voting hours that end at 6 p.m., Indiana has one of the earliest election-day cutoffs in the nation.
Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard’s office, which is responsible for polling locations in Marion County, nixed most of the satellite voting centers that proved popular in 2008.
Ballard’s office also moved 160 precinct polling places from one location to another—some that are difficult to reach on foot or by bus.
“Usually there’s somewhere between 15 and 30 polling-place changes total,” wrote Indianapolis Recorder columnist Amos Brown. “But this outrageously huge number of polling-place changes threatens real havoc, confusion and voter disgust. This impacts all parties, neighborhoods and races.”
Since the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 ruled Indiana’s voter-ID law constitutional, similar measures have been all the rage.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported earlier this month, “[U.S.] lawmakers proposed 62 photo-ID bills in 37 states in the 2011 and 2012 sessions, with multiple bills introduced in some states.”
“I very rarely see a single issue taken up by as many states in such a short period of time as with voter ID,” Jennie Bowser told The Inquirer. Bowser is senior election-policy analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan group that tracks state laws. “It’s been a pretty remarkable spread.”
The stated intent of these election-reform measures is to prevent voter fraud.
But in state after state, legislators are hard pressed to present any evidence of fraud having occurred. The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, for example, found that the voter fraud rate in Ohio’s closely contested 2004 election was .00004 percent.
Recent statements by two politicos suggest the real motive: suppressing the youth, minority and lower-income votes that skewed heavily toward Barack Obama in 2008.
In a late-May deposition reported by the Tampa Bay Times last month, former Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer spoke of a meeting where he was “upset because the political consultants and staff were talking about voter suppression and keeping blacks from voting.”
Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Michael Turzai was even more blunt, when he boasted earlier this month, “Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania: Done!”
Like my friend Lindsay, I take pride in my right to vote. I’m embarrassed when I see pathetic U.S. election turnouts while citizens of third-world countries line up for miles, hours and even days to cast ballots and have their forefingers stained with ink that says, “I’ve voted already so I can’t vote again.”
Voter suppression, aimed at short-term gain for one party, endangers our democratic process and society.
We need more voters engaged, not fewer.
We need longer voting hours, with additional days and weekends.
We need online options.
We need multiple, accessible polling places and voting centers.
And yes, Lindsay, we need to motivate the American idle so our real elections trounce “American Idol.”•
Hetrick is an Indianapolis-based writer, speaker and public relations consultant. His column appears twice a month. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.