You want to be scared on Halloween?
Really, really scared?
Like “a threat to all you hold dear and potentially the end of life (okay, democracy) as we know it” scared?
Then think about this:
In Kansas, and, increasingly in other states around the country, politicians have used the completely ridiculous (would be laughable if not for the end result) allegation of undocumented immigrants voting to push through voter identification laws that will seriously harm voter participation of low-income and marginalized populations, primarily through their effects on nonprofit and community-based groups’ voter registration and Get-Out-the-Vote work.
Because when these laws are fully implemented (which, in Kansas, won’t be until January 2013, largely because some senators felt guilty and so postponed it until after the 2012 elections), conducting a voter engagement drive in the community–at a festival, on a street corner, on a public bus, as people are leaving a rally–will be nearly impossible. Every new voter will have to prove citizenship upon registration, and who carries copies of their birth certificate with them (to be submitted with the registration)?
There are obvious obstacles to actual voting for some of these same populations, too, particularly that the rules for obtaining a free photo identification (yes, there absolutely are U.S. citizens without photo ID) are convoluted and involve considerable exertion on the part of the (by definition) indigent would-be voter.
Those barriers are real, and they fall disproportionately on low-income individuals of color, particularly the very youngest and very oldest in the electorate.
But what scares me the most is the way that these laws will completely take nonprofit organizations–social service agencies, health centers, senior centers, ethnic associations–out of the voter registration and civic engagement business. We know that we’re particularly good at bringing these often-marginalized groups into the electoral process, after all. We build on our relationships, connect people to the issues that affect their lives, and walk alongside them to ease their first voting experiences.
We don’t do it nearly often enough, but, when we do, we make a difference–on individual lives and on how elected officials view those with whom we work.
But that’s all going to go away.
And what’s even scarier, really?
The way that such a totally invented risk, for which there is absolutely no evidence and which defies all logic to anyone who can imagine even any facts about immigrants, can frighten away the allies who should have stood with us, creating this specter of fraud that silenced too many voices. I mean, really? With voter participation dismally low among U.S. citizens, undocumented immigrants are supposedly risking felony convictions and permanent deportation to make their mark on our democratic process?
We’re at the point in this terrible saga when the huge blob, or scary ax-murderer, or ghastly ghoul is running for us, and we’re all kind of cowering behind the half-open door.
And we know enough about how these things turn out to know that we’ve got to come up with a different plan.
First, we need to register as many people as we possibly can before these laws kick in. Second, we need to educate our communities about these laws and what they will mean, and we need their help documenting the very real ways in which U.S. citizens are affected. Then, we need to take that information, along with a value-based appeal (justice, freedom, and democratic participation, anyone?) to legislators who knew better but voted for these horrible laws in the first place.
They can be undone.
We need a legal strategy that attacks the laws’ undue infringement on our core constitutional right to vote, a legislative plan that mounts the strong attack that was missing initially, and an organizing effort that recognizes this threat as what it really is:
Paving the way for all of the threats that are to follow, once the demographic shifts that could reshape the social contract in this country through electoral transformation have been thwarted by systematic disenfranchisement.
It’s time for the hand to reach up from the grave, or the girl to step out from behind the curtain (you know that I don’t watch many movies, so fill in the blanks here).
We can write a different ending.
But we have to open our eyes.