Tom Fulks

Don’t think voting is important? Tell that to the people who’ve been denied this basic right

If you’re eligible to vote and don’t, you indulge in the conceit of the comfortable, the prerogative of the privileged, the sanctuary of the safe.

Not voting is a luxury for those whose lives are shielded from government-sanctioned discrimination and recrimination – whether by luck of genetics, geography or bank balance.

“My vote doesn’t matter.”

“I’m not into politics.”

“Both sides are equally bad.”

These are the excuses of the self-disenfranchised, those who distain the responsibility fundamental for every American citizen of voting age.

These excuses allow Trumpism to gnaw at and burrow into the American consciousness. Meanwhile, the foundation of our democracy rots as authoritarian Trumpists flex and smirk.

The bitter irony is that while those protected by their station in life deny their own voting franchise, the right to vote for millions of people across the nation is being systematically stolen. These voters fight for their denied rights while the comfortable refuse to comfort the afflicted.

This theft is the exclusive dominion of Republican Party and its elected leaders who:

  • Close polling places in minority communities.

  • Purge eligible voters from the rolls without their knowledge.

  • Bar former felons who’ve paid their debt to society from voting.

  • Impose strict voter ID laws based on specious claims of “voter fraud.”

  • Eliminate the turnout-increasing practice of early voting.

Together, these efforts paint an unmistakable portrait of a Republican Party that must cheat to win elections because there aren’t enough votes from diminishing numbers of old white people to win fairly.

So Republicans manipulate the rules — or make them up — swindling their way to political power. This helps explain the Republican Party’s blasé reaction to ongoing Russian interference in our elections. Turning a blind eye to Russian election hackery is of a piece in a larger ham-fisted assault, such as closing polling places — the simplest way to stop people from voting.

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Since 2013, more than 1,000 polling places have been closed in nine Republican-dominated states. The Leadership Conference Education Fund found some 868 polling places were closed since 2013 in Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas.

In Georgia, a second study found 214 polling places (8 percent of the state’s total) were closed since 2012. In one Georgia county, Republican election officials announced plans to close seven of nine polling places in an overwhelmingly black area, stopped only after a statewide protest. According to a Pew Institute investigation, 10 Georgia counties with large black populations closed polling spots after a white consultant recommended it to “save money.”

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp — Republican candidate for governor — suspended some 50,000 voter registration applications, mostly for black voters, under a Republican-backed law requiring personal information to exactly match driver license or Social Security records.

My driver license says Thomas, yet I sign my name Tom. This would disqualify me from voting in Georgia.

In North Dakota, Republican legislators adopted a law requiring voters to provide identification with a residential street address. The state is home to thousands of Native Americans – traditionally Democratic voters – whose lands don’t have standard addresses, effectively disenfranchising them.

In North Carolina, a Republican U.S. attorney last month subpoenaed virtually all voting records in 44 counties and turned them over to immigration authorities – a move blocked after objections from election officials.

In Texas, the Republican state attorney general prosecuted nearly three dozen people on charges of voter fraud this year, more than the previous five years combined.

In California, we have a similarly pernicious — but self-imposed — voter suppression campaign, one that convinces people democracy is inconvenient, that voting is a useless exercise, that it doesn’t matter.

That campaign is called Facebook, where “friends” publish their self-disenfranchisement excuses and encourage others to do the same. Sadly, it’s working.

San Luis Obispo County election results from the June 2018 primary show that only 52.5 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.

Lynn Compton beat Jimmy Paulding in the District 4 county supervisor race by 60 votes. The 46 percent of eligible voters who didn’t vote effectively elected Compton.

Nationally, Trump’s margin of victory in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio — which won him the Electoral College — was less than 100,000 combined.

This year, refusing to vote — for Congress, governor, state Assembly or city council — is a vote for Trumpism.

Refusing to vote enables and encourages authoritarianism — perhaps a trivial concern to the comfortable and self-satisfied. That is, until they’re the ones caught in the crosshairs of the state when its power is being abused.

Be American. Vote.

Liberal columnist Tom Fulks serves on the San Luis Obispo County Democratic Central Committee. His column runs every other Sunday, in rotation with conservative columnist Andrea Seastrand.

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