Are you voting today?

Will you be allowed to vote in the future?

Ah, election day, that day in the U.S. when all citizens converge on public school auditoriums around the country to have a voice in the democratic process… of course, by “all,” I mean the 54% of Americans that actually vote in this country, but that’s a subject for another blog.

And, by “all,” I’m referring those who were not affected by the “38,000 alleged incidents of…intimidation, mishandled…ballots, malfunctioning or inaccurate machines and/or apparent hacking and vote tampering” that occurred during the 2004 presidential election. More on this

And, by “all,” I do not include the estimated 4.7 million potential voters who are disenfranchised by state legislation that prohibit voting by those with a felony conviction, but we will get to that later…

Voting Rights Act in Action in PA:

Today, the Department of Justice sent poll monitors to Reading, PA, because of a history of policies and procedures that have proven restrictive to Spanish-speaking voters of Puerto Rican descent. This occurs under the Voting Rights Act, dubbed by U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales “one of the most successful pieces of civil rights legislation ever enacted.” (It’s a good quote, we’re just not going to talk about his torture memo, right now.)

Now in it’s 40th year, key provisions of the Voting Rights Act are set to expire in 2007, including Section 203 that ensures language minority assistance and Sections 6 and 9, which provide for federal monitors and observers. Also up for reauthorization: Section 5, the provision that requires federal approval for any changes to voting law or procedure in districts with a history of discriminatory practices.

The House Judiciary Subcommittee has begun to hold hearings on the Voting Rights Act and they are currently being webcast.

ACTION ALERT: House Bill 1318 Could Restrict Voting Rights in PA

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Pennsylvania, our elected officials are considering legislation that could severely limit the voting public. House Bill 1318 requires photo identification of all voters and denies voting rights of ex-felons who are serving probation or parole.

Photo ID requirements disproportionately impact upon elderly, poor and disabled voters, who are less likely to have an acceptable photo ID. A federal judge has blocked a similar Georgia law, on the grounds that requiring ID constitutes a poll tax, and the ACLU is currently challenging a New Mexico version. Check out Doonesbury’s take on the Georgia law.

Under existing Pennsylvania law, a person convicted of a felony is permitted to vote once he or she leaves prison. HB 1318 would strip away that right for voters on probation or parole. Laws that disenfranchise ex-offenders disproporitionally impact people of color, including thirteen percent of African American men, and they

“have no discernible legitimate purpose. Deprivation of the right to vote is not an inherent or necessary aspect of criminal punishment nor does it promote the reintegration of offenders into lawful society…No other democratic country in the world denies as many people-in absolute or proportional terms-the right to vote because of felony convictions

I can’t say it better than the folks at the Sentencing Project.
Pennsylvania Voters: Urge your legislators to oppose HB1318!