This week, Lucius Flatley, with a display of anger uncommon to a Down East philosopher, criticized a scheme being laid by Maine’s Republicans in Augusta. It took the GOP a generation to capture Maine government – and they seem willing to try anything to remain secure in the warm leather seats of the Capitol. They plan to require picture IDs of residents in order to vote.
The life blood of democracy is citizen voting. Politicians have sought to control or manipulate voting ever since George Washington’s first campaign for the Virginia House of Burgesses, when the voter stood personally before the candidate and, after enjoying a free tankard of ale, publicly stated his preference. Fortunately for a growing nation, the trend of voting eligibility has been generally on an upward trend. From the days of exclusive voting rights for land-owning white men, the franchise has been increasingly inclusive of all citizens.
As Lucius observed: “Goodness knows, we now even allow women to vote!”
But such improvement is not without opponents. A nationwide Republican scam to restrict such unseemly behavior as free, untrammeled voting – including the recent contrivance here in the Pine Tree State to prevent Election Day registration – is a national disgrace. But the newest ploy here in Maine – this time to require photo IDs – is beyond disgrace. It is villainous, raw, political partisanship. Hiding under the false cloak of election fraud, it is designed for the sole advantage of the Republican Party. It is a conspiracy about which the kindest remark may be that is nauseating.
The fact that fraud does not exist – has not existed and promises not to exist in the future – is glibly ignored by these avatars of spurious deception.
A core belief of Republican strategists is that casual or non-voters take more liberal positions, especially on economic issues. Above all, the greatest Republican fear – wealth redistribution – scares the bejesus out of the Republican co-religionists in Augusta. Next to GOP “share the wealth wobblies” has been the shift of young voters to the Democratic Party since 1999 – a generational divide on health-care reform, treatment of minorities and same-sex issues. Since there is little chance of reversing this trend, these strategists slither into restricting not only new voters, but also groups already experiencing one or more forms of deprivation; namely, the poor, the unemployed, the homeless, indigenous, the isolated, new citizens and the young. If the scam is successful, it promises to result in greater voting power for the affluent – and of policies designed disproportionately for their interests.
A case may be made for the proposition that democracy in America is showing signs of sickness, and there is little doubt that voting turnouts contribute to the decline. Places with mandatory voting have less wealth inequality, lower levels of political corruption and higher levels of satisfaction with the way democracy is working. Lisa Hill, a professor of politics at the University of Adelaide, Australia, says, “Here in Australia, where we love freedom as much as anyone else, we have a mandatory voting regime that is well managed, corruption-free, easy to access, cheap to run and has an approval rating of more than 70 percent.”
While these home-grown Republican ladies and gentlemen claim to fret about possible voting fraud, American democracy is dying. Is voting just a right or is it not? Being enabled to enjoy the benefits of democratic life, of living in a democracy, requires citizen participation – even the least of them. Democratic citizens owe it to each other to vote so that, together, they can perpetuate democracy and collectively enjoy the benefits of living in a properly functioning, democratic society.
One where everyone counts.
Minnesota implemented same-day registration, and its 2008 presidential turnout rate topped the nation at 78 percent. In Maine, this latest Republican plot is one more reason to be thankful that Maine legislators are subject to term limits.
Quote for the week: The highest and best form of efficiency is the spontaneous cooperation of a free people. – Bernard Baruch
Rodney Quinn, a former Maine secretary of state and university history and government instructor, lives in Westbrook. He can be reached at [email protected]