Thursday, November 10, 2011

How the Koch-Funded ALEC Works to Deny Voting Rights; Brave New Film Highlights Voter Suppression

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By Lisa Graves

A new film from the Brave New Foundation outlines the role of the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council in new voter suppression tactics; the Center for Media and Democracy is one of the voices featured in the film.

Through the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), global corporations and state politicians vote behind closed doors to try to rewrite state and federal laws that govern your rights. The so-called "model bills" of this corporate bill mill -- which has been funded by Koch profits and other corporations -- reach into almost every area of American life, including the right to vote.

As the Center for Media and Democracy has noted on our ALECexposed site, ALEC bills or resolutions would disenfranchise Americans and give corporations even more power to use their vast financial resources to influence elections in our democracy without full disclosure of that spending. These two focal points of recent ALEC proposals pose twin threats to American democracy, by limiting the right of citizens to vote while expanding the power of for-profit corporations and the shadowy front groups funded by billionaires like the Koch brothers to distort elections through pouring money into expensive attack ads cloaked as "issue" advertising.

After the 2008 presidential election -- in the wake of the highest general election turnout in nearly 60 years (particularly among university students and African-Americans) -- corporations and politicians on ALEC's "Public Safety and Elections" Task Force voted to approve "model" voter ID legislation as a policy priority for members. (The "private sector" co-chair of that task force at the time was the National Rifle Association.)

ALEC also devoted time to disseminating talking points that pushed the pretext for changing voter laws, the meme of "Preventing Election Fraud," which was the cover story of the Inside ALEC magazine.

Voter ID legislation based on ALEC's template was introduced in states across the country and passed in at least fourteen states. The ID requirements had been kicking around for years since they were initially pressed for by white Southern politicians after President Clinton's national voter registration legislation led to increased percentages of African Americans registering to vote. But this discredited legislation had little traction until ALEC took it up to promote in 2009. (Even then state representative Scott Walker, then an ALEC legislator, tried to get into the act a decade ago, but his effort to echo Alabama's legislation went nowhere in Wisconsin.)

Despite all the hype about voter fraud, the statistical reality is that such fraud in the U.S. is exceedingly rare. Voter suppression legislation based on ALEC's "model" will, however, have a statistically significant effect of depriving many American citizens of their right to vote. According to a recent report, approximately five million eligible voters across the country will be adversely affected by the new requirements, particularly the elderly, people with disabilities, people of color, and students. What this means is that huge numbers of Americans will be blocked from exercising their fundamental right to vote as a result of ALEC's efforts and the self-serving politicians that have forced these changes into law.

In Wisconsin, where the Center for Media and Democracy is based, those without the designated state-issued photo ID include around 300,000 state university students and a staggering number of other groups -- 55 percent of all African American males and 49 percent of African American women; 46 percent of Hispanic men and 59 percent of Hispanic women; 23 percent of all elderly Wisconsinites over the age of 65, and 17 percent of white men and women.

Many of these Americans have other proof they live in a voting precinct, like a utility bill, which has traditionally been accepted for voter registration. Many college students change their residence but not their driver's licenses when they go to school; allies of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker thwarted efforts to have the state university's ID card count as part of the new voting rules. Other affected citizens do not drive, and the new requirements put hurdles in the way of them participating in elections.

By limiting "people power" at the ballot box, ALEC corporations like Koch Industries, can more easily advance their anti-environmental, pro-privatization, deregulatory agenda by making sure corporate-friendly politicians get into power and stay in power. Legislation like ALEC's also service Karl Rove's stated objectives of flipping states that went blue 2008, by shaving a few percentages off of the number and percent of likely Democratic voters. Though dressed up as an election "integrity" issue, the new hurdles to voting embraced by ALEC serve an electoral agenda that will actually limit the number of American citizens who are able to vote in coming elections.

Suppressing voting by Americans is not new in America's history -- it took almost 100 years to shake off the Jim Crow era poll taxes and other efforts to suppress voting rights guaranteed by the 15th Amendment to African American men. But the recent wave of legislation to suppress voting is unprecedented in the course of the generations since the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965.

The idea does, however, fulfill the vision of ALEC's founder, the late Paul Weyrich, who in 1980 told a group of religious fundamentalists: "I don't want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down."

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