Growing up in Texas during the 1960s and becoming politically active there, gave me an acquaintance with the absolutely frightening experiences that made voting rights legislation, and various judicial and rule making efforts following it, an imperative. I remember the atmosphere and the separate water fountains and bathrooms.
There really were people getting assaulted or intimidated in various ways that created an environment of fear around voting - and then there were the ways that legal processes were used, under the Jim Crow regime, to shut people out and prevent redress. Many blacks and hispanics still remember the pain of voter suppression efforts by the Ku Klux Klan in Texas. Crosses are still being burned, though mostly now limited to rural areas remote from those who might object. It wasn’t that long ago, however, that the Klan was a respected part of community life. Now, mentioning this seems sensational. But the echo is nonetheless real, even if the rhetoric is somewhat different. The energy certainly seems reminiscent.
Perhaps people in New Mexico or elsewhere might not be aware of the reason that the laws surrounding the voting process come with a behind-the-scene set of preparations by attorneys, public officials at all levels in the executive and judicial branches and Federal involvement by FBI and other law enforcement agencies. Consider the combined force behind all of the efforts that were required to break the Klan and the Jim Crow system. That is still in place.
Why does this still matter?
In the last few days, a woman at a public library was found crying, her young child curled up around her feet absorbing her distress. Librarians cheered them both up and then sat with her to see what the matter was. She had been reading blogs and other internet content about the Tea Party and had become afraid that she would have a nasty, intimidating encounter as she went to go vote, after leaving the library. They reassured her and encouraged her as she left on that errand.
Some may exult over this story. It is nothing to exult over that some faint echo of the fear around voting that the Klan produced in the South has come into the environment in New Mexico.
There are apparently Tea Party people proposing to bring guns into polling places in just to make some point about the 2nd Amendment - and to flout an ability to intimidate.
Obviously, the logic is simple. The people who are easiest to intimidate are most likely to be minority voters or perhaps young women with children. Ratchet up the fear factor and maybe this benefits Republicans, as a counter GOTV tactic.
There is a reason that there is a prohibition on electioneering at the polling place. The time for political argument is over. Voters should enter a secure zone of privacy.
Each should feel encouraged that their voting will be administered competently and efficiently and in an atmosphere which is courteous, friendly and accepting no matter what their vote might be. The integrity of the process that carries their vote into an accurate count and recording system has to be absolutely trustworthy. They should leave feeling good about casting their ballot, and proud to wear an “I Voted” sticker.
If there are legitimate issues about classes of people getting on the registration rolls that don’t belong there, this is beyond the ability of polling place officials, who are just there to facilitate voters.
The argument has to be taken up at the state level, with the Secretary of State, and with legislators who review the rules in every session.
Abusing rules meant to facilitate voting to instead, harrass voters (such as excessive challenges) should not be part of the polling process on election day, anywhere, anytime for any reason. In case there are people who think they ought to be able to do just that, the discussion may be taken up with law enforcement.
Here is a report on voter suppression in Houston, including an instruction video for Tea Party people who want to fight against what they see as "voter fraud." They aren't seeing the history of voting rights, they instead see illegal aliens in every Hispanic surname.
Here is a quote from a New Mexico political blog that gives a flavor of the Tea Party attitude:
...I've been working a polling location to make sure the busload of
illegals, who were registered by ACORN, SEIU and other low-life
organizations [and yes, I have proof, as I was making the registration
verification calls and came across TONS of names registered in homes
where that peroson [first name] NEVER EXISTED !! So the bus will roll
up, a guy at the front of the bus with a big notebook full of names of
illegally-registered illegals will tell them "At this stop--You're Joe
Lopez [almost every fraudulent registration was to a Hispanic name].
Next guy--You're Michael Montoya. And so forth...On to the next
polling location and a new set of names....... Can ANYONE see WHY we
need voter identification and repeal of illegal drivers' licenses ???
Like I said, yesterday, tomorrow and days in the future I'll be
working polls, taking pictures of bus plates and videos of the
bus-critters coming off as evidence, We have 124 lawyers standing by
in this county alone. I do this voluntarily because I'm a REAL
American who believes that even liberals' rights need protecting."
CyberWiz Beezer on www.nmpolitics.org
(thread about "Site Policies Regarding Discussion," p3, Oct 19 at 4:01pm)
If anyone sees behavior that seems worth being concerned about, do not get into any kind of arguments. The polling place officials should be notified, in case they aren't aware. They have a line in to the County Clerk or whoever is administering the election. That office should have Sheriff's deputies standing by and in case that is not good enough, there are FBI agents in the field providing backup.