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The 2012 Presidential race has begun and people all over the country are gearing up to cast their vote for president come November.  While the 2008 election saw more people turn out to vote in over a decade, as many as 5 million voters will be restricted from voting in this upcoming election.

It’s no surprise that those disenfranchised voters include African Americans, Latinos, elderly, students and others.  Why?  It’s all part of a larger Republican strategy – to restrict voting rights to people who have traditionally voted for democratic candidates.  Almost five decades ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act of 1965, outlawing discriminatory voting practices.   The bills champion, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, fought tirelessly to expand voting rights to all Americans.  As we celebrate his legacy this week we need to keep a keen eye on every attempt to keep Americans from the polls.

Voter identification laws have been popping up throughout the United States since 2005 when Indiana passed its voter identification law.  Last year alone we saw a dozen more states pass voter identification laws including South Carolina, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Michigan, and Ohio. In the key battleground state of Ohio, House Bill 194 that is set for referendum in 2012 would disenfranchise as many as 900,000 voters.  That alone could turn the tide for any Republican running for President and allow the GOP to gain Ohio’s 88 delegates along with a clear path of victory to claim the White House.

As bills passed last year become law, voters across the country must stay diligent – if Republicans are allowed to use voter identification laws to cover up their attempt to steal elections, more and more Americans will continue to lose their basic right to participate in the democratic process.  The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that the 25 laws passed last year could potentially prevent as many as 5 million voters from being able to cast a ballot for President – let alone for any other issues or candidate.  5 million voters is a significant number of voters, especially if you consider in the 2008 presidential contest 131 million Americans cast a ballot for president.  5 million voters could very easily exceed the margin of victory for the 2012 presidential election.

It should come as no surprise that any one of these states that passed these unreasonable voting ID laws could decide the outcome of the 2012 presidential race.  Recently Attorney General Eric Holder stated that the Department of Justice must ensure equal access at the ballot box.  In December, at the LBJ presidential library in Austin, Attorney General Holder said, “The right to vote is not only the cornerstone of our system of government – it is the lifeblood of our democracy.   And no force has proved more powerful – or more integral to the success of the great American experiment – than efforts to expand the franchise."   If Attorney General Holder is correct in his assertion that voting is the lifeblood of our democracy why aren’t more people demanding that the mainstream media pay attention to the Republican attempt to steal elections?  

Last year alone, we witnessed the Republican Party attack nearly every value that progressive voters hold dear.  Nationally, their most important issue was making  “President Obama to be a one-term president," croaked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.  Republicans in Congress would rather our economy double-downed into another depression than to vote for any legislation that would paint President Obama in a positive light.  Clearly, an economic recovery and advancing the general well being of all Americans is not a Republican priority – voter fraud is.  The laws passed last year amount to the largest effort to disenfranchise voters since the Jim Crow era.  While Republicans may not be winning the voting public's support with their attack on jobs, families and our way of life, across the nation GOP supporters see a very small window of opportunity to pass voter id laws that restrict access for African Americans, Latinos, the Elderly and Students at the voting booth.  

By restricting these voters, a core demographic of the Democratic base, Republican-held state legislatures believe that they will hold and then gain significantly more power at the local and national level.  Simply put – the Republicans are cheating their way to victory.  Imagine for years to come, Republicans winning every election and not ever having to worry about a concession speech.   The 25 such laws passed last year have basically rigged the outcome in 14 states to make this future a possibly reality.  Forget for a moment the political implication of such laws, since clearly the political impact is much more significant when you look at how these disenfranchised communities would be affected by such legislation in the long term. Republican candidates rarely support populations other than wealthy white men, so by disenfranchising African Americans, Latinos and others, Republicans essentially take away their voices but will also deny them the opportunity to pass legislation that affects their lives and livelihoods.

The great civil rights leader and current congressman John Lewis has said of these archaic ways to disenfranchise minorities, “There is a deliberate attempt to prevent millions of elderly voters, young voters, students, minority and low income voters from exercising their constitutional right to engage in the democratic process.  Voter ID laws are becoming all too common.” It remains perfectly clear that the Republican agenda is to win elections - no matter the cost.

Progressive legislators are not sitting by idly and democrats, independents and even Republicans who support voting rights can push their Representatives to support and pass two bills that will combat voter suppression and American Citizens’ right to vote.  Next week, join the conversation with Congressman Keith Ellison (MN – 5) and Democracy for America as Rep. Eillison unveils two bills in the House that would protect voters and curb harmful voting laws across the country.  The bills will ensure the protection of Americans’ most fundamental right - the right to vote.

Congressman Ellison has long been an very vocal advocate for expanding voting rights.    Not only has he been a staunch believer in the right to vote for all citizens regardless of the party they vote for or the candidate they support, Rep. Ellison strong supporter for the Occupy movement and supports the 99 percent.   Passing his voting rights legislation will be no simple task, especially with Rep. John Boehner controlling the house.  But progressive voters must not give up hope.  Our democracy hangs in the balance.

Rep. Ellison said on the floor of the house when introducing these bills last year, “This year 13 states are trying to pass laws restricting the right to vote for American citizens.  These laws add up to the largest attack on voting rights since the Jim Crow era.  In all, they could strip more than 5 millions Americans from the right to vote..”

Rep Ellison doesn’t just believe that the Republican party is on the wrong track restricting voting rights for citizens, he believes that “if you truly believe in democracy you should do everything you can to increase the enfranchisement of American citizens not take it away.”   Clearly the Republican party, which became the party of No in 2011, will continue it’s assault on the very principles that built our great nation unless we stand up together and put a stop to these horrendous voter identification laws and support Rep. Ellison's voting rights legislation.  

Click here to join us next Monday, January 23 for a DFA Live Call with Congressman Ellison where you’ll have an opportunity to speak directly with him and ask questions regarding both bills that protect our democracy.   These bills keep our democracy strong and honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King and all civil rights leaders who fought tirelessly to bring the right to vote to every citizen.

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