Voting day is something to celebrate. Which is analogous to a holiday. In fact, it is a holiday in a lot of places. But here


Ah, Democracy


Voting day is something to celebrate. Which is analogous to a holiday. In fact, it is a holiday in a lot of places. But here in America, we like to make citizens earn their vote, so we'll never make it a holiday. (Expect every effort in that direction to be vigorously opposed by the Republican party.) Only a little more than half of employers offer time off to vote--and only a little more than half of those offer paid time off. Rachel Maddow is right to call long lines a poll tax, but when only 3 in 10 workers can get paid time off to vote, requiring people to take any time off is a poll tax.

We like to do things like invalidate registrations based on the weight of the paper, or the failure to check a redundant box. (Democrats aren't above this stuff, either.) We invoke the desiccated canard of voter fraud to justify increasingly onerous requirements for those looking to vote--same day registration would be too easy--or as an excuse for thuggish intimidation tactics. The Republican Party has mastered this approach, among whose notable practitioners was a former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice.

Here in Washington State, we bring back a taste of the old English poorhouses, making ex-felons pay penalties whose interest is in the credit card, jr. range. (Props to Michael Spearman for his 2004 ruling on the issue.) Keep in mind, a lot of those felonies are non-violent drug offenses. (If you're in possession of anything with a residue of crack on it, you just committed a felony.) And keep in mind that a hugely disproportionate percentage of those convicted of non-violent drug offenses are people of color (disproportionate to their rates of use, sale, or any other activity). In summary: Spalding gets caught driving home drunk from the country club, while Yolanda has a detectable-only-by-a-crime lab amount of crack in her purse. One of them won't get to vote.

Felony disenfranchisement laws originated and are strongest in the South; they were an infamous Jim Crow tactic. We're following some unsavory leads: Mississippi makes those with felony convictions convince their representative to get both houses of the state legislature to pass a re-enfranchisement bill. Virginia makes you go to the governor--after a 3-5 year waiting period. Kentucky makes you go to the governor too. In 2000, Florida decided to err on the side of disenfranchisement, denying an unknown number of eligible voters, while including a clever racial profiling scheme. (Much credit to current Florida governor, Republican Charlie Crist, for consistently doing the right thing on voting rights.) What do these states have in common? A history of something that sounds a lot like knavery.

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