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Voter suppression is real and must be stopped

By Roland Martin, CNN Contributor
April 28, 2012 -- Updated 1320 GMT (2120 HKT)
Residents of the historically African-American neighborhood of Harlem, in New York City, wait in line to vote on Election Day 2008
Residents of the historically African-American neighborhood of Harlem, in New York City, wait in line to vote on Election Day 2008
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Martin: GOP sponsorship of voting laws masks voter suppression
  • He says the laws are supposedly aimed at stopping voter fraud
  • But that's a solution to a problem that doesn't exist, Martin says

Editor's note: Roland S. Martin is a syndicated columnist and author of "The First: President Barack Obama's Road to the White House." He is a commentator for the TV One cable network and host/managing editor of its Sunday morning news show, "Washington Watch with Roland Martin."

(CNN) -- When Americans salute the nation's military at ball games, in airports and in churches nationwide, we do so with a sense of pride for those who are putting their lives on the line for the tremendous freedoms we enjoy.

One of those that we cherish the most is the ability to elect our own representatives on the local, state and national level. Our political leaders often extol the virtues of the United States, saying what makes us different from other nations is our respect for the ballot box.

Yet while we are pounding our chests to the rest of the world, we see a massive effort nationwide to thwart, circumvent and downright block more Americans from voting.

Roland Martin
Roland Martin

Unfortunately, the Republican Party has made this massive voter suppression campaign a hallmark of their strategy to win the White House in 2012.

My Republican friends want folks to think that there is nothing wrong with requiring voters to show identification at the polls. But what is even more sinister is that the voter ID laws, along with other measures enacted in more than 30 states, really are a so-called solution in search of a problem.

The GOP calls their efforts voter protection, an effort to combat voter fraud. Yet when the Republican Lawyers Association tried to wave a report "proving" voter fraud, they came up with little more than 300 cases over 10 years.

Yes, with millions of votes cast in multiple elections, that's all they could come up with. And that was supposed to be the smoking gun? Maybe they were smoking something else instead!

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No one wants to see an election -- any election -- tainted by fraud. But this GOP-led effort isn't even an overreach. It is a campaign to clearly target voters who are not traditional GOP voters.

In fact, I've asked my GOP friends to name one example of the GOP trying to expand, rather than contract, voting. I'm still waiting.

In Maine, voters were allowed to register and vote on the same day. This was put in place to encourage more people to get involved in the electoral process. But two years ago, the GOP-controlled legislature didn't like that idea, so they did away with same-day registration. So last year, Maine residents fought back and overwhelmingly reinstated same-day voter registration. Was there something wrong with the old plan? Nope. But the GOP legislature felt a fix was needed. Fortunately, the voters rebuked them.

In Ohio, enough people signed petitions last year to keep a voter suppression law from going into effect. Not only was early voting shortened, the most pathetic and egregious aspect of the law was the provision that a poll worker didn't have to tell a voter where his or her correct polling location was.

So let's say you showed up at a voting location and discovered that your precinct had moved. Had this law gone into effect, the poll worker had the option to tell you -- or not -- of the correct location. You could say, "Sir, so where do I vote?" That poll worker could ignore you and tell you to figure it out yourself.

Is that the kind of nation we have become? We should be helping anyone cast a ballot. Instead, the GOP in Ohio wanted to ignore common sense. That law is on the ballot in November, and let's hope it is soundly rejected by Ohio voters.

Let's go to Florida, where they have had years of voting issues.

Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP-controlled legislature pushed through a bill that levied fines on organizations that didn't turn in completed voter registration forms within 48 hours. The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization that is about fairness for all voters, was so afraid of the law that it shut down voter registration efforts. The result? According to an analysis of registration figures by The New York Times, since the Florida law took effect in May 2011, about 80,000 fewer voters have registered than during the same period before the 2008 election.

Florida Republicans also slammed the door shut on early voting on the Sunday before the election. So the successful efforts of churches to get their parishioners to vote after church will not take place this year. The sponsor of the Florida bill said election workers had a difficult time getting ready for voting on Tuesday because they had to count the votes that came in on Sunday.

Seriously. Were we born yesterday?

These voter suppression laws will have a negative impact on millions of Americans, whether they are black, white, Hispanic, young, old, you name it.

No American, Republican, Democrat or independent, should support these shameful political games. They are, frankly, un-American.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roland S. Martin.

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