To win elections,
At the polls;
Keep those poor folks,
Off the rolls.
You may have read about the Republican war on Acorn. That's the national non-profit agency that works to improve housing, expand voter registration and address other social conditions among the poor.
Some of Acorn's youthful staff were caught in stupid but trivial acts that tarnished the organization's image. Alert Republicans are now desperately trying to parlay this witlessness into getting Acorn out of the registration business altogether. Their accomplices, the banks, also want to get Acorn out of the borrower assistance business.
The press seems eager to support this quest. It's focusing entirely on the minor offenses while turning a blind eye to the Republican national campaign to suppress expanded voting. No, not all voting; just the casting of ballots by poor, minority and immigrant voters, who might be tempted to cast a ballot for you-know-who.
Of course voter suppression is scarcely new. At independence the franchise was limited to property-owning men. Tenants came later, then blacks, then women. Today voting in many states is limited to those who can acquire a government-issued picture ID, which can behard to come by for those without cars or spare time.
Registration too, can be a hurdle. In some nations it''s automatic upon attainment of voting age or citizenship. But here it''s a privilege that must be earned by getting to the right place at the right time. For two-job workers in restrictive states, it sometimes doesn't seem worth the effort.
Hurdles for certain other groups are higher yet. Studies have found that overseas military personnel rarely get their votes counted due to postal issues and bureaucracy. Released felons have a tough time too. Each state has its own barriers to their registration and some never let them vote again. So much for paying your debt to society.
The Republican argument for strewing so many barriers before the voting booth is forthright. They wish to prevent "fraud." Unfortunately the press is given to accepting this claim at face value, despite studies which have concluded that voter fraud in this country is about as common as appearances of Halley's Comet.
Nor is it hard to see what Republicans are worried about. In last year's election unregistered African-Americans came out of the woodwork to sign up to vote. And additional battalions who were already registered but seldom vote did so this time. It was the perfect storm that the GOP had long dreaded. Now the party is redoubling its efforts to head off any such future disasters and Acorn is its convenient target.
Another battlefield in this war involves campaign financing. Years ago Congress provided public funds for the presidential race, but the amounts prescribed have long since been outdated. Thus the rich are once again dominating as we saw last year. Worse yet, our new activist conservative Supreme Court may be on the verge of letting corporations directly contribute to campaigns. Up to now laws have prohibited that.
Fortunately, at the state level Arizona, Maine and Connecticut have all upgraded democracy by giving public funds to qualifying legislative candidates. Lobbyists and Republicans are furious at this erosion of elitist control of government, but the resulting independence from undue influence has been striking. And Connecticut just bravely voted to protect its system in the face of major budget cuts.
But the war to control who can vote and who can run for office never ends. Just now it's the Republicans who wish to prevent minorities and the poor from doing either, and Acorn has carelessly let itself become a hapless banner in their crusade.
Columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Conn.