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Democrats need to walk the talk on voter exclusion

What the GOP is doing to prevent voting across the country is awful. But while the Democrats are right to condemn it, the party of the donkey doesn’t have a clean record on the matter, even lately. Democrats need to swear off disenfranchising third parties if they want the moral credibility to fight GOP attacks on voters.

Rachel Maddow and others are right to be upset. There is a nationwide effort underway by GOP state legislators and governors to decrease the voter rolls, and in particular decrease new registrations. In Kansas, for example, “proof of citizenship” will be required to register to vote beginning in 2013, and it’s unclear whether this means people will have to bring birth certificates or passports to their registration site–meaning registrations in parks, supermarkets, and other public places will be far less likely. All of these requirements hurt distinct parts of the citizenry, and they disproportionately prevent or discourage poor and working class people from voting. Early voting is under attack. Similar efforts are underway in almost every red state.

But are the Democrats’ hands clean? Consider the efforts, every election year, by Democratic leaders, lawyers, and activists to keep Green, socialist and other third-party progressive candidates off ballots across the U.S. From Pennsylvania to Texas to Oregon and Illinois, using tactics more focused than Republicans –ballot challenges, election committee stacking, charges that Republican donors support the other candidates, exclusion from debates– the Democrats may want more people voting, but they want fewer candidates–and no left alternative candidates, if possible.

To be fair, the GOP does recruit and donate to Greens occasionally–which is partly the fault of the Green Party’s lack of organization and “internal discipline,” pardon my Leninism. Plus, if these GOP tactics are legal, they shouldn’t be, and if they’re not, lets throw the GOPeratives in jail.

But the fact that GOPers behave with characteristic scumminess is no reason for Democrats to do things like raise ballot thresholds or seek to exclude any legitimate candidates. They should never support making it harder for a working class candidate to get on a ballot, anywhere.  Democrats like a lot of people voting because, when the choices are limited, Democrats get more votes. Fewer candidates, more people voting. That’s smart on their part, but it’s not democratic. Motes and planks, you know. . . or planks all around.

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About Matt J. Stannard

Policy Director for Commonomics USA, longtime writer, speaker, and legal & policy consultant on economic justice and public deliberation.