culture shockers: New restrictions on voting rights reflect fictional scenario of America 2049

photo courtesy of

photo courtesy of

When looking at the civil rights movement in the history of the U.S. we can see that we’ve made great strides.  But if the recent whirlwind election reforms sweeping through the country are an indication, we seem to be dangerously moving backwards on voter rights. Over the last eight months, around 13 states have passed legislation that would impose greater restrictions on voters, a trend that is gaining momentum as the campaigning for the 2012 presidential elections begins. These election reforms are a Republican-led initiative, and include several elements: requiring government-issued photo ID for anyone to vote, cutting down on early and absentee voting periods and banishing same-day voter registration.

Advancement Project, an advocacy group of civil rights lawyers, have reacted strongly to this so-called election reform in a recent report titled ‘What’s Wrong with this Picture?’ (PDF) by stating-

“[The move is] a reactionary trend that is part of the largest legislative effort to scale back voting rights in a century…The proposals are part of a broader movement aligned with other voter suppression efforts, including voter challenge campaigns coordinated by Tea-party groups, and legislation that would erect further barriers to the ballot box.”

States from New Hampshire to Texas have already approved laws that would require each voter to show a photo ID when showing up to a polling station. According to a survey (PDF) conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, up to 11% of Americans – that’s more than 21 million people – do not possess government-issued photo IDs. This group primarily includes minority and elderly citizens, and those with low incomes. Other states, including Georgia, Florida and the key election battleground state Ohio are on their way to passing bills that would slash early voting periods. This move will further restrict many voters who rely on the convenience to vote on their own schedule and alleviate long lines on election day. Officials in Georgia have been split on the issue of cutting back early voting. State Senator Donzella James (D-College Park) criticizing the legislators who are pushing for the bill citing economic reasons, said, “We must provide every way possible for people to vote. It’s not costing that much. The staff is already there and the facilities are available.”

Incidentally, early voting was a very popular choice for many voters in the 2008 election that won Barack Obama presidency. Around a third of the total votes came from early voters. A recent editorial in the New York Times comments on the overtly partisan agenda behind these voting restrictions:

“The biggest part of that effort, imposing cumbersome requirements that voters have a government ID, has been painted as a response to voter fraud, an essentially nonexistent problem. But Republican lawmakers also have taken a good look at voting patterns, realized that early voting might have played a role in Mr. Obama’s 2008 victory, and now want to reduce that possibility in 2012.”

The third element of these sweeping laws involves ending election day registration (EDR), with Maine currently gripped by a battle among its lawmakers over the issue. The state’s GOP Chairman Charlie Webster defended such a move by blaming the Democrats of vote theft:

“If you want to get really honest, this is about how the Democrats have managed to steal elections from Maine people… Many of us believe that the Democrats intentionally steal elections.”

This kind of rhetoric teamed with growing assault on voting rights, unfortunately, is defining how America will (or won’t) vote in the upcoming 2012 election. In yet another example of the blurring lines between reality and fiction, Breakthrough’s groundbreaking human rights Facebook game America 2049 bears an eerie connection with these developing events in the country. In America 2049 this week, the country is facing a critical ballot to decide the future of the country. Players are not only given the chance to vote but they must also investigate inconsistencies in the balloting that is preventing fair results.

Watch a ‘breaking news’ video from the fictional Zooglio News Network (ZNN) from America 2049, with news anchor Becky Glen reporting on the issues with polling:

In the game, players also come across historical artifacts about the women’s and African-American suffrage movement, which further contextualize the fictional scenario of the future. The artifacts show that different voting groups were often pitted against one another for political gains, for example women opposing black men being given the right to vote before them. With the voting restrictions going into effect now, specific groups such as minorities and low-income families will be most affected. And with the scenario in America 2049, these are all efforts to forcefully affect the outcome of elections. A democracy such as ours promises free and fair elections, yet by making it increasingly difficult for certain sections of the population to vote, the freedom and fairness are called into question.

As we work to preserve our voting rights from becoming a victim of divisive politics, we want to ask: Is voting a basic human right or, more specifically, is the right to participate in free elections a human right? And if so, how can we allow this right to be gradually eroded for political gains?  Let us know in the comments section below:

June 14, 2011 by Pulkit
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