Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

To Trump, or Not To Trump: Religion, Politics, and Voting

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Monday, October 28, 2019

As I pondered how to begin this entry, numerous thoughts occurred to me about the possible pathway it could take. But the bottom line (Already? Yes, already.) is that what I really want to do is talk about politics and religion.

Sure, almost everyone has heard the adage and encouragements to avoid talking about those two subjects, and almost always to avoid them at holiday family get-togethers. And then, there’s “polite company,” in which one doesn’t want to appear controversial, start a quarrel, or possibly offend someone.

But this is none of the above, and you’ve read this far, so here we go.

Globally, within the last 50 years, and more so since the 1990’s in this nation (the United States), there has emerged a politically active religious movement which has innervated the halls of government at the national and state levels. Local politics has some effect, but nowhere is it more seen and felt than at those two levels.

We have seen the emergence of right-wing extremism in almost all religions, and it’s certainly most visible in the Abrahamic monotheistic religions of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity – three sects of a common religion from the same family which essentially share the same god.

In recent history, we have seen it demonstrated as a revolt against liberalism (which is properly defined as “freedom”) in Iran in 1979, in which right-wing religious extremists of the Islamic religion, led by the Ayatollah Ruholla Kohmeni (1902-1989) overthrew the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (1919-1980). Since that time, the nation has remained under the oppressive religious regime of the Islamic Republican Party.

We have also witnessed events such as the rise of radical Islam in the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Islamic State (formerly known as ISIS, or ISIL), and numerous sects in other Middle Eastern nations, many of which were formerly free from religious influence in government.

While there are many other complicating features of those nations’ internal struggles, such as governmental oppression, totalitarianism, involvement by foreign governments in propping up leaders seen as useful to those same governments, etc., suffice it to say, it is true that the revolutionary forces were almost exclusively religiously motivated by fear of losing their religion at the hand of the existing governmental state.

In the United States, led in large part by the Reverend Jerry Falwell (1933-2007), founder of Liberty University, and supported by Evangelicals such as Pat Robertson (b.1930) and his 700 Club and Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) led by Paul (1924-2013) and Jan Crouch (1939-2016), and a veritable host of other high-profile religious leaders who used television, such as Oral Roberts (1918-2009), Kenneth Hagin (1917-2003), Kenneth Copeland (b.1936), Jerry Savelle (b.1946), Marilyn Hickey (b.1931), Jimmy Swaggart (b.1935), et al., have exercised significant political sway upon a large portion of the American voting public, which in turn, elected officials and politicians who would do their political bidding in Washington, and in states’ capitols nationwide.

Once described as “values voters” who measured candidates on high moral character, Evangelicals now unify behind an unholy trinity of nativism, xenophobia and White grievance. They have exchanged ethics of accountability principles, to thinking “the end justifies the means,” and have stopped searching for personal character and leadership quality in political leaders, and instead have accepted the actions and morality of their chosen candidates if their election objectives are met.

Such actions are problematic not only for religion, but for government as well. Because if religion has become a tool used by government, it has lost its own internal moral compass, and its influence and usefulness as a force for public virtue, private morality, and social unification has become worthless. And even if that is true (and increasingly, it seems so), then America has lost its own unique character of adherence to principles of tolerance, seeking peaceful resolution to problems, and its own commitment to equality under law.

All those groups and people have one thing in common: they constrain freedom in people by using religion to manipulate government. And yet, as evidenced by numerous hind-sight observations in the 2016 General Election, the irony – and disturbingly eerie parallel – of the matter, is that Evangelicals are no longer adherent to orthodoxy, or traditional “old time religion,” which has become as equally a motivating religious fear factor for them, as much as it is for radical Islam.

In Middle Eastern nations, it has been more violent, but the objectives are the same: Wrest control of the existing government away from its leaders, and install religious extremists in power; curtail personal freedoms; subjugate and limit women to child-rearing and housekeeping roles; deny women education – keep them illiterate; deny women access to contraceptives or abortion services, thereby forcing them to become pregnant and give birth; deny women – and others – voting rights; deny women and others freedom of movement by forbidding them to drive automobiles; force everyone to adhere to the state religion, or face harsh punishment or execution for disobeying, or speaking against it.

While in the United States such drastic measures have not all occurred, little by little, led largely by Republicans, states and the Federal government are enacting laws limiting hard-won civil rights, such as 18-year-olds’ Right to Vote; denying women access to contraception, and limiting therapeutic abortion.

While the argument has changed in tenor and is now couched as a “right to life” (a phrase not found in the Constitution, but only in the Declaration of Independence – “…they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”), its beginning is unmistakably religious in origin, having first been promulgated by the Catholic Church, and later adopted by Evangelical Protestants as a tenet of their faith, as well.

But, because many don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye on that subject, those who would restrict others’ freedoms, instead, take a circuitous, surreptitious route to force their beliefs upon others, ultimately, by making voting more difficult, and hoping they’ll stay away from polls on Election Day. Because when voters don’t vote, freedom is the ultimate loser. And sadly, that is how some want it – because they think there’s just too much freedom – and wrongly claim that responsibility is absent from freedom.

This Spring, the Republican-dominated Texas State Legislature enacted legislation which forbids any early voting polling place from being open less than the full 12 days of the early voting period. The net effect is that 9 sites on college and university campuses in the state – as well as 6 campus polling locations in Fort Worth, 2 in Brownsville, and others throughout the state – will be forced to close, effectively disenfranchising very nearly 14,000 full-time student voters.

In Wisconsin, despite the fact that there has never been a case of deliberate student voter fraud in state history, the Republican-led state legislature passed legislation that requires poll workers to check signatures ONLY on student IDs, even though many schools have removed signatures from them because it’s a security risk, since the IDs are also used as debit cards, and room keys. As well, that same law mandates that IDs used for voting purposes must expire in 2 years, while most Student IDs are valid for 4 years. Not only that, but students with acceptable IDs must also show proof of enrollment before being allowed to vote. While the state’s colleges and universities have diligently tried to meet all ID requirements for the students to use school IDs to exercise their voting rights, the end result has been statewide student voter chaos.

In New Hampshire, a Republican-led effort which became law now requires newly-registered voters who also drive, to establish “domicile” there by obtaining a New Hampshire Driver License and automobile registration, which can cost hundreds of dollars annually. The catch is, it affects students almost exclusively, because 60% of the state’s students come from outside the state. That too, was a Republican-led effort by the former Republican Speaker of the House, William O’Brien, who in 2011 promised to restrict student voting and said they are “kids voting liberal, voting their feelings, with no life experience.”

In Texas, which ranks dead last in voter turnout, the state’s Republican legislators have restricted student voter pre-registration to 2 months before the student’s 18th birthday, excludes use of college and university-issued ID cards, mandates that state driver licenses be used -and- only if they sign a form swearing that they could not reasonably obtain an “accepted” voter ID, and explain why.

Tennessee isn’t too far behind. That state’s Republican legislators use a convenient loophole in the law requiring election officials to help register high school students to avoid fulfilling their obligation, do not accept student IDs as valid for voting purposes, and have excluded out-of-state Driver Licenses as forms of valid Voter ID. The state’s 4 most populous cities – Nashville, Knoxville, Memphis, and Chattanooga – also have significant student populations, and no on-campus early voting polling locations. However, a recent law requires those who would – for pay – register voters, to take a 30 minute course offered by the Secretary of State, while those who would – not for hire – register voters out of a sense of civil service, are not required to take the course. Although, the state’s General Assembly does allow expired IDs such as United States Passport, military photo ID, TN driver license, and TN handgun carry permit with photo, and photo ID issued by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, to be used as valid forms of Voter ID.

Sunny Florida doesn’t fare so well, either. That state’s Republican Secretary of State outlawed on-campus early voting sites in 2014, but following a Federal court challenge, the decision was overturned and 60,000 votes were cast on campuses statewide in the 2018 election. Not to be outdone, the state’s legislators re-enacted the ban and required all early voting sites to have “sufficient non-permitted parking,” which is often difficult to find.

The Tarheel State hasn’t been very friendly to student voters, either. North Carolina’s Republican legislators passed a Voter ID law in 2018 that accepted student IDs as valid for voting purposes, albeit with caveats so burdensome that even major state universities couldn’t comply. While the law was relaxed somewhat, confusion still exists, and consequently, less than half of the state’s 180 accredited institutions have sought Voter ID certification for their students’ IDs.

Aside from the common denominator of student status, the single greatest factor in all these cases is that students reliably vote for Democratic candidates.

Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government found in a March 2019 poll that 45% of college students ages 18-24 identify as Democrats, compared to 29% who identify as politically Independent, and 24% who identify as Republican.

Research by Tufts University’s Institute for Democracy & Higher Education found that in the 2018 mid-term elections, 40.3% of the 10 million students followed turned out and voted, which was more than double the rate of the 2014 mid-term elections. Consequently, students are seen as a powerful voting bloc by Republicans, and who could very well change the outcome of many elections, especially at the Federal level in 2020.

So, it’s hardly coincidence that Republicans have enacted such restrictive legislation specifically aimed at students. States where Republicans have dominated elections for several decades are quickly changing and losing control, and such efforts are seen as potential pathways to victory for the losing party.

Moreover, adding to the chaotic confusion, there is no Federal law to establish National Uniform Voting Standards, and states – even at local county/parish, and city/town level – have also often have their own unique voting laws and regulations.

The Federal government uses the term “county equivalent” to describe non-county administrative or statistical areas comparable to counties. For example, in Louisiana there are parishes; and in Alaska, there are organized boroughs; and in the District of Columbia; and the independent cities in Virginia, Maryland, Missouri, and Nevada are equivalent to counties for administrative purposes.

In Tennessee, for example, there are 95 counties – each with different laws concerning voting, machines, polls, hours of operation, etc., because Tennessee state law allows counties to set their own rules concerning such matters. Now, multiply that by AT LEAST 50 states, and you’re only starting to see the magnitude of the problem – the veritable tip of the iceberg.

Effectively, what that means, is that in our United States, where there are 3,007 counties and 137 county equivalents for a total of 3,144, and with the U.S. Census Bureau finding 19,354 “incorporated areas” (cities and towns) in the nation, there are very likely ten thousand – or more – differing, often contradictory laws concerning voting in the United States, each one different for the 3140+ counties/parishes in the nation, besides those at the city and state levels.

Instead of making access to polls more readily accessible, Republican-led legislatures are disenfranchising entire voting blocs by infringing Voting Rights, and claiming that such efforts are necessary to reduce or eliminate voter fraud, despite evidence that conclusively proves that voter fraud has not substantially affected major elections, and in many cases, simply doesn’t exist.

While, like murder, election fraud can exist, laws exist specifically to punish bad, harmful, and dishonest behavior, more so than to deter it – just as with murder. Yet election fraud is hardly a concern, insofar as in modern history no case of voter fraud has ever shown to affect the outcome of a major election, anywhere in the United States – and that before enactment of such discriminatory Voter ID laws.

Impersonation fraud, which Republicans most often cite as a form of election fraud, is so rare that the Brennan Center for Justice – a non-partisan law and public policy institute of the New York University Law School named after late SCOTUS Justice William J. Brennan – wrote that “we are aware of no recent substantiated case in which registration fraud has resulted in fraudulent votes being cast,” and noted that it is “a sort of voter fraud more rare than death by lightning.”

Their extensive research found that the exceeding majority of exaggerated or unfounded claims made by Republicans, such as “double voting,” “dead voters,” “fraudulent address,” “voter fraud by persons with felony convictions,” “non-citizen voting,” “vote fraud by dogs,” “vote-buying,” “fraud by election officials” are often dramatized efforts to sell newspapers or couched as “click-bait,” are, after thorough examination, found to be often either unfounded, a result of clerical errors, or other innocuous mistakes.

They also stated specifically that, “Legislators cite voter fraud as justification for various new restrictions on the exercise of the franchise. Allegations of widespread voter fraud, however, often prove greatly exaggerated.”

The Brennan Center noted as well that, “Usually, only a tiny portion of the claimed illegality is substantiated — and most of the remainder is either nothing more than speculation or has been conclusively debunked.”

Again, while rare instances of election fraud have occurred, and will likely continue to occur, the best that can be done is to punish it, and to enact laws making it less likely to occur – NOT to disenfranchise voters by making freedom less free, or denying opportunity for civic engagement and exercise of their Constitutionally-guaranteed civil rights.

The Heritage Foundation, a libertarian/right-wing/pseudo-conservative political think tank which arose to power during the Reagan administration, wrote this about voter fraud in the United States:

“Each state is generally responsible for the administration of its own electoral systems, including elections for federal office. State governments must take this responsibility seriously and adopt policies sufficient to secure their elections against fraud, including efforts by noncitizens to vote, and by citizens registered in multiple states.”

If states want Voter IDs, they should provide them at no cost to voters on-the-spot at the time of their registration. But few do. Even Alabama, which provides Voter ID cards to voters at no cost to them at Voter Registrar’s locations in all 67 counties issues photographic Voter ID (valid for voting purposes only) the-day-of registration, as well as having mobile Voter ID and Registration units. The state did that only after a public outrage occurred at the Republican former Governor’s actions who unilaterally decided to close several driver license offices (which issue the photographic Voter ID cards) in counties with a predominately Black and minority population, and was working in conjunction with the Republican Secretary of State who was himself facing the possibility of a Federal court case by not offering Voter IDs at no cost. The state now has mobile Voter ID issuing units canvassing those, and other affected counties, along with other rural, and under-served areas, and populations, including the handicapped, and those with limited mobility.

The Heritage Foundation identifies at least 8 different type of election/voting fraud, not all of which would be resolved by implementing mandatory Voter ID.

  • Impersonation fraud at the polls: Voting in the name of other legitimate voters and voters who have died, moved away, or lost their right to vote because they are felons, but remain registered.
  • False registrations: Voting under fraudulent voter registrations that either use a phony name and a real or fake address or claim residence in a particular jurisdiction where the registered voter does not actually live and is not entitled to vote.
  • Duplicate voting: Registering in multiple locations and voting in the same election in more than one jurisdiction or state.
  • Fraudulent use of absentee ballots: Requesting absentee ballots and voting without the knowledge of the actual voter; or obtaining the absentee ballot from a voter and either filling it in directly and forging the voter’s signature or illegally telling the voter who to vote for.
  • Buying votes: Paying voters to cast either an in-person or absentee ballot for a particular candidate.
  • Illegal “assistance” at the polls: Forcing or intimidating voters — particularly the elderly, disabled, illiterate, and those for whom English is a second language — to vote for particular candidates while supposedly providing them with “assistance.”
  • Ineligible voting: Illegal registration and voting by individuals who are not U.S. citizens, are convicted felons, or are otherwise not eligible to vote.
  • Altering the vote count: Changing the actual vote count either in a precinct or at the central location where votes are counted.
  • Ballot petition fraud: Forging the signatures of registered voters on the ballot petitions that must be filed with election officials in some states for a candidate or issue to be listed on the official ballot.

Research published in the Election Law Journal titled “Cost of Voting in the American States” measured the ease, social, and fiscal cost of voting in 33 states by examining the law and measures in 7 key issue areas from 1996-2016, and found significant disparity among the states, not only in ease of voting, but in fiscal costs as well.

There are MANY excellent examples which Congress could follow, including mandating a minimum of 3 hours Paid Time Off (PTO) on Voting Day, with no negative repercussions for employees who vote.

For example, National Uniform Voting Standards could include:

• Early Voting period of 15 days, accessible anywhere in the voter’s county of residence
• Paid Time Off (PTO) minimum of 3 hours on Election Day, with no employer repercussions
• Polls open a minimum 12-hours on Election Day

• Improved, and Mandatory Automatic Voter Registration
• High School officials and higher education should offer/provide students’ registration
• Mandate Motor Voter Registration

• Mandate using Optical Scan paper ballots (paper trails can’t be electronically hacked)
• Voting By Mail
• Improved Absentee Balloting, including no-excuse-needed absentee voting

• Mandated Early Voting
• Voter ID (if required, acceptable types, etc.), provided at no cost, on-the-spot
• Uniformity of voter list purges

• Uniformity of Election Officials’ training
• Uniformity of Voting Rights and restoration for those with criminal records
• On-the-spot Voter Registration with citizenship naturalization

• On-the-spot Voter Registration with application/issuance of U.S. Passports
• Make Election Day a holiday, and more.

There are numerous changes which should be made to our national voting system, and Congress would do well to demonstrate leadership, and enact a 2020 National Voting Rights Act, and National Uniform Voting Standards Act to once, and for all, settle all the now-unsettled miasmatic, cacophonous confusion surrounding voting matters nationwide.

All it takes is leadership, and determination.

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