Buenos Aires In Chile one of the questions we discussed at length was the problem of voter registration in the barrios created by la toma. In the post-dictatorship era voluntary registration has been complicated and led, not surprisingly to those of us from the United States, to declining percentages of registration and participation. This problem is especially vexing for social movements and their party allies who are trying to express their voice and protest through the ballot box now more effectively. In Argentina (and Brazil) there is mandatory voting. Registration is automatic. Supposedly here if you do not vote, you have to present yourself to the city or police station and explain your absence or be fined. ACORN Argentina organizers tell me this is largely a bark with no bite. In Brazil we had heard that the fines were in fact collected, if you had to register a car or get some other official permit or permissions. Either way, most people are required to vote and in fact do vote.
All of this comes to mind because I am reading and hearing daily of the restraints being put on voter registration, and therefore participation, in Florida and Ohio, which have both been at the heart of controversy — and accusations! — In both the 2000 and 2004 presidential contests. In Ohio new rules have increased requirements for voters which will even further complicate and confuse the voting process with new identification procedures. Registration is much encumbered as well by additional rules and restrictions. An ACORN registration worker was quoted last week in Ohio papers saying for her office that they had been doing 2000 or more new registrants per week before the new restrictions, and was now down to only 400 new registrants per month! It does not take much to figure out what the legislature was trying to achieve in Ohio looking at those results! Much the same is happening in Florida.
Now, in Ohio the opposition is trying to cover its tracks by hurling accusations, once again at ACORN and Project Vote alleging some kind of chicanery in our registration work and process. It is all trial by allegation, since all charges related to the 2004 elections in either Ohio or Florida against us were categorically dismissed in court! In the world of politics and the internet, being cleared by law enforcement and courts of competent jurisdiction months later no longer is sufficient to establish innocence, since it is part of another news cycle. Finger pointing is the whole point.
Sorry though. ACORN leadership and membership are desperately committed to achieving maximum registration — and participation! — Of low and moderate income citizens in Ohio, Florida, and throughout the rest of the country. Keep throwing mud and pointing fingers, because no obstacles are going to stop the organization from doing our best to move people to the polls.
Unfortunately these new restrictions will make the process more difficult, more discouraging, more expensive, and continue to erode the entire democratic premise of our politics and society. We mourn all of this as much as we do the loss of new voters in these states.
August 16, 2006