The cost of not voting

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, July 24, 2012

When Louisiana voters go to the polls on the first Tuesday in November, many will be stunned to learn their voting privileges have been voided by the aberrance of the Louisiana Senate.

An exploitation of an obscure legislative procedure assures that prior to the election many voters will have been purged from the rolls without their knowledge. Consequently, when they attempt to cast their vote to decide who will lead the country they will be denied their right guaranteed by the Constitution and paid for with the blood of thousands of veterans.

At the minimum it smacks of political flimflam that is so prevalent in the legislative branch. At the worst, it is an unconstitutional rape of voters’ rights.

The issue first surfaced with House Bill 147, which was authored by House Budget Chairman Jim Fannin (D-Jonesboro) and called for eliminating the publishing of inactive voters rolls in favor of posting the names on the Internet. Fannin apparently was the lackey for Secretary of State Tom Schedler, who is facing budget cuts and claims he is unable to continue to publish the lists in local newspapers throughout the state.

Fortunately, the House Governmental Affairs Committee effectively killed the bill by tabling it and not allowing the proposal to reach the House floor. Unfortunately, Fannin found a willing accomplice in Sen. Jack Donahue of Slidell who was able to slip the legislation in through an amendment to the budget bill.

The amendment suspends the publication of the inactive voters for one year. Not surprisingly, that includes this all-important election year.

Donahue took advantage of a procedure known as adding a “language amendment” to the budget bill, which is normally used in the final days of the session and fundamentally skirts the openness process in lawmaking.

Schedler did throw out the caveat that parishes could publish the lists at their own expense.

Suspension or even total elimination of the inactive voter registration list is a slippery slope, even for Louisiana politics. To move the lists to the Internet likely assures many of those voters who are listed as inactive will be purged without being allowed the opportunity to appeal, especially in rural areas such as Washington Parish where Internet service is spotty or not even an option.

Additionally, research indicates it is often minority citizens who have the least access to computers, effectively neutralizing, if not silencing, their voice.

Parish Registrars of Voters mail postcards to verify the rolls, but relying on the U.S. Postal Service with its modern-day travails as the sole source of verification is short-sighted and ineffective.

Recently, a non-partisan national study by the Pew Center reported one in eight voter records are inaccurate, out of date or duplicates. If that’s the case, the Louisiana Senate has jeopardized disenfranchising 12 percent of the electorate, with statistics showing many of those are likely to be minorities.

Coloring the issue with these legislative shenanigans just happens to occur in a year when an African-American is running for re-election.

The state is mandated, morally and legally, to protect the voting rights of all of its citizens. This sacred responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of the Secretary of State, in this case Schedler, who is crying fiscal foul.

In the past all of the Louisiana papers, including The Daily News, have worked through the Louisiana Press Association to help reduce those publication costs. The lists are published at a cost of 84 cents per name and provide the opportunity for voters who believe their names are wrongly on an inactive list to appeal and remedy the situation.

Isn’t your right to vote worth 84 cents?