May 11 / Michael McDunnah

Maine Tea Bag Activists Gain Power, Target Voting Rights

“As Maine goes, so goes the nation.” Let us hope the original bellwether state is no longer an accurate indicator of where American politics are heading, or we’re all in serious trouble. Yesterday the Maine Republican Party officially—and overwhelmingly—scrapped their near century-old platform in favor of a Tea Party wish-list that Maine Politics calls “a mix of right-wing fringe policies, libertarian buzzwords and outright conspiracy theories.” (The full platform is available at the Washington Post site here.)

What is interesting for the voting rights community to note about the Maine GOP’s fascinating new battle plan is the menu of things they would like to do away with. Nestled between calls for the elimination of “political correctness,” the Fairness Doctrine, and the entire Department of Education, the new platform wants to “eliminate motor voter and other voter fraud mechanisms.” (This is under the guise of “restoring integrity to the electoral process.”)

The federal National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) is commonly called the “motor voter” act because it allowed citizens to register to vote through DMV offices. Nearly 32,000 Mainers took advantage of this convenience to register to vote in 2007-2008, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Has anyone reading Maine newspapers heard their motor vehicle department has been fabricating fake voter registrations?

And it’s not just Maine; as Richard Kim explained in The Nation last month, the “motor voter” law has become a large part of the Tea Party’s conspiracy-theory talking points.  So what’s the real reason for this assault on an effective and vital federal voting rights law?

Well, one of the main goals of the NVRA was to make it easier for all Americans to register to vote, and particularly low-income and minority Americans who are dramatically underrepresented in the electorate.  The motor vehicle provisions, and the equally important (though often neglected) provision requiring public assistance agencies to offer voter registration services to clients—are among the most important mechanisms we have for closing these gaps and ensuring that all Americans, regardless of race or class, are equally represented at the polls.

But the rest of the new GOP agenda in Maine suggests that more poor and minority voters may not sound like a good idea to Tea Partiers. The new platform boldly demands that foreign citizens not be allowed to vote. (Never mind that only U.S. citizens can legally vote, and that this has been the law forever.) It calls for Maine to “restore the process of assimilation of immigrants to preserve the benefits of an advanced educated and prosperous society,” and to arrest, detain, and deport anyone here illegally. (We assume the GOP is probably not concerned that Canadians are rushing southward, refusing to assimilate, and conspiring to tip the balance of political power in Augusta.)

A New York Times/CBS News poll released last month also found that 89 percent of Tea Party supporters were White. As Charles M. Blow mentioned in his editorial in the New York Times  on Friday, “widely cited polling, like the multistate University of Washington survey released last month, has found that large swaths among those who show strong support for the Tea Party also hold the most extreme views on a range of racial issues.”  (According to the poll, Tea Party supporters “strongly agree” with statements such as “Blacks would be just as well off as Whites if they just tried harder,” and “Immigrants take jobs from Americans.”)

Since the NVRA is one of our most vital tools for empowering minority Americans, we can expect that attacks on it will keep coming as the fringe extremists in the Tea Party quietly assume control of the GOP.

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