Campaigns exhorting Americans to do their civic duty at the polls have usually been among the least partisan of political exercises. Leaders of virtually every persuasion unite in calling on eligible citizens to participate in the democratic process.
That’s still the right position to take, but in this year’s super-tight presidential election, the exact manner in which people register and vote is coming under closer scrutiny. Some Republicans suspect the opposition of using underhanded methods to re-elect President Obama, while some Democrats believe Republicans, especially the tea party variety, have gone out of their way to make it unreasonably difficult for Obama supporters to vote.
On Tuesday, Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson delayed imposition of a new Republican-supported law that would have required every voter in that state to present photo identification. The law had come under attack from foes who argued it would unfairly complicate voting for the young, old, minorities, poor and disabled – those aggressively courted by Democrats.
There’s less controversy in Kentucky, which requires photo IDs but makes an exception if voters can only provide a Social Security card or credit card or if a precinct worker can vouch for the individual’s identity. We’ve noticed that voters readily pull out their driver’s licenses at our polling place, even if precinct workers recognize them from previous elections.
Voter registration drives gained prominence four years ago when the Obama campaign pushed to sign up young and minority voters who helped him become the nation’s first African-American president. Max Thomas, a retired state worker who supported Obama, formed a team that registered about 500 Kentucky State University students one week on campus. But he said the registration drive was nonpartisan – he never asked anyone to pick one party over the other. Last month, voter registration tables were set up outside the KSU auditorium where Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist, was speaking.
If the 2008 presidential contest is any indication – and surveys suggest it will be – these efforts may carry mostly symbolic significance. The commonwealth went for Republican John McCain then and is expected to back Mitt Romney this November.
Students at KSU and other institutions of higher learning have the option of registering to vote either in their hometowns or on campus. They’re not allowed to cast votes in both places. Irma Johnson, program coordinator of KSU’s Office of Regional Stewardship and Public Engagement, has been reminding potential voters they don’t have much time to make a decision.
While she doesn’t dispense political advice, Johnson told The State Journal’s Ryan Quinn she’s observed few KSU students from Ohio have registered to vote here. That’s probably because Kentucky’s electoral votes are almost certainly going to Romney. Surveys indicate the competition is stiffer in Ohio.
Registered Kentucky residents should not refrain from voting just because they’ve heard that Romney already has the commonwealth’s electoral votes sewn up. The right to stand up and be counted still matters, and besides, there are local contests to consider.
Notwithstanding the disputes over voter identification and fraud, the fundamental message is nonpartisan. If you haven’t registered, do so by Oct. 9 and vote on Nov. 6.