March 13, 2011; Source: National Journal | Our nation needs people to vote. It's essential to our democratic process. Nonprofits have increasingly been active in helping get voters registered and educated, notably the Nonprofit Voter Engagement Network which has been profiled in the pages of Nonprofit Quarterly. But some organizations it seems have quite a different idea about this.
For example, a Texas-based Tea Party organization called "True the Vote" issued a warning about electoral fraud, having found that "precinct judges . . . help people vote." As Eliza Carney of the National Journal says, "One would hate to think of a poll worker helping someone vote." True the Vote and others are so exercised about this that they have planned a national summit in Houston on March 25 to train citizen volunteers to act as poll watchers during the 2012 elections.
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Other strategies to combat purported electoral fraud include campaigns to require photo IDs and proof-of-citizenship, to eliminate same-day voter registration, and to limit voting access for students and people with past felony convictions. In Florida, for example, even serving your time doesn't get you the vote, at least not right away. The Board of Executive Clemency in the state decided to mandate a seven-year wait on voting by residents with past felony convictions.
New Hampshire recently considered, and rejected, a law to restrict student voting. These initiatives seem to be exactly contrary to the intent of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). The American Legislative Exchange Council is pitching to Republican controlled legislatures a model bill on restricting voting (under the guise of attacking voter fraud). The model legislation was funded by the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. For all the nonprofit conference discussions of the role of 501(c)(3)s in voter registration and education, nonprofit readers of the Nonprofit Quarterly should realize that there is a well-funded nonprofit movement pushing in exactly the opposite direction.—Rick Cohen