Missing black voters could change political reality

Imagine how different South Carolina would be today if another 15% of registered black voters had bothered to vote in 2010.

If they had, South Carolina probably wouldn’t be suing the federal government to require voters to have photo IDs, or to allow police to require strangers to show their papers. We might have a Health Exchange that lowered the cost of health insurance. We would be embracing the expansion of Medicaid to 344,000 poor South Carolinians – with the state paying only 5% of the cost – as a terrific deal.

“We’re not losing elections,” said SC Progressive Network Co-chair Virginia Sanders, “we’re forfeiting them.” Sanders is referring to the fact that it would have only taken 15% of the registered black citizens who sat out the 2010 election to have changed the results. Nikki Haley won the race by 59,971 votes. There were 387,559 registered, and 168,734 unregistered, blacks who didn’t vote in 2010.

“We have the names and addresses of these missing voters,” Sanders said, “and we need help to knock on their doors. We can provide lists of infrequent and unregistered black voters in any precinct in the state.” Sanders is the Midlands coordinator of the Missing Voter Project, a nonpartisan voter registration/education effort that has registered and educated SC voters since 2004.

“We don’t tell people who to vote for,” said Network Midlands coordinator Bishop Shirley Raiford,” and we don’t just organize around elections. We educate people about the issues and policies that affect their lives and urge them to get involved in an ongoing movement for social justice. If a few more black citizens realized that we have the power to improve the quality of life in this state we might not have the nation’s poorest funded mental health services, lowest Temporary Aid to Needy Families and the country’s shortest unemployment coverage.”

The MVP data base targets voter engagement efforts down to individual addresses. “We don’t have to set up a table at the shopping center and wait for a missing voter to walk by, we know where they live,” Sanders said. “We need your help talk to all of them.”

Citizens, schools, churches and organizations who want to participate in the nonpartisan Missing Voter Project should contact the Progressive Network at 803-808-3384, or by email at network@scpronet.com.

Photo ID law: the numbers underscore its uselessness

A rough estimate using figures from the recent Carnegie-Knight Foundation’s study of voter fraud indicates that the South Carolina photo voter ID law will prevent one in-person election fraud every 68 years.

10 cases in last 6 election cycles nation wide.
145 million registered US voters
= one fraudster per 85 million possible votes.

If every one of South Carolina’s 2.5 million voters are required to show a photo ID when they vote, over the next 68 years (34 election cycles) we will catch one fraudster impersonating someone at the polls.

According to the National Weather Service, during the time it will take to catch one vote fraudster, 85 South Carolina voters will be struck by lightning.

South Carolina is in the process of spending $1.5 million on private attorneys to overturn the Dept. of Justice ruling that our photo voter ID law violates the Voting Rights Act. The case is scheduled to be heard in DC federal court beginning Aug. 27.

Read the Washington Post story on the report.

A civics lesson

By Rev. Neal Jones
Unitarian Universalist Congregation, a longtime member of the SC Progressive Network

Three local high school students are helping all of us to be more mindful of our constitutional freedoms, particularly the freedom of and from religion. Irmo High School students Max Nielson (who just graduated), Dakota McMillan and Jacob Zupan have filed suit against Lexington-Richland School District 5 over its policy of allowing an invocation and benediction at high school graduations if a majority of students vote to have one, if it is delivered by a student and if it is non-sectarian and non-proselytizing.

Their lawsuit invokes the First and 14th Amendments, which prohibit Congress or state or local governments from “respecting an establishment of religion.” Thomas Jefferson referred to this principle as a “wall of separation between church and state.” That wall prevents zealots from using the power or purse of the government to force their religious beliefs or practices on the rest of us, while also preventing an overreaching government from interfering or intruding in religious beliefs or practices. The wall of separation protects the integrity of both government and religion.

That wall was strengthened in 1962 by the Supreme Court’s Engel v. Vitale decision, which has been misinterpreted and misrepresented for the past 50 years. Those on the religious right who believe that the separation of church and state is a myth mistakenly say that the ruling outlawed prayer in public schools; that it, in fact, kicked God out of the public schools.

This is absolutely not true. The Supreme Court outlawed government-sponsored, coercive, public prayers, not voluntary, individual prayers; as long as there are tests, it’s a safe bet that students will pray. The claims makes me wonder about the fragility of the faith of those who make them. Surely God is wherever a heart has room for love.

In the Engel case, the school board claimed that students were not coerced to pray because parents could excuse their children from the classroom during the prayer. But as the court wisely observed, “When the power, prestige, and financial support of government is placed behind a particular religious belief, the indirect coercive pressure upon religious minorities to conform to the prevailing officially approved religion is plain.”

The graduation prayers at Irmo High may have the approval of a majority of students and may be delivered by students, but they receive the school’s implicit endorsement nonetheless. They are delivered as part of a school program in which students are a captive audience. I suppose students who do not want to participate in this religious exercise could skip their graduation or walk out of the auditorium during the prayer or put iPod buds in their ears or simply endure it for a few moments. But they shouldn’t have to. This is their graduation, too, and public schools are for all the public, even religious minorities and those of no religion.

Our Constitution ensures not only the rule of the majority but also the rights of the minority, which it preserves by preventing a tyranny of the majority. Rights are not voted on. That’s why they’re called rights.

Official school prayer is bad government policy and bad religious practice. It turns what should be an intimate matter into a public ceremony. Jesus was concerned that certain misguided pious people of his day were transforming his religion into a public show. He advised his followers not to be like the hypocrites who make a big display of praying in public, but to go to one’s room, shut the door and pray in private. Jesus understood that conspicuous prayer is not authentic prayer.

Nielson, McMillan, and Zupan may be students, but they are teaching an invaluable civics lesson on the meaning of separation of church and state, religious liberty and democratic government. Their lawsuit is proof that we have failed to learn the lesson.

The Rev. Dr. Jones is president of the Columbia Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Columbia.