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Registration Day celebrates right to vote

Published September 25. 2012 4:00AM

Today is National Voter Registration Day, a day when Connecticut citizens can rejoice about the state's ever-expanding access to registering to vote and casting ballots on Election Day.

National Voter Registration Day exists through the coordination and support of organizations that include Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance Education Fund, Bus Federation Civic Fund, Fair Elections Legal Network, League of Women Voters, Nonprofit Vote and Voto Latino.

They are among thousands of organizations on the ground and online that will register tens of thousands of voters and receive pledges to vote from those already registered. A dedicated voter registration day grew from the fact that 6 million Americans did not vote in 2008 because they missed a registration deadline or did not know how to register.

Making sure voters are properly registered and familiar with ever-changing rules is more essential than ever, given the ramped-up efforts to restrict access to voting following the 2010 shift in political power. We can only hope that the efforts of those paving smoother roads to the polls will move along faster and further than those intent upon placing more barriers along the way.

Republican-controlled legislatures in numerous states, using as an excuse concern about extensive voter fraud that they cannot even prove exists, have made a terrible mess of voting rules leading up to the Nov. 6 presidential election. Unlike Connecticut, citizens in many states face on-going court battles over newly crafted voter registration and voter identification laws. What this really appears to be about is lowering voter turnout among the poorest and most transient segments of the population, to the detriment of Democratic Party candidates.

Fraud by individual voters is irrational and extremely rare, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. A Center study, microscopically scrutinizing an election, revealed that it happened about 0.0009 percent of the time. And while conservative organizations such as True the Vote cite allegations of fraud, state review boards investigating those claims have characterized their data-gathering methods as flawed and inaccurate.

In the battleground state of Pennsylvania, up to 1 million voters face disenfranchisement if new ID requirements reign. Poor, minority and elderly voters are the most vulnerable, as they may have identification, but not the official, government-issued ID. The constitutionality of imposing the strict voter ID law remains in question after Pennsylvania's Supreme Court returned the case to the lower court, which has until Oct. 2 to rule.

A federal court in Texas last month rejected a proposed voter ID law, while in South Carolina, a state with a history of troubled race relations, a challenge to the voter laws could well reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

A South Carolina voter testified that she could not get a state photo ID because her 60-year-old birth certificate bears her maiden surname, not her first name, and according to NPR's Pam Fessler, "Her expired Louisiana driver's license, her Social Security card and other non-photo ID didn't help, even though they did get her on the plane to Washington."

In reaction to these restrictive rules has arisen a groundswell effort, online and in person, focused on registering voters and getting them to the polls.

Alex Magnin, author of the online column "The Thought Catalog," created a state-by-state list of what you need to do to vote and to be prepared to cast your ballot. Deidra Reese of Ohio Unity Coalition travels to community centers, homes and churches to ensure that voters have everything they need to vote.

If you are not registered to vote, take the opportunity to do so today, keeping in mind the words of Nobel Peace Prize winner and Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest for 15 years as a political prisoner, until her 2010 release. Elected this year to her country's parliament, Kyi on Saturday implored a group in Queens to vote in November's election and not take voting for granted.

"You must vote," she said. "You must use your democratic rights. Otherwise, they will fade away."

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