13 December 2011
Dearest Rachel Maddow. . .
As I write I listen to you speak of poll taxes and voter suppression. I wish to share my story in respect to my personal reality and the fear that I live with. Decades before the Barack Obama long-form birth certificate, I realized my own fear. Unlike the persons in your account, I am not a senior citizen. I am a permanent resident of the United States and have been for all of my life. While I have never crossed a border into another country, I have great apprehension for what might occur.
May I provide a bit of background? For the last six years, I have lived in the State of Florida. I trust that the Florida situation, and thus mine, is familiar for more than a few. Millions of Americans have found, or will discover, circumstances have changed. The opportunity to cast a ballot, early, easily, or to merely to be part of the electoral process is no longer theirs.
Defending Democracy: Confronting Modern Barriers to Voting Rights in America
Viewing the current attacks on voter access as a whole, several key points emerge:
• Fourteen states enacted a total of twenty-five measures that will unfairly and unnecessarily restrict the right to vote and exact a disproportionate price on African-American and other voters of color. Dozens more restrictions have been proposed nationwide, in a coordinated assault on voting rights.
• Several of the very states that experienced both historic participation of people of color in the 2008 Presidential Election and substantial minority population growth according to the 2010 Census are the ones mounting an assault to prevent similar political participation in 2012. These states include those that experienced the largest growth in total African-American population during the last decade (Florida, Georgia, Texas, and North Carolina), and three states that saw the highest growth rates in Latino population (South Carolina, Alabama, and Tennessee).
• The restrictive measures adopted by these states include:
• Tightening the requirements for voter registration or making the voter registration process unnecessarily difficult by imposing severe restrictions on persons who conduct voter registration drives or requiring individuals to produce documentary proof of citizenship in order to register to vote.
§ Increasing disfranchisement of people with felony convictions.
§ Substantially reducing the opportunity to vote early or by absentee ballot.
§ Erecting barriers to participation on Election Day itself The heart of the modern block the vote campaign is a wave of restrictive government-issued photo identification requirements.
In a coordinated effort, legislators in thirty-four states introduced bills imposing such requirements. Many of these bills were modeled on legislation drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—a conservative advocacy group whose founder explained: “our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”
• According to one estimate by the Brennan Center for Justice, these block the vote efforts could impede as many as five million eligible voters from registering and/or casting ballots in 2012. While the sheer volume of the affected eligible voters is alarming in itself, the threat is compounded when you consider that the effects will not be felt evenly throughout society. In the context of state photo identification requirements, for example, an astonishing 25% of African Americans (over 6.2 million African-American voters) and 16% of Latinos (over 2.96 million Latino voters) do not possess valid photo ID. By comparison, only 8% of whites are without a current government-issued photo ID.
However, the trepidation I feel existed before my move here. It began when I first realized that my birth certificate and proof of my lineage were in question. More than once, I have been asked to produce what I can do, only in part. While I am not visibly a minority, other than being a woman, which may be both a majority and among the marginalized, I may not be among those characterized as a fully documented citizen.
My Mom is my birth mother. My dad adopted me when I was thirteen. My natural father as well as each of my parents is no longer present in the physical world. Even when they were here on Earth, I was concerned. Being adopted while living a thousand miles away from my birthplace; indeed, even being adopted while in Middle School, on many occasions I have been asked to present my papers!
Since the age of seventeen, I lived on my own. I also began my career as an extremely committed and regular voter. In Wisconsin, if you were seventeen during the primaries but would be eighteen by the time of the general election you could as I would, cast a ballot in the Spring.
When I was in my late teens or very early twenties, my mom gave me my hospital birth certificate, the State papers, as well as the revised, post adoption documents. I know not how, or when, I only know that I proceeded to lose every record.
Thankfully, I had studied the three before these disappeared. I know the name of the hospital I was born in, the city, the county, and the State. I am well aware of the time of birth. My Mom always told the story I love. I know the tale of how and where I was conceived. Still, for all these years, I have been unable to secure copies of my original birth files.
The hospital changed hands. The State of Pennsylvania, a score ago, sent me the altered copy of my short version birth certificate. On it, my adopted Dad and Mom are listed as my parents. Funny or not, today, I know not where that document is either. [I have moved too often and from State to State.] Were I asked to produce a long form file, or required to furnish more forms that speak to the specifics, I could not.
Perhaps, having been asked for my papers on many occasions in my five decades on this planet, in this country, shades my reality. In truth, that is why Mommy bestowed the certificates. Schools, professional pursuits, medical circumstances, and much more in an American life, at times, necessitates that I produce documentation.
Aware of the current political environment, and where I now live, my apprehension increases. While I believe I am still able to retrieve a copy of the altered post-adoption short-form certificate, were there a need for me to actually present verification of my birth, complete with the names of my natural parents, the hospital and time at which I was born, I cannot do so.
No Rachel, I am not Black, Brown or any color other than the Caucasian pink. I am not elderly. I am not an immigrant. I was born in a hospital, one that still stands. I also was born in a very large city! Produce my official papers? Currently, I cannot!
I strongly suspect I am not alone. Might a Tea Party person share my truth? I often wonder. Could a Conservative too be without the documents he or she is certain someone has? Independents too, in America, do not live on an island. Any of these might experience as this Democrat does. I am without documents
I thank you Rachel for reading my story. I hope my veracity will serve to expand the story. The disenfranchised could be you, and very easily me!
So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind—it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen… ~Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior
“Only you can choose whether the Earthly weight, the gravity of circumstances holds you down. You have the power to decide if you are one with the whole of the elements. Wind, air, fire, and water are yours for the taking . . .
Fly freely. Breathe deeply. Ignite or inspire with intensity. Drink the joy of living with gusto. Learn. Grow. Glow Greater!”
. . . Betsy L. Angert
Reference for Voters Rights . . .
- Defending Democracy: Confronting Modern Barriers to Voting Rights in America NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund 2011