When I first heard the story about how Latinos coming out of the DMV in Nevada were being tricked into thinking they had registered to vote when they hadn't, I wasn't sure that it was possible -- I mean that's pretty blatant voter fraud. But after hearing the same story from several different sources in the one day I was there, I realized that not only was it possible, it was probable. These folk (hired apparently by organizations paid by the Republican Party) ask the individual to register, ascertain their political affiliation and promptly throw their registration away if they are Democrats or Independents leaning towards voting for Barack Obama.
I was out in Nevada this weekend with a group of actors for an event called "Voting With The Stars!" organized by the group America Votes. Saturday, October 18th was the first day of early voting and we were going to canvass, help get people out to the polls and give them rides if they needed them. In the car that I shared with Patricia Arquette and three canvassers from the Las Vegas area (Rockel Fowler, Jayme Bailey and Juanita Turner) we first heard about the voter fraud that had been going on there for the past few months from Juanita, an intelligent and indignant union worker.
She told us about a case she knew about first hand: a young man came out of the DMV, he was asked to register to vote. He filled out a form, checked a box and was told that not only had he registered, he had actually voted for Obama - this five weeks ago, before any possible early voting was going on. He didn't know enough about the American political process to question what he was being told. Luckily, Juanita was able to convince him that he not only DID NOT vote -- he had not been registered or he would have received paperwork at home by now. She was able to re-register him but from what he told her, she believed that this was not an isolated incident. She was very concerned and told her supervisor but, to her knowledge, nothing had been done about it.
I met Josue Valencia later that day at the lunch event where people who wanted to vote were invited to join the actors before taking the bus together to go cast their ballots. A really bright guy of Salvadorian descent, we were chatting in Spanglish when he told me an almost identical story to the one Juanita had told us earlier. The same thing had happened to him.
Josue was very excited about Obama and had been badgering his co-workers at the Walgreens to register to vote with him. Many of them said "Pendejo - why bother?" Yet Josue persisted, got them all to register. He says they went over to the DMV where this group was registering voters. They were asked if they were Democrats or Republicans. Josue told them he was an Independent. They asked him whom he was voting for; he said Obama. They filled out the forms and were given some sort of receipt ripped off the bottom of the page. Weeks went by and Josue became worried that he hadn't received any proof in the mail that he was registered. He ran into a Democrat who was registering folk and was hip to what had been going on. She re-registered him and Josue will be able to vote in Nevada this year.
His friends weren't that lucky. One of them, Javier, is still carrying the meaningless slip of paper in his wallet handed to him by this unscrupulous con artist. Javier is convinced that he's a registered U.S. voter; he said he was going to just take that paper in with him to the polling place, show it to them and they will let him vote... Josue is scanning it and sending me a copy.
I gotta tell you, as a Latina, these stories break my heart. Something about the idea that these well-intentioned innocent people are being defrauded seems to be exceptionally sadistic. And I just can't wrap my mind around the person who thinks it's all cool -- just part of the game. It's becoming more and more difficult for me to ignore the cruelty involved in some of the tactics approved by a political party that represents millions of Americans.
Understand that many of these Latinos are fighting prejudice every day: feeling unwanted by the very communities where they labor in low paying jobs that no "real" (read white) Americans want to do, dealing with a system that is counterintuitive to their experience and utterly confusing and still really excited about the promise of America and a candidate that finally seems to speak to them.
I imagine someone like that, fighting the vestiges of the fear that they could be arrested or deported, even as citizens -- because those threats still invariably affect their extended families, their friends, their communities -- pushing through that instinctive terror to register. And then I imagine them showing up at their polling place on November 4th, their heart pounding with excitement and pride, only to be refused, turned away, humiliated, "you aren't on the list," "you still don't belong here." It's sick. It's wrong. And I feel very very ashamed of what we, as Americans, have come to accept as "all's fair" in this craven fight to win.
Already there is such skepticism in the Latino community about politics in general; some of it left over from experiences in other countries, some of it a realistic response to the fact that they are generally used and discarded by U.S. political candidates when it suits them. So many of us are already hardened to a society that pushes us to the sidelines or drags us forward when they need scapegoats. This sort of insult, and believe me it will be taken as such, could potentially have devastating and long lasting consequences among Latino voters. We don't appreciate being ripped off and disrespected. Yeah, it's a cultural thing.
So what are we going to do about all these Latino Americans that think they are registered but they're not? Voter registration is now officially closed in Nevada. And all of Josue's friends, and many many more, are not going to be allowed to vote.
Schadenfreude is delighting in the misfortune of others -- and that is precisely the tenor of this latest tactic by the McCain campaign; the disgusting tonal companion to the vicious attack-type rhetoric we've come to expect from their rallies and robocalls.
It must be stopped. These people must be allowed to vote. I urge all Americans to put their foot down on this one before it's too late.