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Our Views: Politics hijack the polls
Fraud is a real concern but partisan motives shouldnt restrict voter participation or ease
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. The Times editorial board includes General Manager Norman Baggs and Editor Keith Albertson.

This may seem a naive and silly question, but bear with us as we ask: When did voting itself become such a partisan issue?

American politics always have been divided by ideologies, from the days the Founding Fathers debated how to structure the Constitution. That hasn’t changed much over the years, to a present day when the two major parties, like lumbering behemoths bashing each other with clubs, can get nothing done over their stifling gridlock.

Yet now, the feud isn’t just confined to what candidates say during their campaigns and do once they get into office. Now it has infiltrated the very act of electing them.

This has played out in recent years across the country amid court battles over stricter registration standards and photo ID requirements. In our state this fall, two new conflicts have emerged over the push for Sunday voting and one group’s attempt to register minority voters.

Several counties in metro Atlanta and elsewhere plan to open the polls on Sunday, Oct. 26, adding to the recent practice of early and Saturday voting. The aim is to make voting more accessible and convenient, and thus encourage more people to take part.

Some Republicans criticize the plan as an attempt to attract mostly Democratic voters, since the counties taking part have large African-American populations, with a few large black churches joining the effort. Republican state Sen. Fran Millar of Dunwoody said he’d prefer more educated voters than a greater turnout, which begs the question: Why can’t we have both?

Meanwhile, a group called the New Georgia Project was able to sign up some 85,000 new voters in a statewide registration push, only to have their efforts called into question and investigated by the Secretary of State’s office for potentially bogus forms. The inquiry so far has found 25 confirmed cases of registration fraud and 26 others that appear suspicious, though the probe continues.

That’s a pretty slim number out of 85,000, true, but even 51 cases are worth weeding out to ensure the system isn’t abused. We’ve seen how a few votes can swing a tight race, and any sketchy ballots cheapen the votes of all. Yet the New Georgia Project still can pop its buttons over the accomplishment of signing up 84,949 new voters.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp said there is no concerted effort to target the group or any voter demographic. But as with the debate over photo IDs, many claim Republicans are trying to retain majority control by keeping black voters, who traditionally support Democrats, at home during the election.

If that’s true, is it motivated by pure racism, like the poll taxes and the like from the Jim Crow eras, or just plain old politics? Fact is, if black voters sided with GOP candidates in greater numbers, the shoes likely would be on the other foot. And that still wouldn’t make it right. If members of one party don’t like how some people vote, they should work harder to win them over, not try to shut them out.

The very fact the validity of voter registration or the timing of when voting is allowed can be challenged as a partisan issue is indicative of how far our government has slipped and how hard leaders cling to power over principle. Since when is getting people registered to vote or making voting more convenient bad ideas? Let’s focus more on the quality of the candidates on the ballot than names being put legitimately on voter lists.

And if there is an attempt to suppress votes, for any reason, it isn’t working very well: Turnout percentages for African-American voters have increased in the last two presidential elections in Georgia and elsewhere. Nationwide, black turnout rose to 65 percent in 2008, 55 percent in the 18-to-24 age demographic, with 1.1 million more casting ballots in 2010 than four years earlier, according to Census Bureau data.

Though the increased turnout may have been fueled by Barack Obama’s appearance on the ballot, many voters could stay engaged in the process going forward.

That, again, is a good thing. Though some may see these demographic shifts in voting trends as a threat to their political futures, Americans should get the leaders they choose as selected by the many, not by a few. In an era when a quarter or fewer of eligible adults bother to vote in most elections, no one should discourage ideas to increase participation.

Yet it also makes sense to secure our voting system by setting reasonable standards to ensure all who register and show at the polls are eligible. A photo ID isn’t an onerous requirement, and should be available free of charge to those who need one. And when suspicions of fraud are found, the state is duty-bound to investigate them to ensure all votes are cast fairly and honestly.

The deadline to register for the Nov. 4 election is Oct. 6. If you haven’t signed up yet, please do so. If you have, please vote. Having everyone take part in how our leaders are chosen and our government functions makes our state and nation stronger, and nothing should stand in your way.

Our ability to select candidates in a democratic republic (lowercase each) is what separates us from banana republics and rule by tyrants. No one should play politics with it, from either side.

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