Traverse City Record-Eagle

Our Views

August 26, 2012

Secretary of State fails the citizenship test

Secretary of State Ruth Johnson wheeled up to the Mackinac Bridge last week to show off two new license plates created to tout the "Pure Michigan" tourism motto.

It's doubtful the plates will attract many out-of-state buyers, so it's up to Michigan drivers to serve as mobile advertisements. Those who've weathered a decade-plus of miserable economic conditions here likely would rather see results than slogans, but the flailing folk in Lansing have to have something to sell voters come election day, so why not boosterism?

For Johnson, the Mackinac sideshow came less than a month after her main act, an Aug. 7 primary election mugging of Michigan citizens. Johnson used the supposed sanctity of the polling place to ram down voters' throats her personal political agenda: she forced them to pledge allegiance (to her?) by way of a ballot application question that demands voters affirm their citizenship.

Johnson first used that requirement in the February presidential primary election, despite there being zero indication of significant voter fraud. Would-be voters who wouldn't check the box were forced to swear their citizenship under oath. Anyone who refused to recite an oath was denied a ballot.

Now, never mind the fact that Gov. Rick Snyder in July vetoed wayward legislation that would have empowered Johnson's citizenship litmus test. No, Johnson, a self-proclaimed elections reformer who's clearly more interested in stoking divisiveness than reforming Michigan's pathetic, anything-goes campaign finance laws, ignored Snyder.

So elections clerks across Michigan who perhaps weren't aware of Snyder's veto went along with Johnson's dictatorial demand and forced bewildered voters to affirm their citizenship, even though voters are already required to do so when they initially apply to vote.

What's next, Ms. Johnson, making potential voters hop in a circle on one foot while warbling the Star-Spangled Banner? What if they can't sing? Or hop?

Some local clerks followed Johnson's orders with sheep-like resolve, even after Johnson's office emailed a mid-election day strategy switcheroo to elections workers, a too-late effort to stem complaints from angry voters.

Elmwood Township Clerk Connie Preston, for instance, had "no problem" enforcing nonessential and nonsensical requirements.

"I think it's fine if it helps to clean up a record for anyone who was inadvertently registered to vote," Preston said.

Baaaaaaa.

Traverse City resident Jim Kulczyk wasn't so forgiving.

"The very first question, they are asking if you really belong here," Kulczyk said. "Come on. I'm doing my civic duty."

Kulczyk a U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam war and former Peace Corps volunteer, said he's regularly voted since he turned 21. But it took Ruth Johnson's turn at the Secretary of State helm to leave him angered and insulted.

Other voters told the Record-Eagle it seemed they were being accused of fraud.

A Johnson spokesman, Fred Woodhams, stuck up for his boss.

"We don't believe this is a confusing question, and the only people it disenfranchises are non-citizens," Woodhams said.

False. Johnson's sheer audacity in ignoring Snyder's veto and requiring an uber-oath of citizenship disenfranchises us all. It's designed to plant a seed of fear in even the most-straight-laced voter that Big Sister is watching from her Lansing perch.

Johnson's voting booth demands also are firmly rooted in the deep south Jim Crow playbook of the 1950s and '60s, when and where elections workers used poll taxes and other dirty tricks to discourage black voters from exercising their citizenship.

Think that type of politically and socially motivated type of voter discouragement doesn't work?

Ask Don Thomas, an Elmwood Township resident who called Johnson's efforts "offensive to my sensibilities.

"I used to be an enthusiastic voter and now it's just a pain in the neck," he said. "It's become such an unpleasant experience I can't imagine anyone would go to the trouble to falsely vote."

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