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Voter Education PSA Targets Inconsistent Rules and Regulations

New America Media, Commentary, Hill Harper Posted: Oct 23, 2008

Editor's Note: While the 2008 presidential race has electrified voters, there are still rules and regulations that could keep people from making their voices heard on November 4th. Actor Hill Harper urges media outlets to educate their communities by broadcasting this voter education PSA. Harper currently stars in the hit television drama CSI: NY and is the New York Times bestselling author of "Letters To a Young Brother" and "Letters To a Young Sister".

WASHINGTON-The 2008 presidential campaign has electrified voters throughout a long process, as Americans have experienced a series of political firsts; an African American major party presidential nominee, a woman mounting a serious challenge for a presidential nomination and the GOP's selection of a female vice presidential nominee.

Since January, excitement has built in the electorate, exemplified by the large crowds greeting the candidates and the massive turnout during the caucus and primary contests. But now our nation faces a crucial test as Election Day approaches: some states now have strict identification requirements for voters, a move that could stymie the anticipated growth in political participation.

Whatever the motive for the tougher voter requirements, public officials, civic leaders, activists and media outlets must work to ensure that voters in their states understand the rules and that they bring the proper identification to the polls. It would be a serious blow to our democracy if droves of voters, perhaps excited for the first time about their participation and choices, were turned away at the polls. Given the low voter turn-out rates we have witnessed over the past 30 years, our democracy cannot afford to disillusion people who may be participating for the first time.

Already, restrictive rules in many states that do not allow prisoners or even some formerly incarcerated individuals to vote have raised questions about the fairness of the electoral system. It is estimated that about 5.3 million prisoners or ex-prisoners won't be allowed to vote. In Texas alone over 800,000 formerly incarcerated individuals are legally eligible to vote but today are unregistered because most don't realize that the laws have changed and they are eligible to participate in our democracy. This disenfranchisement strikes a contrast to other democracies around the world where ex-felons are generally encouraged to vote once they return to their communities. Why? In part, because voting is commonly recognized as one of our most effective tools for positive civic engagement and responsibility.

While the debate will continue in the U.S. over whether voting rights should be returned to the formerly incarcerated who have paid their debt to society, there is something we can do now to prevent onerous ID requirements from discouraging voters. We need to actively educate the electorate.

For instance, in Arizona proof of citizenship is now required for new voters only. To satisfy this requirement, new voters must bring a driver license or a non-operating identification license and a copy of a birth certificate. New voters can also use their U.S. passport. New Native American voters will need their Bureau of Indian Affairs card, tribal treaty card or tribal enrollment number.

In Florida, meanwhile, a photo ID is required by everyone to vote. Acceptable ID include a driver license, U.S. passport, debit or credit card, military or student ID, retirement center or neighborhood association ID, or public assistance ID. Similar photo IDs are required to vote in Michigan. What's clear is that just as more Americans appear poised to participate in the electoral process, there are more rules and regulations that they must follow.

It's the responsibility of our public servants, as well as dedicated activists, media outlets and other leaders, to inform the public of what they need, to vote. Let's make sure everyone can participate. There are many organizations and campaigns underway that are actively working to educate voters and it is up to each of us to actively support such initiatives.

For instance, New America Media is asking television stations to air a star-studded, 30-second PSA that I participated in with other entertainers, who care dearly about our nation's future. NAM has also made available broadcast quality voting TV and radio PSAs that can be aired on-air or from websites, as well as print ads for newspapers and magazines. Collaborations such as this, to educate and encourage the electorate, are essential as we approach this election.

I believe, that in large part, what makes our country the greatest in the world is that it is a participatory democracy, but that only works if we all participate. It is up to every one of us to work as diligently as we can to ensure that every American who is eligible to vote is allowed to have their vote counted, voice heard and participate in this wonderful democracy.

All of the above mentioned materials, as well as 30 second spots from Chris Tucker and Vivica Fox can be downloaded here. For broadcast quality downloads, go here. For this site, the user is "getouttovote" and password is "Vote2008".

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