Capitol Idea: A Republican’s Worst Nightmare: The Poor Vote

Republicans have spent the last 20 months hammering the American poor and unemployed at nearly every turn. From the economic stimulus, to extension of unemployment benefits, Republicans have tried only to stand in the way of offering any help to those who borne the worst of the Great Recession.

They have done so only for the most crass political reasons, hoping to retake control of Congress by energizing the votes of anti-government conservatives, but what if, instead of tea party types, Republicans are met at the ballot box by the very people they’ve been attacking? Yes, what if unemployed and low-income Americans come out in November and turn GOP dreams into nightmares?

Don’t think it can happen? Don’t be so sure.

With the nation suffering its worst period of long-term joblessness (workers unemployed for six months or more) since World War II, and its unemployment rate dangerously close to double digits, there are some 15 million out-of-work Americans out there, and an affiliate of the AFL-CIO labor union is launching a campaign to mobilize unemployed workers across the nation for the November midterm elections.

“Millions of people are unemployed and underemployed, and millions more are worried about the future. Twenty-five percent of Working America members who are working are afraid they will lose their jobs,” says Karen Nussbaum, director of Working America, the labor affiliate behind the voter drive. “Yet some politicians are willing to play politics with the survival of unemployed workers and their families. We’ll make sure that unemployed workers get out and vote, and that they know the records of the candidates on issues like extending unemployment insurance, investing in jobs and preventing outsourcing.”

That’s just the unemployed. How about the rest of the low-income Americans who can — and should — vote? The Americans who aren’t counted as unemployed because the economy has gotten so bad they’ve simply given up looking for work. Or those who are working, but working for such little pay that they live at, or below, the poverty line.

Demos, a Washington-based policy center, wants to get these millions of low-income Americans into the political process, as well. It’s not only wishful thinking, either. Demos points to an often-neglected provision of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) that requires states to provide voter registration services to applicants and recipients of public assistance benefits. NVRA is better known for the so-called “motor voter” provisions that enable Americans to register to vote at their state motor-vehicle departments.

But the time is ripe, Demos says, to ensure that voter registration is provided at public assistance offices: Many public assistance programs are experiencing significant growth, with participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP,” formerly food stamps), one of the largest programs, now at an all-time high, having increased dramatically over the past year.

“As the full effect of the economic downturn is felt throughout the country and increasing numbers of individuals turn to public assistance, the NVRA has never been more important for ensuring that low-income citizens have a voice in the democratic process,” Demos says on its website.

And the law is successful. In a report on NVRA, Demos notes:

  • Ohio’s Department of Job and Family Services reported more than 84,000 voter registration applications completed at its offices in just the first five months of data reporting following a settlement agreement with Demos and its partners, an average of almost 17,000 registrations per month. Ohio’s public assistance agencies reported an average of only 1,775 registrations per month in the two years prior to the filing of the lawsuit.
  • In Missouri, 235,774 low-income citizens applied for voter registration at the state’s Department of Social Services in the 21 months following a successful court action to improve compliance, an increase of almost 1,600 percent over the number of clients the state was previously registering.
  • In North Carolina, well over 100,000 low-income citizens have applied to register to vote through the state’s public assistance agencies since the State Board of Elections worked cooperatively with Demos and others to improve NVRA compliance, a six-fold increase over the state’s previous performance.
  • Similarly, the number of voter registration applications from Virginia’s public assistance agencies increased five-fold after Demos worked cooperatively with state officials to improve their procedures.
  • Voter registrations from Illinois’ Department of Human Services increased to an average of 5,266 per month under a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice, compared to an average of only 446 in the preceding two years, an increase of more than 1,000 percent.
  • So, tea partiers, feel free to come to vote in November, but be warned: you may be standing in line behind a bunch of unemployed and poor neighbors even angrier than you.


    Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade. Capitol Idea is his regular column from Washington. This article was first published as A Republican’s Worst Nightmare: The Poor Vote on Blogcritics.

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    One Response to Capitol Idea: A Republican’s Worst Nightmare: The Poor Vote

    1. Artofpampering says:

      America is a world’s most powerful country. According to it’s strong economy, Technology and man power.But now a days because of job cricis a huge number of people are getting unemployed.
      Thanks for giving information.