Time to learn from Brazil

The Pennsylvania voter I.D. law has not only spurred a national debate among Republicans and Democrats, but also a personal epiphany: if I were a citizen of Pennsylvania, I would not be allowed to vote.

Cleta Mitchell, president of the Republican National Lawyers Association, told NPR, “I am not trying to keep anyone out of the polling place. We want to make it easy to vote, but hard to cheat. I just don’t know why that’s controversial.”

I can think of many reasons why. According to the Brennan Center, voter fraud is “more rare then being struck by lightning.” News21 found only 10 cases nationwide of voting fraud in the past decade, all of which were easy to track.

So instead of making it hard to cheat, these new voter I.D. laws are disenfranchising poor voters and minorities, teenagers who may not drive and college students who live in major cities and may not have a valid driver’s license. Oh, they also all tend to vote Democratic.

A survey conducted by the Brennan Center found that “up to 11 percent of citizens do not have government-issued photo identification. For African-Americans of voting age, that percentage jumps to 25.”

For a country so proud of its democracy and its ‘pull yourself up from your bootstraps’ mentality, the U.S. isn’t doing a good job.

The U.S. should take a couple of lessons from Brazil, where voting is mandatory between the ages of 18 and 70. Brazilian citizens living outside of the country are still required to vote at the nearest embassy and those who do not vote “may have difficulties when obtaining a passport, bank account or credit facilities.”

Only non-Brazilian citizens and military conscripts are not allowed to vote. Citizens aged 16 to 18 and over 70 can choose whether they vote or not. In a country where most of its citizens, including the poor, are allowed to vote using an electronic voting machine no case of election fraud has been uncovered.

Like in the U.S., the election of the most recent presidents, including ex-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (who came from poverty and learned to read as a teenager) and current President Dilma Rouseff, Brazil’s first female president, have been mostly powered by the poor and young. No I.D. or restricting law has been instated in Brazil. Instead, Brazilians are proud of their voting power and democracy.

While I am a proud U.S. citizen, I can’t help but think that the Republican Party is slowly taking away the very essence of being an American. Many foreigners still regard Americans as the founders of democracy, yet our government is trying to keep us from the polls just to gain more votes in important states like Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Constitutional law professor Alvaro Palma de Jorge still remembers the first time he voted in Brazil: ”It was a great moment of national life, everybody was so excited that democracy was coming back.”

Let’s hope that Americans can remember that democracy is not a liberty that can be taken for granted, but one we must now fight for and keep equal to all.

Julia Greenwald a sophomore in School of Communication.


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