Politicians don't care much for protecting our rights

In line with Republican's efforts to lower participation in elections, presidential candidate and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed election reforms passed by the New Jersey legislature. The reforms would have made registering to vote easier and would have extended the number of days citizens could cast their votes.

The bill would have allowed the people of New Jersey, as they currently do in some other states, to register to vote when they registered their vehicles at their local Department of Motor Vehicles. This would have helped an estimated 1.6 million eligible residents who are not yet registered. Similar bills are pending in about 17 other states.


Christie also vetoed a provision that would have expanded the number of voting days in New Jersey. He stated that he did not want to expand registration and voting opportunities for his constituents because it would increase fraud, and be too cumbersome and costly. All three complaints, however, were disputed by the bill's advocates.

In fact, connecting voter registration to online vehicle registration opportunities has resulted in more accurate voter lists in other states. According to Myrna Perez, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center in New Jersey, the bill vetoed by Christie "would have made our registration lists more accurate and up to date, and voting more flexible and convenient."

Of course, there are lots of examples of real fraud and injustice in the United States if, indeed, politicians really cared about protecting American's rights under our Constitution. Instead, some politicians seem to spend their time trying to limit our rights.

Meanwhile, a second GOP candidate for president wants to limit who can run for president based upon their religion. No, I'm not talking about Dr. Ben Carson who wants to prevent Muslims from being president. I'm talking about Sen. Ted Cruz, who is taking Carson's idea and expanding it to include all non-Christians, including Jews. At a recent National Religious Liberties Conference in Iowa, Cruz was asked how important it was for candidates to submit to Jesus Christ as "the king of the President of the United States." Cruz's response was that "Any president who doesn't begin every day on his knees isn't fit to be commander-in-chief of this country."

Carson and Cruz claim to be Constitutionalists, yet neither seems to have an understanding of the Constitution which specifically states that "No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

While Carson, Christie and Cruz are trying to limit our constitutional rights, I recently read about Harry Miller who was convicted of robbing a women in Utah. At the time of the robbery, however, he was living with his sister in Louisiana while recovering from a stroke. This is certified by doctors and hospital records. In addition, Miller is 47 years of age; the robbery victim stated that the man who assaulted her was in his teens or early 20s.

So how does an obviously innocent man get convicted of a crime like this in America and spend nearly four years of his life in jail? The answer is simple: Many poor people in America don't receive the level of justice guaranteed under our Constitution. Indeed, Miller was poor and could not afford a lawyer with the skills or time to protect him against an eyewitness who incorrectly picked him out of a lineup.

Kim Bellware, a reporter for The Huffington Post, cited a report by the Sixth Amendment Center outlining how Utah's poor are frequently deprived of their constitutional rights in court, including the right to an attorney. The report found that in one instance, an attorney was paid $30 per client to represent hundreds of indigent defendants in court. One can imagine how poorly these defendant's rights were (not) protected.

Where is the outrage from the Constitutionalists running for president about Miller and hundreds of other poor citizens denied justice in America? Why isn't Christie fighting for Miller's right to an attorney instead of fighting to keep Americans from voting? Why aren't Carson and Cruz fighting to keep innocent people out of prison, instead of fighting to keep non-Christians out of the White House?

We don't need politicians inventing false issues of fraud or injustice in the United States. There are plenty of real issues of fraud and injustice to address, if they really cared.

Tom Zirpoli writes from Westminster. He is a professor and program coordinator of the Human Services Management graduate program at McDaniel College. His column appears Wednesdays. Email him at