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Posted at 01:10 PM ET, 09/05/2012

The GOP and voter ID laws: How can you not vote?

John Strauser votes during a primary election Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012 in Knoxville, Tenn. (Amy Smotherman Burgess - AP)
A recent USA Today/Suffolk University poll found that an estimated 90 million people may not vote this fall.

If these results come to pass, it would mean that a huge chunk of the U.S. population will have failed to cast a ballot for the leader of the free world.

Are y’all serious? With everything that is at stake? With the differences between the two tickets so clear? I don’t understand it.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen this before. About a decade ago, I was at a poetry night at Mangos on 14th Street NW. It was in the middle of President George W. Bush’s first term, and after the open-mic session, some of the poets got together to talk. There was no doubt that it was an anti-Bush crowd: Some called for the president’s impeachment, and others railed against the war in Iraq and the state of inner-city schools.

I was shocked to find out later that none of those poets had voted. They all had strong opinions about where we were headed as a nation, but when it came to actually doing something to change things, they weren’t active. I was amazed.

When I talk to people about why they refuse to vote, they often say that their vote won’t make a difference. Others say that they are too busy to vote or that they are disgusted by the negative advertisements from both sides.

Indeed, in a free country, everyone has the freedom to exercise their right not to vote.

But this year, Republicans are working harder to tighten voter registration laws, spending almost record amounts of money to make it harder for millions to vote. Did anyone notice the recent comments from House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who told Talking Points Memo that the GOP is counting on blacks and Latinos staying home on Election Day? “They may not show up and vote for our candidate,” he was quoted as saying, “but I’d suggest to you they won’t show up and vote for the president either.” We can’t let this happen.

But there is hope. Last week, a federal court blocked a Texas law that would have required voters to show photo ID to cast a ballot. The U.S. District Court in Washington found that the law would clamp down on the ability of poor African American and Hispanic residents to vote. The decision is likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

But we can’t rely on courts to do the right thing. We have to be more aware and push those in our communities to get out and vote. Already in Pennsylvania, a judge has upheld a draconian Republican-supported law requiring voters to show ID. According to a report by PBS, Pennsylvania’s Transportation Department estimates that about 9 percent of registered voters in that state — or 750,000 people — don’t have the necessary state-issued photo ID and may not be able to vote in the election.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department has signed off on a similar law in Virginia.

So this year, the stakes are higher than ever: Choosing not to vote isn’t simply deciding to not cast a ballot. It is giving in to and fulfilling the GOP’s obvious agenda.

So, if you don’t plan to vote in November, don’t complain about how this country could be better or how the president isn’t doing enough to help you. Look in the mirror, point your finger at yourself and say, “I was not part of the solution.” Others are doing their part to influence the election, now you have to do yours.

Here’s an excerpt from a poem I wrote about the issue:

How could you not cast your vote?

How could you cope with the problems of present day society knowing that you went quietly?

Silence has always been the sworn enemy of democracy. Unwilling to lend your voice to whatever cause you believe in.

You’re deceiving yourself if you think your vote doesn’t matter

Much more than idle chatter in soundless corners within the borders of your confinement

You’ve assigned yourself to a muzzled opinion

Sending your ability to actually make a difference into an abyss of hopelessness

I know you’re not comfortable with the overall situation we’re standing in

So why don’t your actions follow suit?

Etan Thomas is an 11-year NBA veteran and author, along with Nick Chiles, of “Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge,” “More Than an Athlete” and the soon-to-be-released “Voices of the Future.” He is also a member of President Obama’s Fatherhood Initiative. To read more, visit or follow him on Twitter: @etanthomas36.

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By Etan Thomas  |  01:10 PM ET, 09/05/2012

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