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the election

The Campaign to Shrink the Vote

Eleven states have enacted new laws that require a citizen to show a government-issued identification in order to vote in the coming election, and similar laws have been instituted in five other states. On its face, it may seem perfectly reasonable to require that we prove who we say we are, and most states are cleared to do so by the Supreme Court deciding in 2008 that Indiana’s ID statute to prove identity with a photograph is not unconstitutional.

But, astonishingly, in this closely orchestrated campaign that followed in the wake of the 2008 election, 180 bills have been introduced in 41 states to make it more difficult to vote. Before 2006 not one state required a photo iD.

Undeniably, the many restrictions are most likely to ensnare African Americans, Latinos and the young — groups more

likely to not have such IDs. Targeting them is no accident. These groups tend to vote Democratic and were key to Barack Obama’s election in 2008. We try to avoid picking sides, but inescapably, this is a Republican campaign to skew the vote. All states with the photo ID law are Republican-controlled. Mike Turzai, the Pennsylvania GOP House majority leader let slip what's behind the campaign, citing accomplishments: "Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania: done".

A study just published by the Brennan Center for Justice, a law and public policy think tank, estimated that 500,000 people in the states requiring photo IDs are likely to have difficulties obtaining them. "These voters live in households without vehicles and reside at least 10 miles from an ID-issuing office open more than two days a week" or "live in rural areas with dwindling public transportation options". The Center's widely-quoted studies have thorough debunked the professed rationale for the sudden need for photo IDs — voter fraud — as being rare to the vanishing point and absurdly ineffectual at influencing elections even if widespread. Ridiculing the threat to our elections, Stephen Colbert warned, "Folks, our democracy is under siege by an enemy so small it could be hiding anywhere".

Many of the states adopted legislation drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) — a conservative advocacy organization (more here) that has quietly worked for years to re-cast state laws more to its liking. The group earned unwanted publicity when it was exposed as the author of the stand-your-ground laws adopted by half the states. As for voting laws, its founder has admitted, “Our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down”.

Whether or not you agree that voters should be more formally identified — and the movement is popular with some 70% favoring the laws in an April Fox News poll — it should be realized that the statutes are impeding voting by several million Americans who are in fact U.S. citizens. Nationwide, 11% of Americans have no government-issued photo ID, according to a 2006 study by the Brennan Center. Not everyone drives, states do not typically issue other forms of ID, and a decided minority has a passport.

What stops them from getting a photo ID in order to vote? Technically, nothing. Except in the usual case, obtaining a state issued photo ID takes time. It means standing in lines — just think motor vehicle bureau — and legislatures know that those lower on the economic scale cannot afford to take time off from work. And states enacting new requirements to hinder voting are motivated to do nothing to facilitate applicants, such as opening more driver license offices, increasing staffing or extending hours.

And if a citizen must pay to get an ID or a copy of a birth certificate in order to vote, this amounts to the return of the poll tax, which was banned by the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Texas charges $22 for a copy of a birth certificate.

hands tied

The Court’s ruling made the new photo ID laws untouchable. But the Justice Department can take action in certain states under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Its Section 5 prohibits nine states, most of them across the South, from changing voting laws without “preclearance” by Justice, owing to a history of discriminatory practices of similar intent as those being turned into law today. The law was extended in 2006 by a Republican-majority Congress and George W. Bush, yet it is Republican-controlled states that are now adopting laws to restrict voting rights.

Florida is one of those states and has imposed several encumbrances to voting, such as no registering voters on Sundays, which is a custom at black churches. The state compiled a list of 182,000 voters in the belief they were not citizens; it shrank to 2,800 upon checking. The Justice Department has sued to prevent their removal from voting roles, but Florida has not backed down, giving those individuals 90 days to prove their citizenship, even though county officials assigned to check have found that most are in fact naturalized citizens.

If the number seems inconsequential, recall Bush taking Florida in 2000 by 537 votes when the Supreme Court stopped the re-count and handed the presidency to George W. Bush.

The law signed by Republican Governor Rick Scott in May, 2011, also shortened the early voting period and required that canvassers must turn in new voter registrations within 48 hours or be fined. Faced with that threat, many groups quit registering. Then a federal judge overturned the rule as unconstitutional, but only on the last day of May of this year, by which time much damage was done. A New York Times analysis found that 81,471 fewer Floridians had registered than by the same date in 2008.

Texas is another of the states that introduced a photo ID requirement. Texas and three other states do not even accept student IDs issued by state institutions as proof of identity for voting. Students are targeted because young voters gave Obama a 34 point margin in the 2008 election.

Sparsely populated areas have no offices at which to acquire such documents. The Dallas Morning News made the point that some people would need to make a 200-mile round trip drive simply to be authorized to do what they may have been doing all their lives: vote. Attorney General Eric Holder says the cost of such effort is the equivalent of a poll tax.

In March, the Justice Department, invoking Section 5, disapproved of Texas’s government ID requirement as disproportionally affecting Latinos, who are 50% more likely to lack a driver’s license or a gun permit than are white voters. Justice estimated that 1,500,000 lack photo IDs. Texas has sued. It hopes the Supreme Court will overturn Section 5.

South Carolina’s nonwhite voters are about 20% more likely to lack motor-vehicle-department identification. Governor Nikki Haley cited their new law as one of her "signature accomplishments". The Justice Department has denied preclearance and the state is suing Justice claiming there is not enough time to unwind their law before the election.

But elsewhere, where Justice cannot set the rules owing to the Supreme Court decision, the question is how many Americans get a photo ID. Pennsylvania, for example, reports that 758,000 lack photo cards. In Wisconsin the ACLU has filed suit and says that “blacks and Latinos are 182% and 206% more likely to lack accepted photo ID than whites”. An extremely tight election is forecast. Which way these numbers go will decide who is the next president.

1 Comment for “The Campaign to Shrink the Vote”

  1. Don

    I urge all people everywhere who have a car and some time — like retired people — to contact their local League of Women Voters [ http://www.lwv.org/ ] and volunteer to drive people around to get their state issued photo ID.

    Yes I understand it likely means standing in lines at the motor vehicle bureau. But if you’re smart, you can take people to places where the line and the wait is a little shorter. Use your head. Work smarter, not harder.

    And while you are doing this, FFS, keep your mouth SHUT and KEEP A LOW PROFILE so that nobody can interfere with your actions. Perhaps I am paranoid, but why scream what you are doing from the roof tops if you don’t have to?

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