The old South’s political bosses and bigots of the Jim Crow era would have had a good laugh at the ingenious tricks of their successors in the art of voter suppression.
Republican legislators today, in dozens of states, have come up with a potpourri of schemes to block or deny thousands of Americans their right to vote. Too many have succeeded in passing laws that compel voters to present various new forms of identification that many will find difficult or impossible to attain; there will be new fees and confusing new rules that voters must wade through or risk having their vote and constitutional right disqualified.
A report in July by the Brennan Center for Justice found that millions of voters in states with ramped up voter identification laws will struggle to meet the new standards. Most of these disenfranchised will be African American, Hispanic, poor, rural or elderly people. Under the old Jim Crow laws, the same voters were targeted by poll taxes, literacy tests and outright violence decades ago. And that wasn’t an accident but willful intimidation.
A federal court panel recently was clear in that assessment as it struck down a 2011 Texas law. The court found the new Texas photo identification rules inflicted “strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor.” It noted too that those poor people are disproportionately likely to be blacks and Hispanics. But one difference between the bad old days of Jim Crow and our so-called enlightened time is it is no longer possible to declare openly that race or ethnicity is the reason why some citizens will be denied the vote. No, today’s voter suppression laws are passed under the guise of cleaning up non-existent voter fraud.
In the Texas case, the court didn’t buy such arguments, finding that the rationales state officials presented were “unpersuasive, invalid or both.” That’s about as close as you can come to screaming, “Liar.” The judges’ decision came on the same day Mitt Romney accepted his party’s nomination for president. What a coincidence. But for the GOP, it was a bad week for such things.
It’s easy to see why Republican-controlled legislatures would want to make voting more difficult for minorities. Never big supporters of the GOP, blacks and Latinos are positively cold on this year’s slate. Preventing a million or more likely Democratic voters away from the polls would be very convenient this November, given the tight presidential race that is expected. The laws might also be viewed as sympathetic of the anxiety many Americans feel about the nation’s changing demographics, sad as that feeling is. People used to political ascendancy don’t easily cede their power. Hispanic population growth, for instance, certainly threatens many whites.
Federal courts are coming to the same conclusion. Still another ruling turned aside a Texas redistricting map, charging that the state couldn’t prove the boundaries weren’t drawn “without discriminatory purposes.” However, the US Supreme Court has ruled Texas can use the congressional district maps for the November election drawn by a lower federal court, dismissing without comment the objection of a Latino group that said the districts discriminate against minorities.
In fact, in the same week Texas got that rebuke, another federal court panel ruled against Florida’s efforts to enact strict new voter registration rules. A new ruling on similarly challenged voter identification rules in South Carolina is expected soon. In court challenge after court challenge, states are failing to prove their contentions are not fraudulent. They also fail to show that the new rules won’t harm groups of voters who historically have been disenfranchised. One sees behind these southern states’ posturing the twisted hand of neocon Karl Rove pushing the laws forward.
To be sure, legislative efforts at voter suppression fall short of the brutal standard set under Jim Crow. Yet they are insidious and close enough to jog the historic memory. It is easy for some to forget that many died gruesome deaths to secure the rights of all to vote. Medgar Evers, Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney are the names we know all too well, but there were countless more. Their names and stories are lost to history. What they achieved is not. Or not yet.
Voter ID laws could trip up more young minorities
Like the young people mentioned in the above paragraph, as many as 700,000 minority voters under age 30, according to the Associated Press, may be unable to cast a ballot in November because of photo ID laws in certain states. The lower turnout could affect several House races as well as the tight presidential race.
Taking calculations based on turnout figures for the past two presidential elections, researchers at the University of Chicago and Washington University in St. Louis concluded that overall turnout this year by young people of color, ages 18–29, could fall by somewhere between 538,000 to 696,000 in states with photo ID laws. That is a formidable figure.
“Our estimates are conservative” the study reports. “We are looking at demobilization from 9 to 25 percent,” said Cathy Cohen, a University of Chicago expert on young and minority voters. Ms. Cohen worked on the study with Jon Rogowski of Washington University. She says, “If young people really have valid IDs at a rate of only 25 or even 50 percent, the number of young people of color, or disenfranchised, will be even greater than what we estimate.”
The study says 17 states have either put a strict photo ID requirement in place, request photo ID but have provisional alternatives in place for those without it, or have passed photo ID laws that have yet to take effect. These states predictably are: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.
The analyses from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s law school found that 11 percent of Americans lack a government-issued photo-ID such as a passport, driver’s license, state ID card or military ID. Nine percent of whites don’t have such IDs, compared with 25 percent of blacks and 16 percent of Hispanics, the Brennan study said.
“This is not about having ID. This is about having a specific type of ID. You can’t show up with your Sam’s Club card and vote,” said National Urban League President Marc Morial. With just two months left before the election, the civil rights group is trying a variety of methods, from phone banks to social media to knocking on doors, in hopes of reaching young voters who are most affected by voting law changes.
Young minority voters, Cohen/Rogowski said, “tend to be poorer and more transient, which means they are less likely to have a current address on their driver’s licenses or other ID. Their licenses may be suspended or revoked because of unpaid fines, or they may not have access to the documents they need in order to get valid identification.”
“Even if young voters are able to pull the necessary documentation together, the extra steps they need to take to get an acceptable ID might prove discouraging,” Cohen said.
And so the lesson here is for these young and older people to light the fire within and get going as soon as possible. What rests in the balance is not just the denial of the right to vote, but the wrong selectees for the political jobs being sought. Given the stakes of this election, given the bipartisan non-accomplishments in the past three and a half years, this makes the need for voter ID’s and voter participation a call to action to every conscience, young or old.
Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer and life-long resident of New York City. An EBook version of his book of poems “State Of Shock,” on 9/11 and its after effects is now available at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com. He has also written hundreds of articles on politics and government as Associate Editor of Intrepid Report (formerly Online Journal). Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.