By Bob Cesca: Imagine you're nearly 100 years old and you've voted in almost every election since casting a ballot for Franklin Roosevelt in 1936. You're a fully registered voter and your tattered, dog-earned registration card has always allowed you access to your constitutional right to decide which public servants should be your representatives at all levels of government.
You're 94 years old. You don't drive. And you live more than a dozen miles from the nearest government services office. And now, in your home state of Pennsylvania, Republican leaders (who have admitted to conspiring to disenfranchise Democratic voters) have passed a law mandating that you somehow have to attain a government identification card if you'd like to vote again.
This is the story of Bea Bookler, 94 years old, of Devon, Pennsylvania who, after all these years, has to somehow find a ride to the nearest DMV, then has to stand in interminably long and potentially confusing lines for hours on end, in order to retain her well-worn right to vote.
"How would I get there and how would I manage to stand in a line?" says Bookler, who uses a walker. She says she can barely make it to the polling place next door to her retirement community. She also doesn't understand why she has to go to all this trouble in the first place. She already has a voter registration card.
"I have an ID which says I am registered to vote in Chester County. There is no reason why I should need anything else. It's an outrage," she says.
It's absolutely an outrage, and Bea Bookler shouldn't have to endure such a bureaucratic labyrinth in order to vote. But, according to Republicans, there's a crazy high rate of voter fraud -- so much so that they've shoved aside their purported hatred for government bureaucracy and created more red tape,government oversight and taxpayer expense in order to ameliorate it. Thus, Bookler, who's been ostensibly voting since 1936, as well as brand new voters, have to leap through a prohibitive series of flaming hoops in order to vote.
But why? In my previous two columns about this topic, I emphasized the obvious reason: to prevent low income Democratic voters from casting a ballot.
However, if we're to take Republicans at their word, there must be a seriously rampant epidemic of voter fraud plaguing our electoral system in order to pass these laws.
In an article titled "The "Myth' of Voter Fraud", progressive election law expert Tova Wang told the conservative U.S. News & World Report magazine, "What we can go by is the number of times that people have been prosecuted successfully for such crimes. And the number is ridiculously low. You have a better chance of being hit by lightning than discovering an incident of polling place fraud."
Okay so he's a progressive expert. In 2007, after a five year study, the George W. Bush Justice Department determined that organized voter fraud was nonexistent.
Meanwhile, state officials continue to allow electronic voting conducted by private companies without a paper record of each vote. Republicans haven't lifted a finger to investigate Diebold and other e-voting tech companies who provide convenient technology but what amounts to black-box voting -- no tangible means of counting votes. Convenient. Private corporations can ostensibly program machines to tally votes however they'd like, and in a way that's almost entirely incapable of being re-counted or audited.
Not a single Republican has stepped forward to push for paper ballots. Not one. You might recall how Wally O'Dell, the president and CEO of Diebold, one of the biggest e-voting companies in the nation, told shareholders in August, 2003, ''I am committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year." I'm old enough to remember how the 2004 election came down to President Bush narrowly defeating John Kerry... in Ohio.
Tinfoil hat conspiracy or not? Make up you're own mind on that one.
Needless to say, NYU's Brennan Center for Justice released a report yesterday about the impact of Voter ID laws.
The report said birth certificates can cost between $8 and $25. Marriage licenses, required in some states for married women whose birth certificates include a maiden name, can cost between $8 and $20. “By comparison, the notorious poll tax — outlawed during the civil rights era — cost $10.64 in current dollars,” the report states.
The study showed that more than a million voters below the federal poverty level might not be able to afford such costs, and that Voter ID laws would hinder nearly five million registered voters.
--Nearly 500,000 eligible votes without cards do not have access to a vehicle, and many live in rural areas without public transportation access.
--1.2 million black voters and 500,000 eligible Hispanic live more than 10 miles from state offices issuing free IDs.
--People of color are more likely to be disenfranchised by these laws since they are less likely to have a photo ID than the general population.
In the absence of real policy and a real message, and coupled with their purely superficial bumper sticker sloganeering and lies, this is how Republicans will continue to win elections: by passing laws that make it nearly impossible for the rapidly approaching "brown" majority to vote. The Republicans will do anything to maintain their futile connection with the near-mythic all-white 1950s conservative utopia, even if it means combating a nonexistent threat with pre-Voting Rights Act Jim Crow legislation and disenfranchisement.
Here's to hoping the current Justice Department carries forth the work of the previous Justice Department and reverses these unconstitutional laws. And keep your fingers crossed that old Bea Bookler finds a way to stand in line at the DMV before Election Day. Something tells me she won't be voting for Mitt Romney.