Voter ID Laws are Resurrecting the Spirit of Jim Crow

Voter suppression in 2012?

By Bob Cesca: If President Obama loses in November, it won’t be Super PACs or Republican lies about his record that will defeat him. It won’t be fundraising or advertising or punditry. If President Obama loses, it will almost certainly be due to Jim Crow style voter suppression and disenfranchisement. And no one is really talking about it.

Specifically, I’m referring to the Republican plot to make voting nearly impossible for low-income, working class Americans, and, therefore, disenfranchising scores of Democratic voters. There are two concurrent policies in action here: Voter ID laws and voter registration purges.

Regarding the latter, Florida governor Rick Scott has been attempting to carry on a time-honored tradition in his swelteringly ridiculous police state. Scott’s Secretary of State ordered hundreds of thousands of potential illegal immigrants and others purged from voter rolls. A fantastic pander to the far-right racist base, but clearly an act of nefarious disenfranchisement was attempted here by the Republican administration. The Justice Department stepped in and ordered an end to the purge, but Scott defied the order. Then the state’s wiser and less-Jim-Crow-ish Supervisors of Elections determined that, in an initial analysis of 2,625 names, only 13 were ineligible voters. Put another way, 98.4 percent of the voters on part of Scott’s purge list were valid registered voters. Deliberate or a massively unprecedented clerical error? Hmm. If we extrapolate those numbers and apply them to the entire purge list, 177,000 voters out of 182,000 would be unjustly disenfranchised.

We’ve watched this disgusting show before. In Florida, prior to the 2000 election, thousands of African American voters were purged from the rolls because they happened to share similar names to convicted felons and the like. Michael Moore documented the congressional protest against the purge in his film Fahrenheit 911 (timecode 3:20).

According to Ari Berman, 12,000 voters — 41 percent of which were African Americans and would-be Gore voters — were erroneously and deliberately stripped of their constitutional right to vote. When the Supreme Court stopped the recount, Gore lost to George W. Bush by 537 votes. Not shockingly, the purge was organized by Bush campaign state chairwoman (and proto-Sarah-Palin humanoid) Katherine Harris, who, by the way, was appointed by Jeb Bush.

Coupled with the new voter ID law in the state, some 100,000 voters could be stripped of their right to cast a ballot in November.

If Republicans can successfully prevent minority and working class citizens from voting, Mitt Romney will win. In a televised address, Pennsylvania state House Republican Leader Mike Turzai accidentally blurted out the truth when ballyhooing the passage of a Voter ID law there: “Voter ID that will allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania — done!”

Voter ID laws passed in dozens of states including Alabama, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin mandate that voters present a photo identification card issued by the state government in order to cast a ballot. On the surface, it sounds fishy but okay — until, that is, we learn that many working class and poor voters who happen to vote Democratic don’t have state-issued IDs, or they simply don’t have the financial means to get one.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, which opposes the laws, says as many as 5 million voters could be turned away at the polls. About 18 percent of seniors and 25 percent of African-Americans don’t have state-issued photo identification, according to the center.

There are a variety of reasons for this. First of all, most people work during the same hours that government offices like the DMV are open. Potential registered voters are forced to miss work in order to stand in line for a photo ID or a driver’s license. Many poor voters don’t have access to transportation or the funds to pay the fee for the ID — a fee which has become a Jim Crow poll tax due to the Voter ID law. Other voters might have sketchy legal problems and are naturally fearful of walking into government offices.

How about this for Orwellian: in Mississippi, the Voter ID law requires that a birth certificate be presented in order to get a photo ID, but a photo ID is necessary in order to attain a copy of a birth certificate.

Arguably the most Democratic, pro-Obama state in the union is the president’s home state of Hawaii. But in the Aloha State, a photo ID is required to vote. And as of March, 2012, if you want to get a driver’s license, you have to produce a birth certificate and Social Security card, and — get this — if you’re a married woman who adopted your husband’s last name, you also have to present a copy of your marriage certificate to get a license to drive a car, and, thus, to vote. Citizens without ample free time and without the transportation to and from the DMV with cash or check in hand can’t possibly get an ID and so they simply can’t vote. At some point, formerly motivated voters will give up and spare themselves the hassle. (Interesting how the state at the center of the Birther controversy has an incredibly stringent ID process that includes a birth certificate.)

Sixteen states, mostly red states, now require photo IDs at polling places. In other words, in one-third of the nation, you have to pay a fee while potentially losing additional wages from lost work in order to vote. Do you seriously think Mitt Romney’s best voters are unable to pay those fees or can’t afford to take a half-day off work in order to visit the DMV?

Participation in the democratic process should be simple and universal. But, once again, fear of skin color — in this case, a thinly pitched anti-illegal-immigration zealotry — is being exploited in order to win elections for Republicans. Coupled with the well-worn Southern Strategy, one of the two major political parties in America is oppressing minority voters in an attempt to win elections. But, contrastingly, Voter ID laws are far worse than the Southern Strategy. It’s not unconstitutional to exploit white anger against minorities as a means of getting out the vote. But Voter ID steps all over the Constitution (and, contradictorily, ID laws are broadly supported by tea partiers in their tri-corner hats and Founding Fathers drag).

Thom Hartmann often airs a clip of conservative godfather Paul Weyrich proclaiming, “I don’t want everybody to vote… As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

Somehow, the conservative movement has managed to implant this theory into state election laws, and I get more than a little barfy when I consider the consequences, especially with the subsequent impact of Election 2000 still fresh in my memory.

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