Saturday, January 14, 2012

Photo ID Voting Laws: The New 'Jim Crow' Laws At Our Door

During the 'Jim Crow' era of the South, the states of the Old Confederacy were perpetually worried about black voters overtaking their chosen segregationists and making hay. Along with the laws that kept 'White' and 'Colored' accommodations, dining and restrooms separate, as well as water coolers (I was once scolded at the age of ten while traveling through MS, en route with parents for a vacation to Milwaukee for inadvertently choosing a water cooler marked 'colored', then asked if 'can't read') voter suppression was big on the menu. Usually this was done using the ruse of "literacy tests" or some other devious means to disallow any black votes.

Seems now that times haven't changed that much and (especially) since last year as many as 34 states introduced voter ID laws, of which five have been enacted while governors (democrats) in 5 other states have vetoed them. (according to a recent report in the Jan-Feb AARP Bulletin: 'Battle at the Ballot Box', p. 20) Other states are considering them and if all these laws are passed they could have very nearly the same effect of mass voter disenfranchisement as the 50s-early 60s Old South laws. Well, why be surprised when the country seems to have tilted more and more toward all things "Dixie" including on politics, economics and religion since the 1960s? After all, the GOP is now basically the party of the Old South, its politics of "God, guns and Bibles" rules - along with the central economic doctrine of "small gubmint" - ensconced since the time of the Confederacy and Jefferson Davis.

A real problem with confronting voter suppression laws concerns the spread of two memes that appear to reinforce the push for such laws. Simply expressed they are as follows:

1) It's no biggie! After all, you need a photo ID to drive!

2) If it helps stop voter fraud it's worth it!

Meme (1) or "argument 1" if you can even dignify by that, is specious because it flatly conflates a right and a privilege. Voting is a right affirmed in the Constitution, while driving is a privilege. Hence, the meme mixes chalk and cheese, but in a nation often short of critical thinking, this often passes muster. Nor does the comparison to flying and having to present a photo ID to do that pass the smell test. Again, flying - even across country - is a privilege not a right. The same rigid standard simply can't be used for voting.

People who resort to (1) also are usually ignorant of the millions of people affected by the potential photo ID requirement laws. For example, up to 1 in 3 elderly African -Americans would be affected. The reason is that most of these people were born in homes in the rural South where births were never officially recorded. Thus, since obtaining a state photo ID generally requires presentation of a birth certificate, marriage certificate, and other documents....not too mention often high costs - these potential voters are up against it.

The same applies to millions of over-65 American who often surrender their drivers' licenses because of poor vision, but either don't remember to get a generic state ID, or their states don't offer them. In either case, they end up without. According to the AARP report, "nearly 1 in 5 citizens over 65 lacks a current, government issued photo ID". The report also notes "those over 65 are more likely to lack birth certificates because they were born before recording births was a standard procedure".

Students - such as those at university - pose another problem. Many do have IDs but they're useless on account of being uiniversity IDs. What they will need to vote in the states with voter ID laws (see also the list attached) is a proper, government-state issued ID. These can be obtained in most states, but students need to get underway now, including rounding up all the documents they need to support their case, such as birth certificates. They should not wait until the last minute, especially because state motor division offices (where they're issued) are often over-crowded with applicants. Also, there's usually a one month waiting period to actually get the ID in your hands.

The AARP report adds:

"Strict new photo ID laws could make voting this year more difficult for 3.2 million voters in Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin if the new laws stand."

Meanwhile, a lawsuit is challenging the voter ID law in Wisconsin and the Justice Department is reviewing laws in Texas and South Carolina.

Meme (2) became entrenched during the Bush v. Gore battle of 2000, after Bush's brother Jeb and Florida Secretary of state Kathleeen Harris engineered a subtle voter suppression tactic using Choicepoint to place African-Americans on "felons lists". All of this is well documented in Chapter One of Greg Palast's excellent book (now available online free as a .pdf if you google it): 'The Best Democracy Money Can Buy'.

Thus, though over 57,000 black Democratic votes were estimated suppressed in Duval County alone, the Repukes and Bushies circulated the specious counter-claim that it was BUSH at risk from "voter fraud" there, and hence they had to go to the Supreme Court to ensure "equal treatment". All of which is bare bollocks.

But according to Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, quoted in the AARP Bulletin (ibid.):

"It's more likely that an individual will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls".

And indeed, the Wisconsin voter ID law, supposedly introduced to thwart such impersonation under the Walker regime, originated despite the fact (according to Rachel Maddow on MSNBC) that only seven instances of such fraud had been determined since 2000, 4 of which were on the Gooper side.

Let us hope this new, odious techno -version of 'Jim Crow' doesn't eliminate the millions of voters Obama needs to secure a 2nd term. The thought of Mitt Romney as President, and governing under a "Bain financial formula" dictate for the one percent - enabling all companies to toss out workers at will for "higher efficiency" - will see most of us homeless, penniless and hungry. Meanwhile Romney's minions will get to even gorge on more foie gras as they catch their weekly rose wine wraps and 18-holes on St. Kitts.

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