Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Phony Texas Voter ID Kerfuffle

Colorado College students yell 'Obamanos!' in 2008 as they march to the polls. Being allowed to show just student photo IDs allowed them to vote - though most came from out of state. 

After we moved from Barbados back to the U.S. in January, 1992, my first voting experience in the country was to cast a vote for Bill Clinton as President in November of that year. But first I had to register to vote in the state of Maryland. Since I’d turned in my drivers’ license for good (legally blind) I had to use another form of ID and that became my U.S. passport which I’d had for nearly 21 years (since entering the Peace Corps).

So it was no biggie. Later, I found it more convenient to get a Maryland alternative (non-drivers’) ID featuring my photo and current address. The process to get it was relatively simple, and entailed going down to the DMV and bringing three acceptable forms of preliminary ID which included: 1) My passport, 2) a copy of my birth certificate, and 3) evidence of a bill paid in my name – with address shown. Total cost was $50. The ID was good for 4 years, and could then be renewed.

On moving to Colorado, in 2000, we learned the ID requirements were even lower and only required a form of paid bill (e.g. utility) with one’s name on it. A passport could also be used. Some 8-10 years later, as Repubs grabbed the state legislature, these laws tightened up and you had to have a verifiable drivers license for an ID – or an alternative non-drivers’ ID with photo (like in MD).

The law by 2008 required you to present SIX different previous or preliminary documents, including Passport or military ID, previous drivers’ license or other state ID, birth certificate or stamped (notarized) copy of such, paid bill, and two other forms (e.g. athletic club photo ID, and –or medical, insurance ID). Total cost $100.  The good thing is that student photo IDs were still   allowed, mainly for out-of-state students attending colleges in Colorado but not residing here. This enormous student vote was major in helping Obama take the state in 2008 (after which, student IDs were disallowed).

The issue then becomes: a) Should special photo ID be required to vote, especially given the statistics for voter fraud (meaning one voter impersonating another) are vanishingly small? and b) If such ID is required should it not be such to encourage the greatest voting participation as opposed to the least?

Evidently Texas, supported by a Supreme court take, has answered yes to (a) and no to (b). Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in issuing a stout rebuttal, has noted the Texas law is “discriminatory”

The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters.”

I could not agree more – and Texas ought to be ashamed, but I doubt they will be. What does Ginsburg mean by an “unconstitutional poll tax”? She means that, historically, certain segments of the populace were prevented from voting by imposing a tax at the pools – usually in the vicinity of $1.50 per person, but often larger – up to $5  - used to turn away poor black voters in the Jim Crow south. The idea was to suppress the vote, namely the African-American vote.

In the case of the Texas Voter ID law, LA Times columnist Michael Hiltzik has pointed out that getting satisfactory ID that meets the state’s criteria could cost $75 to $175, “much higher than the $1.50 poll tax outlawed by the 24th amendment in 1964.”  The reason is because for some reason Texas disallows normative PHOTO IDs such as student IDs (you receive while attending university) or Veteran’s Administration IDs – which most other sane states permit. So this is totally nuts.

It’s also ridiculous given the Supreme Court suspended the Wisconsin Voter ID law which was not terribly different from Texas. So what gives?

I believe the court is simply trying to appease Governor Rick Perry, who will likely be running again for President and they don’t wish to antagonize all his core voters that may be for it.  If Perry's elected (God forbid!)  they'd also welcome to the Court more conservos appointed by him. Why else allow this Texas’ nutso ID law to go through but not Wisconsin’s?

In the real and sane world neither of these absurd laws would be proposed because voter fraud is not of such incidence that a photo ID is needed – and even if it is – then just allow ALL forms to be accepted, including for students and veterans, for god’s sake.

The argument has been made in some quarters that “any idiot can get an ID” but this is not strictly true. I saw many people turned away, for example, when I went to file for my Colorado alternative ID – because they lacked one of the six forms of preliminary documents needed.  Even Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Richard Posner, a conservative, admitted he “has never seen his birth certificate and does not know how he would go about ‘scrounging’ it up.” (This was after court colleagues repeated the canard that “anyone can scrounge one up”).

Well, to be honest, many Americans have drivers’ licenses – which qualify – but 20 million (like me) do not. So what are they supposed to do?  Well, they are obliged to bring the preliminary documents in to their DMV, including birth certificates, passports or other verifying materials. But what if they have no passports, and (like most African Americans) were home-birthed so lack birth certificates? Then they are up the creek, so to speak. Or disenfranchised, certainly in Texas.

Even if they DO have all the documents why the hell should they have to shell out up to $175 each for the ID? This may be money they need for meds or groceries – certainly for many impoverished African-Americans as well as poor seniors. That forced payment (which is what it is if they want to exercise their vote) then indeed amounts to a poll tax  - to use Justice Ginsburg’s term.

If we really want people- citizens to vote in this country, we need to stop with these cynical games that defeat the very foundations of our society which is supposed to be a democracy. (Okay, if you want to be technical, allowing the exercise of democracy in A Republic)

Sadly, states like Texas are more interested in how they can suppress the votes than enable them – which, I guess – kind of makes Texas a fascist dictatorship.

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