It's worth noting that, in the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision that took a wrecking ball to one of the pillars of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, new voter identification laws have spread throughout the South like kudzu. Certain states whose past actions indicated voter suppression, and were thus obliged to pre-clear any changes in election laws with the federal government, were freed to harness the old partisan mules and plow that rotted field. The surge in states voting to make major changes in voting laws looks like a map of the old Confederacy, including the recent additions of Alabama, Virginia, and North Carolina.
Every week, another rebel state makes a symbolic secession from the union, in defiance of the federal government's desire to uphold the right to vote. Only hours after the court's decision. Governor Rick Perry of Texas announced that the strictest voter ID law in the country, which had been blocked by the government, would become effective "immediately." In turn, last week the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the state of Texas. Attorney General Eric Holder stated, "We will not allow the Supreme Court's recent decision to be interpreted as open season for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights."
So, you may ask, "What's the big deal? You need a photo ID to do everything from cashing a check to buying cigarettes. Besides, I've always presented my identification at the polls." The facts are that before the 2006 mid-term elections, no state ever required a voter to produce a government-issued photo ID as a condition of voting. In the past, a driver's license, a student ID, a utility bill, or any other proof of address was sufficient. The new voter ID laws sweeping the South require that voters obtain a special photo ID, given either for free or with a fee to recipients by the government to combat "voter fraud." Critics say the laws disproportionately affect minorities, the elderly, and lower-income groups, because obtaining new, official state-approved voter ID cards can be a burden to those without transportation. Even free, state-issued IDs require a birth certificate, which costs $25 per copy and is often difficult for the elderly to locate. Many states eliminate the right of college students to vote on their own campuses, forcing a trip to their home state in order to exercise their franchise. For poor and minority voters, it's the return of the poll tax, plain and simple.
A 2007 New York Times study found that in the previous five years, there were 86 convictions of voter fraud. The new laws are an antidote looking for an illness. Voter fraud today isn't committed by some ward hack trying to register the dead; it's done by voting machine irregularities and tampering by election officials. In presidential elections dating back to Clinton, there have been proven incidences of the miscounting of absentee ballots or the wholesale discarding of provisional votes, not to mention Bush v. Gore, the Super Bowl of vote tampering.
Do you remember the last election, when a state legislator in Pennsylvania bragged on camera that the commonwealth's new voter ID law would deliver the state to what's-his-name Romney? Minority voters turned out in droves. Out of the 30 states recently enacting changes in voter ID laws, all of them, with the exception of Rhode Island, have been introduced by Republican-led state legislatures. That includes the distinguished statesmen in the Tennessee House — the same ones who thought it was a good idea to allow guns in bars. If you don't believe the intention of these laws is voter suppression, just watch the zeal of the GOP officials announcing the changes. And it's not just voter ID laws: States under Republican control are reducing the number of early-voting days, reducing voting hours on Election Day, and eliminating Sunday voting, the day that many Southern African-American churchgoers traditionally have gone to the polls.
The Tea Party sticklers for fiscal responsibility conveniently discard that philosophy when it comes to disenfranchising black voters and resurrecting a new type of Jim Crow. Of course, a huge new government bureaucracy dealing with the creation and distribution of state-approved voter ID cards could certainly be a job creator and a stimulus of sorts. Of the estimated 21 million citizens without a government-issued ID, the great majority are Hispanics, African-Americans, and the poor. That's enough to alter an election.
In 2012, a federal court found Texas' voter ID law and redistricting plans to be discriminatory against particular racial and language groups — in other words, Democrats. After the recent Supreme Court decisions, the rulings of the federal court were thrown out. So, Texas Republicans are free at last. Recalling the long lines of people determined to cast their votes in the last election, regardless of restrictions, the foolish, Limbaugh-listening fundamentalists attempting to hold on to their dwindling political power by rigging the game will probably ignore the warnings of Colin Powell. The former defense secretary said, "These kind of procedures [which] make it likely that fewer Hispanics and African-Americans might vote ... are going to backfire."
There aren't enough angry white men to go around anymore. Of course, the Supreme Court's decision leaves it up to the legislative branch to determine which states are to be covered by the Voting Rights Act in the future. Considering the current, do-nothing Congress, any bets on who makes the list?
Randy Haspel writes the Born-Again Hippies blog, where a version of this essay first appeared.
In the 14 years I've been the Flyer editor, I've gotten lots of hate mail. It mostly used to come in envelopes filled with pages of scrawled handwriting. I read them and put them in the wastebasket, chalking it up as a natural by-product of writing for a liberal paper in the conservative South. Lately, the angry folks have switched to email, and it comes in waves ...