The good news about the Voter ID law debate is what it demonstrates: the modern GOP’s antipathy to civil rights. The concerted state level effort to end-sweep the constitution is a cynical attempt to limit the electoral process in the knowledge that it will not be litigated until after the damage is done. The GOP knows that the lower the voter turnout in 2012, the better prospect their party has in the national election. However, despite financing, hypocritical rhetoric and a dependence on public ignorance, these new state Voter ID laws violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“Millions of Americans are denied the right to vote because of their color. This law will ensure them the right to vote. The wrong is one which no American in his heart can justify. The right is one which no American true to our principles can deny.” President Lyndon Johnson made those remarks before Congress on August 6, 1965, when he signed the Voting Rights Act into law.
Extended in 1970, 1975, 1982, and 2006, the VRA codifies and effectuates the 15th Amendment’s permanent guarantee that no person shall be denied the right to vote on account of race or color. During the Reagan Administration, Congress amended Section 2 of the law. It prohibits any voting practice or procedure that has a discriminatory result and states that proof of intentional discrimination is not required. The provision focuses instead on whether the electoral processes are equally accessible to minority voters. New Voter ID laws are not.
The GOP falsely claims that widespread voter fraud exists. Once upon a time it did. Electoral fraud by ballot box stuffing, throwing out non-Democratic votes, or counting them for the Democrats even when cast for the opposition, was the norm in the Southern states before legal means of voter disenfranchisement became entrenched. Republicans, who have passed almost all of the new election laws, say they are necessary to prevent unsubstantiated voter fraud. The rhetoric is flawed.
In a Wall Street Journal column, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach wrote, “You can’t cash a check, board a plane, or even buy full-strength Sudafed over the counter without ID.” Kobach is the co-author of Arizona’s SB 1070 illegal immigration law and former Counsel to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. “That’s why it’s not unreasonable to require one in order to protect our most important privilege of citizenship.”
Nice try, but voting is not a privilege. Voting is constitutional right. There is no Bill of Privileges.
Rolling Stone reports that 38 states have introduced legislation designed to impede voters at every step of the electoral process. Alabama and Kansas require new voters to provide proof of citizenship before registering. Registration drives for new voters by groups like the League of Women Voters in Texas and Florida are now restricted. Maine’s Election Day voter registration, which had been on the books since 1973, has been repealed. Moreover, early voting periods have been shortened in Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia.
These new laws could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012, according to the New York University School of Law. At a time when the United States continues to turn out less than two thirds of its eligible citizens in presidential elections and less than half in midterm elections, the states that have already cut back on voting rights will provide 171 electoral votes in 2012 — 63% of the 270 needed to win the presidency.
Most cynically, an internal memo circulated by executive assistant of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Steve Krieser instructs employees: “While you should certainly help customers who come in asking for a free [Voter] ID to check the appropriate box, you should refrain from offering the free version to customers who do not ask for it.” Obtaining a state-issued photo ID for the purpose of voting is actually free of charge. But if voters don’t specifically ask for the free ID, they’ll get charged $28.
Can you say, “Poll Tax?”
“There is cost no matter what, whether they give these IDs out for free or not,” said the executive director of One Wisconsin Now, Scot Ross. “There is a cost that you would not normally have to bear in order to be an eligible voter.”
Even if an ID is free, getting the documents to obtain it can be expensive and difficult. For example, a U.S. passport costs as much as $145. Naturalization papers can run up to $200. A birth certificate in Texas costs $22. People born out of state who lack transportation, work multiple jobs, have disabilities, or are homebound or poor cannot access or afford this paperwork.
It took the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to prohibit the poll tax in state elections. The Supreme Court independently declared poll taxes an unconstitutional violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment in Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections. Congress applied a nationwide prohibition against the denial or abridgment of the right to vote based on literacy tests. However, the modern GOP seeks to end sweep the VRA in specific and Constitution in general.
President Johnson said, “The denial of the right to vote is still a deadly wrong.” That denial is the effect of new Voter ID laws. As LBJ admonished Congress in 1965, “There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is no Northern problem. There is only an American problem.”