Republican state legislators’ proposed measures to require people to show identification or to swear an oath of their identity when they vote may appeal to their constituents, but are against the law, specifically, the Voting Rights Act.
In the wake of civil rights protests and violence, the Johnson Administration drafted a bill intended to enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments, aiming to eliminate various legal strategies to prevent blacks and other minorities from voting. President Johnson signed the Act into law on August 6, 1965.
During the Reagan Administration, Congress amended Section 2 of the law in 1982, prohibiting any voting practice or procedure that has a discriminatory result and stating that proof of intentional discrimination is not required. The provision focused instead on whether the electoral processes are equally accessible to minority voters.
Even though Section 2 is permanent and does not require renewal, President George W. Bush signed a bill extending the Voting Rights Act for another 25 years, on July 27, 2006, just to put the Voting Rights Act into perspective.
Voter ID bills are the latest GOP tactics to disenfranchise poor and minority populations who tend to vote Democratic. Similar to literacy tests in order to register to vote or to poll taxes in order to vote, the Act prohibits states from imposing any “voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure…to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote…”
That a “photo ID law will increase citizen confidence in the process and combat fraud that could be going undetected,” as Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett (R) has said, has little basis in fact. There already are substantial punishments for those who vote illegally. However, little or no evidence of voter fraud to substantiate such a claim exists.
Voter ID bills are another form of voter discrimination that will find opposition from right-thinking Republican and Democratic legislators alike. As we have seen in Wisconsin, however, such opposition may only get traction on television. If such bills pass, they will go to court where they will lose because they are illegal.
Voter ID is a not-so-subtle step for the GOP that displays the party’s antipathy to civil rights.