“This is not a billy club... This is not a fire hose…. This is not Jim Crow…. My parents and my grandparents can tell you what a colored-only water fountain tasted like. They could tell you what a colored-only bathroom smelled like..." "...this tiny little thing that doesn’t wound, that has no sharp edges. To call photo ID a degradation of human rights is not only something that is so fundamentally wrong, but is something my parents would not even recognize…. That [claim that ID requirements violate human rights] is the old tactic of telling us the very opposite of what it true.”
The above quote belongs to former U.S. Representative Artur Davis. Just recently, the ex-legislator from Alabama turned in his Democrat card, pledged his allegiance to the GOP and loaded up the U-Haul for a one-way trip to Virginia. Not to be too hard on the man, but I suppose seeing his governorship chances go up in smoke after seeing every black Democrat worth their salt stand by Ron Sparks was a bit too much for the man to bear. In fact, he practically swore off politics after being hung out to dry by "his own people." Since he wasn't too keen on listening to their wishes in the first place, it wasn't much a loss for the Dem team.
Black Americans across Alabama smelled a rat. It cheesed Davis off to no end that he couldn't lead his fellow black constituents around like the pied piper, no matter how hard he tried. He's politically shrewd, but as David Schraub points out, he also seems infatuated with how the bottoms of his own feet taste. His shrewdness is often balanced out by decisions that leave you going, "what the hell was this guy thinking?"
One of those decisions is his support of voter ID. On the face of it, voter ID seems like a relatively harmless and well-intentioned idea that anyone would be crazy enough to oppose. Who doesn't want to make sure there aren't any corpses or absentee ballots lying around to tilt an election? After all, pretty much everyone has some form of photo ID on them, don't they?
As it turns out, not everyone has a voter ID. Many states don't require one and if you've been to your local DMV, you may have first-hand knowledge of how painfully byzantine the entire process of getting any sort of ID is. And it gets worse if you happen to be down and out on the street. If you're a homeless guy who has an urge to do his patriotic duty and vote*, you might be hard-pressed to have a copy of your birth certificate on your person and having a new copy made usually entails finding a reliable mailing address and paying a fee, two things that don't come easy to anyone living on the street. Of course, those on the right would probably dismiss those concerns as "whining."
Personally, I believe ol' Artur to be wrong about voter ID being harmless. It all comes down to who the many voter ID laws currently benefit and how they're affecting current voters today.
Courtesy of Wikipedia
The entire voter ID saga came about in response to conservative claims of voter fraud. Not too long ago, it was the topic du jour of many a talking head in the mainstream media. Conservatives hyped the so-called scourge of voter fraud as the next big issue for the nation to tackle, conjuring up images of homeless and drug addicts being bused into districts to vote and the names of corpses being pressed into posthumous service. In reality, voter fraud cases are few and far between. In fact, the vast majority of "voter fraud" cases have been simple mistakes in identity and bureaucratic errors:
Although there are a few scattered instances of real voter fraud, many of the vivid anecdotes cited in accounts of voter fraud have been proven false or vastly overstated. In Missouri in 2000, for example, the Secretary of State claimed that 79 voters were registered with addresses at vacant lots, but subsequent investigation revealed that the lots in question actually housed valid and legitimate residences. Similarly, a 1995 investigation into votes allegedly cast in Baltimore by deceased voters and those with disenfranchising felony convictions revealed that the voters in question were both alive and felony-free.
Turns out the specter of voter fraud was largely manufactured from whole cloth in order to create a political crisis. When it became one, the GOP used it to maximum effect, bringing in voter ID laws designed to obstinately combat instances of voter fraud. Instead, these laws are knocking scores of legitimate voters off the rolls and making it extraordinarily inconvenient for others to register. This, in turn, depresses voter turnout by discouraging those who would have made the effort to vote if it weren't for the time and hassle involved. It eventually leaves only the most determined and faithful of voters who have enough free time and resources to navigate the process and obtain voter ID: older white American Republicans.
This is exactly what Florida's latest push to purge its voter registration rolls aims to do:
Florida officials made it clear Friday that the state will continue to purge as many as 182,000 suspected noncitizens from the state’s voter rolls -- despite a coalition's call to stop the process or prepare for court.
In the last three weeks alone, the Florida secretary of state's office has identified and started to purge what it says are at least 50,000 dead voters from the state's rolls and stripped out about 7,000 convicted felons. Officials at the same time are defending a more controversial plan to remove as many as 182,000 suspected noncitizens from the state's voter rolls.
“Florida has a very shameful history of purging minority voters based on false information before presidential elections,” said Katherine Culliton-Gonzalez, director of voter protection projects for the Advancement Project, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that works to protect voter rights.
Florida's latest efforts and those of other states are rather ingenious: under the guise of removing illegal immigrants and other non-citizens from the voter rolls, the states "erroneously" remove tens of thousands of legitimate, legal voters, many of whom happen to be affiliated with the Democratic Party. Florida's latest purge was discovered to disproportionately target minority groups. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett's strict voter ID law threatens to disenfranchise scores of HBCU students. College students, especially those from outside of the state, are usually the least likely to meet the requirements for a strict voting ID. It's a civil rights issue that's gotten the full and undivided attention of the U.S. Attorney General.
These wholesale efforts at voter suppression and disenfranchisement are a part of a much broader strategy. Even with a weak candidate like Mitt Romney, if the GOP could blunt the effects of Democrat votes in certain swing states, they may have a chance to bring home enough electoral votes to squeak out a conservative victory. Quietly disenfranchising voters most likely to vote Democrat through innocuous methods like this could be just the thing that gets Mittens elected if this continues unabated.
The GOP's fantasy of individuals subverting the voting system one by one is just fantasy. Stealing elections one vote at a time is silly and ultimately unproductive, plus it nets you with a five-year federal sentence and a $10,000 fine. The GOP showed us time and again how to steal an entire election without dealing with pesky votes. All you need are the ears of five Supreme Court justices and you're all set.
*Scores of people would suggest that the homeless have no right to vote, since their homeless. It's not said, but implied fairly well.