Robert A. Levine 10-14-14
For politicians, democracy entails getting a leg up on your opponents if you possibly can by changing the rules of the game and lying about it if necessary. If what is done is unfair or what is said is untruthful, so what? Winning is everything and every dirty trick that can be used, should be used. This includes doing whatever is possible to keep various population groups, blacks and other minority voters from exercising their franchise. In the decades after the Civil War, when the slaves had already been freed, it was the Southern Democrats who were trying to stop blacks from voting and employing various gimmicks to achieve their ends. Currently, it’s the Southern Republicans and their party brethren in some of the mid-western and western states who are using voter ID laws to keep minorities away from the polls, the new equivalent of the poll tax. And you probably thought gerrymandering was bad enough to rob citizens from having a significant vote.
After the Civil War, literacy tests and poll taxes were utilized in Southern states to exclude African-Americans from voting. Poll taxes had been in effect prior to the Civil War, with all male citizens having to pay a fee in order to vote. However, post-Civil War, the tax was selectively aimed at disenfranchising black citizens, as they were too poor to pay the fees. Similarly, since most of the former slaves had little if any education, and the school systems for blacks were generally inadequate after they were freed, literacy tests were merely a means to prevent them from casting ballots in states where whites controlled all the levers of power. Mississippi initiated the literacy tests in 1890, with other Southern states following their lead. It wasn’t until the 24th Amendment passed in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that poll taxes and literacy tests were declared illegal and new ways to disenfranchise minorities had to be found.
Thus, the latest iteration, voter ID laws that have been passed in the red states where the legislatures and governorships are in Republican hands. The supposed rationale for these laws is to prevent voter fraud and to encourage voter turnout. But the real fraud has been perpetrated by Republican politicians on the electorate, as actual in-person voter fraud over the years has been shown to be miniscule. The reason these laws have been passed is to curb voting by minorities, older and disabled people, and hourly workers, most of whom tend to vote Democratic. There are a higher percentage of people among these groups who do not have driver’s licenses or special IDs and it is difficult for many of these people to get the necessary IDs because they don’t drive, don’t have the necessary funds, or can’t get time off from work.
And not only do these laws not encourage voter turnout (a real Orwellian supposition), but they were shown to have lowered the percentage of people voting by 2-3 percentage points in Kentucky and Tennessee by a recent report from the Government Accountability Office. Just enough to tip a close election into the Republican column, though of course the GOP is not going to admit it. Cutting down on early voting and the hours the polls are open is another mechanism being used in some red states to curb voting by minorities and hourly workers.
Though the Supreme Court last week temporarily stopped Wisconsin’s stringent voter ID law from going into effect, other courts around the country have been dealing with state ID laws in different ways. This has depended on whether the composition of the individual court making the ruling has been conservative or liberal in its leaning, showing that this is more a political issue than a constitutional one. It is quite possible that when the Supreme Court issues a final ruling on voter ID laws, the justices will be split five to four, with the conservative majority upholding the legality of the laws. After all, whatever is necessary must be done to reduce the outrage of voter fraud, even if it is merely a mirage.