Nel's New Day

May 23, 2011

Photo IDs for Voting

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:53 PM

The right to vote has had a long history of discrimination in the United States, starting with the decree of the Founding Fathers that only white, male property owners—less than 16 percent of the population at that time—could cast a vote. Although the requirement for being a property owner was abandoned in 1850, the white male requirements still stood. Other discriminatory requirements rapidly crept into law: Connecticut in 1855, followed by Massachusetts two years later, introduced literacy test requirements for voter registration. After the Civil War, when white people panicked about black people voting, poll taxes appeared in a number of states until they were outlawed for federal elections. Native Americans didn’t gain the right to vote until they became citizens in1920, the same year that women gained the vote.Texas has gone so far as to hold white primaries, privately operated, until the federal government stopped them.

Almost fifty years ago, the Civil Rights movement made great changes by outlawing both poll taxes and literacy requirements for voter registration as well as monitoring counties with historically low voter turnout. Now the conservatives who want to keep progressives from voting have discovered a new way to increase the wealthier, whiter vote: the requirement for voter picture ID. Three years ago, low-income people, students, rural residents, and seniors were a strong force in putting Barack Obama into the White House. Conservatives are disenfranchising these groups by demanding photo identification before voting.

Right now, state laws for voting are all over the place and sometimes really inconsistent. For example, Delaware includes both photo ID and a utility bill as acceptable identification. In other states such as Hawaii, photo ID is required, but a person without it can state date of birth and residence address for proof. These laws, however, are rapidly changing into horrifying, restrictive ones.

Some states such as Georgia passed mandated photo IDs for voting before the 2008 election, but the mainstream media didn’t focus much on their law. By 2011 ten states had passed laws requiring photo ID for a person to vote.

Last week Ohio passed a highly restrictive law which even refused to allow photo student IDs from state institutions as one of the mandated photo IDs. Fraud was cited as justification although no one could present any examples. One state legislator said that there was probably a great deal of fraud that was never reported. Some black Democratic lawmakers protested that the legislation targets blacks citing a study from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law showing that 25 percent of voting-age blacks lack a current government-issued photo ID. Another state legislator said he didn’t believe the study, that this number was way too high.

Kansas has already passed a highly restrictive law that goes into effect on January 1, and New Hampshire is gearing up for one.

Conservatives such as South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley claim that people should have no trouble getting ID for this—they should just use drivers’ licenses, for example. At this time 178,000 South Carolina voters lack the mandated ID. To get this ID, a person needs “proof of citizenship.” A birth certificate costs at least $12. If people are forced to make a choice, would they rather buy food or a birth certificate? Pretty simple answer. And they not only need to put together the money. They also have to take time away from a job and find transportation to a motor vehicle office. South Carolina has 60 of those in a state with more than 30,000 miles.

Some states are paying for the ID although not for the time, effort, and cost to obtain one. These are states that have serious money shortfalls but are willing to pay more to keep people from voting. North Carolina with its $37.6 shortfall could lose over $20 over the next three years for IDs and publicity. Other states predict similar amounts. There’s also the cost for individual counties to update forms and websites as well as hire and training staff to inspect IDs and handle provisional ballots. In 2009, Maryland estimated that just one county would have to pay over $95,000 for each election.  All this expenditure from states that claim to be broke and broker.

Voter IDs are not the only way that states are eliminating people’s right to vote. Florida’s bill requires volunteers in registration drives to register with the state and mandates that all voter registration cards be provided to the state within 48 hours after it is signed. The person getting the registrations would have to pay a $50 fine for every late card. So much for spontaneous get-togethers in the park where one person has a batch of cards and unregistered people can fill them out. Even the League of Women Voters refuses to have any more registration drives.

Wisconsin’s new restrictive law requires everyone who registers voters be certified by the municipality where people are being registered. That means that anyone who wants to register people in ten different towns must visit each municipality to get certified by that municipality. Forget registering at that friendly get-together in the park where someone came from another town.

Conservatives forcing these laws through state legislatures always claim that they are trying to stop voter fraud. (This from the party that continually “loses” ballots or “finds” them—always to the benefit of the Republicans.) The greatest fraud in voting now comes from those trying to get rid of voters. In last fall’s Texas election, poll watchers who some thought had ties to a tea party group called “True the Vote” came to minority polling sites in Houston. They supposedly watched people vote, followed them and then verbally confronted them although state law prevents poll watchers from speaking to voters. Perhaps it’s only intimidation instead than fraud.

Minnesota’s tea party-backed “Election Integrity Watch” offered $500 bounty to anyone providing tips about fraud and urged volunteers to photograph and videotape voters at the polls. They also told volunteers to follow buses at the polling place and videotape them as well as search for non-citizen voters—whatever they look like.

Over 11 percent of U.S. citizens with the legal right to vote may be refused this constitutional right. If you don’t mind getting scared, just Google “photo voter ID state” for more information. It’s time for a Civil Rights movement!

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