Nel's New Day

March 15, 2016

Voter ID Laws, Solution in Search of a Problem

Pundits are calling today the “make or break” day for the GOP, depending on whether Donald Trump sweeps the five major states with primaries—Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, and Ohio. Democrats are waiting to see if Bernie Sanders does better in these states than in the polls. People eligible to vote who can fill out their ballot are lucky. In the United States, GOP legislatures and governors have kept almost six million people from exercising this constitutional right.

Florida is a prime example. Over ten percent of adults—including one in four Blacks—are disenfranchised because of a felony conviction. Three-fourths of them are released from prison either under probation, on parole, and with completed sentences, but the law requires them to wait five to seven years after the completion of their sentences to apply to vote, a process that can then take eight to ten years.

Trump and other Republicans likely call these felons “bad, bad people.” Felonies in Florida, however, are very easy to come by. Offenses include disturbing turtle nesting eggs, driving with a suspended license, burning a tire in public, trespassing on a construction site, and releasing helium-filled balloons in the air, according to Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. Released from prison in 2004, he cannot even practice law in Florida although 48 other states would permit him to apply to the bar.

In only one Tennessee county, 19,000 people were purged from the registered voter list because they had not voted for three years. Federal law allows purging but only after eight years. Voters won’t know they have been purged until they go to the polls when it’s too late for them to register to vote.

Georgia is being sued for illegally purging tens of thousands of voters from the rolls while it plans to eliminate hundreds of thousands of more legal voters. The National Voter Registration Act blocks states from purging voter rolls for failure to vote, but Georgia has put over 800,000 names on the inactive list with the intent to purge them.

This year’s presidential election is  the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act, the first since the Supreme Court destroyed major parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act intended to protect minority voters in states with racist election laws. Sixteen states passed restrictive voting laws starting an hour after the decision was released. During the March 1 Super Tuesday, over 500,000 Texans—mostly poor and minority—lacked the correct ID to vote. This restriction may have impacted the Democratic primary because the majority of “voters of color” will most likely register for this party.

Kansas got rid of voters by requiring either a birth certificate or passport in order to vote. Even a 13-year military veteran who owns his home and registers in Kansas lacked the appropriate ID. Brian Newby, the new executive director of the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC) and friend of the man who instigated the Kansas law, unilaterally changed the instructions for the online voting form in three GOP states–Kansas, Georgia and Alabama—without knowledge of the agency’s commissioners who chose him. Newby’s edict kept over 30,000 Kansans from voting. In 2014, Kansas spent $250,000 searching for voter fraud and found zero cases. It finally found three people who had residences in two different states and mistakenly voted in both states—although not for president.

North Carolina’s voter ID laws are now on trial after 94-year-old Rosanell Eaton sued the state. The black woman voted in every election during the past 70 years since she had to recite the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution after a two-hour trip to the county courthouse before she could be registered. To get registered for the current election she had to make ten trips to the DMV, drive over 200 miles, and spend over 20 hours to get the correct ID because her driver’s license didn’t exactly match her voter registration: the driver’s license omitted Rosanell Johnson Eaton’s middle name, and the license listed her birth date as 1921 instead of 1923.

Young registered voters are also negatively impacted by North Carolina’s voter ID law, used for the first time today. Of the 218,000 residents in the state, about five percent, many are college students blocked from the polls. They reported being forced to use provisional ballots which may not be counted. Law allows people who register to vote within 90 days of Election Day to use an out-of-state ID to vote, but the same policy does not go for those who register more than 90 days ahead. Black voters comprise 22 percent of North Carolina voters and 26 percent for those who have an impediment for not having the required ID. Today voters can use precincts outside their normal one because of a court injunction, but the same does not hold true in November because it was eliminated by GOP legislation. Same-day registration is also eliminated after today.

A Wisconsin woman couldn’t vote because she couldn’t use her hands to sign a document to get a voter ID. Wisconsin had seven cases of fraud among three million votes in 2004, before the voter ID law. In 2014, the state Supreme Court found the voter ID law imposes severe burdens on some voters, but Gov. Scott Walker has purchased new justices since then. The state, like South Carolina, adopted new procedures which on the face of the new law seem to help but are not widely known and do not provide any assistance. People simply give up in anger and frustration. These changes, however, are enough to keep the federal government from closing down the overly harsh voting laws.

Even poll workers don’t know the law. Texas allows identification from voters whose names on the rolls are “substantially similar” to photo ID, but misspellings on a voter registration card are enough to disenfranchise voters. The same poll workers also fail to offer provisional ballots.

A recent study found that “Democratic turnout drops by an estimated 8.8 percentage points in general elections when strict photo identification laws are in place” as opposed to just 3.6 percentage points for Republicans. Some Texans will have even more trouble voting  after the 5th Circuit Court, the most conservative federal appeals court in the U.S., vacated a three-judge panel decision that the ID law disproportionately targeted black and Latino voters in order for a full-court review. The long delay between the panel’s ruling and the court’s decision to hear the case may indicate that the ten GOP judges are worried about a U.S. Supreme Court decision after Antonin’s Scalia’s death. Without a SCOTUS decision, the 5th Circuit makes law for Texas.

Voting has been a contentious issue since the Founding Fathers allowed only land-owning white men to participate. As more and more people were permitted this constitutional right, conservatives became more and more nervous—claiming that not everyone should have this “privilege.” The Koch brothers, who plan to provide almost $1 billion to elect their private politicians, have collected hundreds of millions of dollars to suppress non-conservative voting. The charge to repeal the Voting Rights Act came from Koch-supported think tanks. The laws restricting voting came from and were underwritten by Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

At this time, however, the Koch brothers has a serious problem—Donald Trump. They’ve managed to get rid of some Democratic voters, but the Republicans are gathering behind Trump. The brothers selected Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker as their choice for a few minutes but moved on after he made some ill-advised comments. Last summer, the Kochs refused to give Trump any of their data or let him speak at their gatherings. The big problem is that Trump doesn’t need the Koch brothers, and the masterminds behind voter restrictions have eliminated many people who would vote against them. In desperation, the Koch brothers assigned their top political operative, Marc Short, to Marco Rubio’s campaign last month. Too little, too late because Rubio dropped out of the race tonight.

Meanwhile the Koch brothers are intent on selecting the next Supreme Court nominee and destroying the nation, one state at a time, while crying that they want “civil justice.”

After President Obama criticized voting restrictions in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott tried to defend the discrimination—like most other Republicans—by crying voter fraud. Yesterday, he tweeted a link to a Dallas Morning News article supporting his false claim. In fact, the report stated that of the 80 cases of voter fraud prosecuted in the past 14 years, “only a handful of those cases involved the kind of in-person voter fraud that Texas’ voter ID law aims to stop.” Its research shows that “fewer Texans commit in-person voter fraud than get struck by lightning.” A comprehensive study found there are “fewer than three” alleged instances of fraud for every 1 million votes cast in the Lone Star State since 2000.

Republicans would probably say “not my problem.”

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