If you believe folk in your community should have the right to vote without a “photo please” demand at their polling place, read on.
In a frenzy of political deconstruction four decades after President Lyndon Johnson’s 1965 signing of both the Voters Rights Act and the Immigration and Naturalization Act – laws that Johnson saw as inseparable – the Republican Party is pursuing the most brazen and widespread voter suppression strategy since the demise of Jim Crow.
With deep roots in anti-immigrant fervor, steeped in blatant racism and fueled by corporate interests and conservatives’ money, said strategy has already resulted in strict new voter identification requirements in five states this year alone, compelling tens of thousands of citizens to secure new documentation to exercise their right to vote. Tagged as “a solution in search of a problem,” the new ID requirements couple the manufactured concern about undocumented immigrants voting in US elections with a larger Republican goal. That goal, of course, is to finally suppress the supposed Democratic voting inclinations of people of color, students, and the elderly.
While the fiercely anti-immigrant Kris Kobach, Kansas’ Secretary of State, has been at the forefront of the voter suppression policy pack, the real muscle behind the larger strategy is the innocuously-named American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
ALEC is a corporate conclave dedicated to “free markets and limited government.” According to the Nation, ALEC’s suppression strategy harkens back to Karl Rove, the infamous Republican operative who in 2006 encouraged the Party and its stalwarts to craft “voter fraud” as “an issue.” Kobach is relentlessly spreading the Party’s mania for voter IDs, recently defending his defenseless position in the Washington Post, where he unsurprisingly linked “citizens of Somalia” to a an alleged voter fraud case in a Kansas City, Missouri, Democratic primary.
The Brennan Center for Justice has worked diligently to expose the dangers of voter ID laws, asserting that “as many as 12% of eligible voters” nationwide do not have access to a government-issued photo ID. People of color, the elderly, and students “find it hard to get such IDs, because the underlying documentation (the ID one needs to get an ID) is often difficult to come by.”
In the spirit of Jim Crow, some five million African American voters may be among the most deeply impacted by the new ID laws, given that they have no government-issued ID, according to the Brennan Center. Moreover, many older African Americans have no birth certificates, having been born in the deep South during the early-mid twentieth century when many hospitals did not deem them worthy of such records.
Even without strict voter ID requirements, the Republican voter suppression strategy is already working. In Florida the widely-respected and nonpartisan League of Women Voters has dropped its voter registration program in light of the state’s harsh new registration law.
Through the new ID laws, the party of “limited government” is, ironically, imposing major expenses on taxpayers and facilitating focused government intrusion. Estimates are that Wisconsin alone will expend some $5.7 million to enact its new law. Estimates in other states vary, but the proverbial bottom line is that the very taxpayers Republicans profess to protect will foot a significant bill for “photo please” laws. And this says nothing of the likely expenditure of additional millions burnt up defending the ID laws in court.
So much for fiscal responsibility.
It is high time that the Justice Department weigh in on this rejuvenated Jim Crow strategy. While local and state organizing in opposition to the ID laws has been vigorous, Republican-controlled states have been virtually unstoppable in erecting the new voter barriers. Congressional Democrats are entering the fray, with Colorado Senator Michael Bennett calling on the Department to “review” the new ID laws, and national civil and legal rights groups are leading stout challenges to the laws in the courts.
But the battle to break the new ballot barriers has just begun. If ever there was a time for civil, immigrant, and voters’ rights groups to join forces in common cause, it is now. And it is on this critical front where the relentless pursuit of democracy and racial justice must gain focus.