Saturday, January 07, 2012

Some stuff I didn't have time for #3

Because South Carolina has a history of discriminating against minority voters, it is one of several states that are required under the Voting Rights Act to obtain federal approval for any changes in its voting laws. Just before Christmas, the DOJ blocked a new law that would have required voters to present photo identification at the voting place on the grounds that the law would disproportionately suppress turnout among eligible minority voters.

The justification for the move was the "significant racial disparities" revealed by state's own data, which showed that minority citizens are significantly more likely to be disenfranchised by the change than white voters are - as if that wasn't the intention all along.

Current rules in the state allow people to vote with a voter registration card and a signature. The state tried to justify the photo ID requirement on the grounds of preventing fraud, but the DOJ found that
the state failed to point to "any evidence or instance of either in-person voter impersonation or any other type of fraud that is not already addressed by the state's existing voter identification requirement and that arguably could be deterred by requiring voters to present only photo identification at the polls."
It was the first time since 1994 that the department has blocked a voter ID law, and comes at a time when stories - I should say more stories - are emerging of cases where photo ID laws have prevented registered voters from casting ballots.
It has allegedly happened twice in Tennessee alone, including a 96-year-old woman who could not locate her marriage license, and a 93-year-old woman who had cleaned the state Capitol there for some 30 years. The latter woman, Thelma Johnson, was born in Alabama via midwife and was never issued a birth certificate.
It's possible the good news out of the DOJ may yet continue: Texas has enacted a similar voter ID law which could very well be next to face action by the department.

Speaking on behalf of the Attorney General of Texas, spokeswoman Lauren Bean said any such move would be fought in federal court, a sentiment already expressed by South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, who echoed Gov. Nikki Haley pledge to "protect our 10th Amendment rights" - all of which statements are revealing in that they don't actually deny a racially disparate impact of these laws; they don't actually deny they will suppress voting among minorities, the elderly, the poor; they in essence claim rather that states are free to suppress the vote of certain groups if they want.

The future of these cases in the courts is up for grabs. SCOTUS has already disgraced itself on the issue, having upheld Indiana's photo ID law; still, that case was different in two ways: First, the suit was brought on behalf of people who feared the law - not yet in effect - would disenfranchise them and the Court found that they hadn't actually been discriminated against, at least not yet (and so left open the possibility of a subsequent suit). And second, Indiana's law did not require federal approval, which somewhat shifts the burden of proof.

In a South Carolina or Texas case, the Court would either have to find that the state had met the legally-required burden of proof to justify the change or it would have to find the section of the Voting Rights Act requiring federal approval of changes to be unconstitutional - which by leaving the feds with only limited and cumbersome enforcement mechanisms, would effectively invalidate the entire law, and I'm not sure even this Supreme Court would be willing to go that far.

Footnote: In one of those bizarre, artificial balance things that major media seems to feel obligated to invoke, the New York Times notes that examples of the type of fraud that voter photo ID laws supposedly combat - voter impersonation at the polling place - "have been few and isolated." (In fact, the numbers are vanishingly small.) However, it then adds that "there is greater evidence that absentee ballot fraud has been used" - and then had to go back to a single incident on a mayoral race over 14 years ago to find an example.

Footnote again: The DNC has a website called Being a party outlet, it obviously skews the story in a party-oriented direction (complete with donation pitch) but I'd still recommend giving it a look.

No comments:

// I Support The Occupy Movement : banner and script by @jeffcouturer / (v1.2) document.write('
I support the OCCUPY movement
');function occupySwap(whichState){if(whichState==1){document.getElementById('occupyimg').src=""}else{document.getElementById('occupyimg').src=""}} document.write('');