Friday, September 07, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #72 - Part 2

Voter ID: Some good news, some bad news

I have been talking about these voter ID laws that a number of states have passed recently that have the effect of making it harder for what are generally regarded as liberal-leaning constituencies - the young, the poor, and minorities - to vote. These laws also significantly impact the elderly. While the elderly are not always thought of as a liberal constituency, on matters like Social Security and Medicare - both of which the right wing would love to destroy - they damn well are.

Well, there are actually some bits of good news on this.

For one, there is a Texas law that requires voters to present a photo ID in order to vote in November. On August 29 a three-judge panel of a federal appeals court in Washington, DC, ruled that this law imposes "strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor" and struck it down.

A different panel of the same court is hearing a case involving South Carolina's attempt to suppress minority voting. Because of its history of racial discrimination, changes to South Carolina's election laws have to be approved by the Justice Department. The DOJ blocked the state's new voter ID law on the grounds that it was discriminatory. The state sued in federal court to overturn the DOJ's decision.

It hasn't been going too well for the state. One witness, South Carolina Election Commission Executive Director Marci Andino, admitted that the voter ID law could not prevent voter fraud, and that she had never seen a case of credible in-person fraud. Another witness, Alan Clemmons, a state representative and main sponsor of the law, admitted under cross-examination that he had no proof of anyone casting ballots fraudulently. He was also presented with evidence that he at one time had been handing out bags of peanuts with cards attached that read, "Stop Obama’s nutty agenda and support voter ID" - which pretty clearly shows an intended connection between voter ID and political gain.

The day after the Texas decision, a district court in Ohio ordered that state to restore in-person voting in the last weekend before the election. That had been the law since after the 2004 elections, but this year the state tried to restrict the option just to members of the military and citizens living abroad. The judge found the change "arbitrary" and that the state had failed to show any compelling interest in the restrictions.

Not all news on this topic is good, however. Unfortunately if perhaps unsurprisingly, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced Tuesday that the state would not comply with the ruling until an appellate court rules on the matter. I frankly suspect that the hope is to delay such a ruling until a time so close to the election that people will already be conditioned to the idea that they can't do early voting those days so that even if the state loses, as it should, it won't make any difference. This is the state, remember, that tried to extend hours for early voting in GOPper districts and limit them in Democratic districts.

What's more, voter ID laws are not the only way access to the voting booth is being restricted. One other way is creating roadblocks to getting people registered. Florida, for example, put new restrictions on voter registration drives so severe that even the League of Women Voters gave up on trying. And if you don't think that has a political impact, check this:

This simple bar graph - and I will tell you, it's not precisely to scale, it's just to give the idea - is of new major party voter registration in Florida in the 13 months leading up to the previous two and the current presidential election campaigns. In each case, the period covered was actually from July 1 of the previous year to July 31 of the election year.

As you can see, there were about 159,000 new voters registered as Democrats and about 112,000 registered as GOPpers in the run-up to the 2004 election.

In the 13 months leading up to the 2008 election campaign, there were a good number of new Democratic party registrations - which is not surprising, considering the enthusiasm around the Obama campaign. There were roughly the same number for the GOPpers as the previous occasion.

Between then and now, Florida instituted its restrictions on voter registration drives. The result is clear: While in the year leading up to this campaign the GOP again got new registrations in the same ballpark as previously, new Democratic party registrations crashed to just 11,000.

The point here is, these laws work. They have real world consequences. They really do impact the ability of people - of, to be more exact, the people the right wing does not want to be able to vote - to be able to register and to vote. These laws are not merely annoyances and they are not merely "misguided." They are part of a deliberate, a conscious, campaign to deny the vote to certain groups of people so to create a permanent, structural bias in our election system in favor of the right wing and its corporate backers and the 1% who own them.

They matter.


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