Happy birthday to President Barack Obama who celebrated his 51st birthday on Saturday, August 4. And yes, he was born in the USA to those birther doubters who won’t go away.
Returning to politics, the Republican House and all members went on their long summer break last week until September. And while they may not have gotten much done for the economy and jobs, they intend to be working on their time off. They plan to draft a partisan lawsuit against Attorney General Eric Holder in the fast and furious gun case. They just won’t quit playing political games and do some work for the country. Republicans are still fuming over Attorney General Holder’s attempts to derail their voter ID agenda to disenfranchise voters by Holder’s enforcing the Voter Rights Act of 1965.
On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the voters Rights Act of 1965. . The Voter rights Act of 1965, empowered the federal government to oversee voter registration and elections in counties that had used tests to determine voter eligibility or where registration or turnout had been less than 50 percent in the 1964 presidential election. It also banned discriminatory literacy tests and expanded voting rights for non-English speaking Americans.
The signing of the Voter Rights Act followed peaceful protests, sit-ins, beatings and murders in the south where blacks and whites marched against the disenfranchisement of blacks from voting in the south. Before the signing of the Voter Rights acts, several marches had occurred in the south demanding African Americans’ right to vote. The bloodiest march was in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965 where 600 peaceful blacks were met with tear gas, police clubs and dogs. Rep. John Lewis (D. GA) was one of those marchers. The week following the march, President Johnson gave a speech to the nation. And two days later, he sent the Voter Rights bill to Congress which passed and was signed into law on August 6, 1965. A year earlier, the 24th amendment outlawed poll taxes requiring the payment of money to vote.
Fast forward to 47 years, following the signing of the Voter Rights Act, voter disenfranchisement is happening all over again. The passing of many state voter ID laws are just another means to disenfranchise minority and poor voters. In the 21st century, dogs, tear gas or police clubs are not being used. This time Republicans are again using the laws to disenfranchise voters like they did in the Jim Crow south.
Voter ID laws enacted now in over half the states, requiring voters to present some form of identification as a requirement to vote, are seemingly simple in nature. But they will place unreasonable burdens on many persons who may well be unaware of the difficulty they could face when casting their vote in the 2012 election.
Fourteen states require a government issued photo ID when voting in person. At the time of registering to vote, other states like Kansas and Alabama further demand proof of citizenship beyond the federal legal requirement that citizens swear they are citizens. During the 2011 legislative session, five states—Wisconsin, Texas, Tennessee, Alabama and South Carolina—joined Georgia and Indiana by enacting the strictest form of photo ID requirement for voters, and most of these newest changes will first come into effect for the 2012 elections.
Proponents of the laws argue that photo ID’s are a reasonable way to protect our elections and make them fair. But far from harmless, the laws are complex and place unnecessary hardship on minorities, the elderly and the poor.
Attorney General Eric Holder has fought against these laws on the federal level. Before many southern states covered under the Act may make voting changes to the law, they must be pre-cleared by the Justice Department. And the Justice Department refused to clear Texas and South Carolina. Both filed a lawsuit against the federal government. The trial against Texas was recently held in federal court in the District of Columbia. Texas law prevents minorities and anyone who doesn’t have a drivers license, state issued ID or passport from voting. In another case, Alabama challenged the Justice Department in federal court stating the Voter Rights Act should not be applicable today. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia disagreed with Alabama.
Pennsylvania, which is not covered under the Voter Rights Act of 1965 states, is in an ongoing trial brought by Plaintiffs demanding an injunction be issued against the new voter ID laws which disenfranchises over 700,000 persons who may not have valid ID to vote.
Equal access to the polls should be paramount for all. Women and particularly persons of color who fought so hard for suffrage and became the last to get that right may now be the first to lose it, if we are not vigilant to continually fight against these Republican induced voter ID laws.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a former prosecutor and founder of LegalSpeaks, a progressive blog on women and race in law and politics. As a legal and political commentator she has appeared in national and local media including the Michael Eric Dyson Show, NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates, RT TV- The Alyonna Show, CBC- Canadian TV, NPR, XM Sirius radio, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, Black Enterprise among others. She also writes for the Huffington Post.