There are no dogs, lynching and police beatings to take away voting rights in the 21st century. Republicans have a much more sophisticated method this time called voter ID laws. The result is the same. Many blacks and minorities will be systemically denied the right to vote under the pretext of these new voting laws. Vice President Biden knew exactly what he was saying and to whom he was speaking when he referred to the GOP as “trying to put y’all back in chains”.
Unfortunately, many blacks and other minorities do not yet fully grasp the extent of the GOP’s disenfranchisement efforts. The effects will linger and go far beyond President Obama and the 2012 election, if not stopped. And once a train starts moving quickly, it’s not as easy to stop it. Rest assured that the GOP voter suppression train has left the station in terms of taking away voting rights. It is probably en route to a state near you, if not already arrived.
Voter ID laws, under the guise of protecting voter fraud, enacted now in over half the states, require voters to present some form of identification as a requirement to vote.
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. Overall nineteen states changed their voter ID law in the past 2 years. Court challenges are pending in many of those states.
The Justice Department blocked the South Carolina and Texas voter ID laws under the Voter Rights Act of 1965. Both sued the Justice Department. The South Carolina case goes on trial on August 27. The Texas trial has not been decided yet by the federal court. A Pennsylvania state court held this week that even with officials’ admission of the absence of voter fraud in Pennsylvania and the nation, an injunction cannot be issued against the state’s voter ID law. An appeal will follow but may not be ruled upon in time before the 2012 election.
A new and comprehensive national report released by News21, a national investigative reporting project, found “scant” evidence of voter fraud since 2000. News 21 gathered public information available from all 50 states. The report concludes in person voter fraud, upon which 37 states passed new voter ID laws, is virtually non-existent.
While the legal battles are waging in court, persons on the ground and online must help voters to become aware of the new voter laws. Voters , who have voted in previous elections, may not be able to vote in 2012 without proper ID. The laws are not just aimed at new voters but any voter seeking to vote in the 2012 election. And the laws will have a disproportionate effect on blacks, minorities, seniors and students. In Pennsylvania, it is estimated that almost 800,000 voters as of yet, do not have the requisite ID needed to vote. Of that number, many live in the urban areas where many blacks reside.
Just as in the Jim Crow south days, this is a time to rise to the occasion. The battle must be fought on the ground, in the courts, in civic engagement, online and anywhere else necessary to right the wrong. Voting is the bedrock of democracy. As President Lyndon Baines Johnson said in 1965, voting is the right by which in its absence, all other rights are meaningless. No qualified citizen eligible to vote should ever be denied the right to vote due to partisan efforts to win an election.
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, 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.