Voter ID laws’ pur­pose clear and shame­ful

The Daily Herald - - OPINION - EUGENE ROBIN­SON Eugene Robin­son’s email ad­dress is eu­gen­er­obin­son@wash­post.com.

Ev­ery once in a while, the cur­tains part and we get a glimpse of the ugli­est, most shame­ful spec­ta­cle in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics: the Repub­li­can Party’s sys­tem­atic at­tempt to dis­en­fran­chise African-Amer­i­cans and other mi­nori­ties with voter ID laws and other re­stric­tions at the polls.

If you thought this kind of dis­crim­i­na­tion died with Jim Crow, think again. For­tu­nately, fed­eral courts have blocked im­ple­men­ta­tion of some of the worst new laws, at least for now. But the most ef­fec­tive re­sponse would be for black and brown vot­ers to send the GOP a mes­sage by turn­ing out in record num­bers, no mat­ter what bar­ri­ers Repub­li­cans try to put in our way.

The os­ten­si­ble rea­son for these laws is to solve a prob­lem that doesn’t ex­ist — voter fraud by im­per­son­ation. Four years ago, you may re­call, a Repub­li­can Penn­syl­va­nia leg­is­la­tor let slip the real rea­son for his state’s new voter ID law: to “al­low” Mitt Rom­ney to win the state. In the end, he didn’t. But Repub­li­cans tried might­ily to dis­cour­age mi­nori­ties, most of whom vote Demo­cratic, from go­ing to the polls.

Now, thanks to doc­u­ments that sur­faced in a law­suit, we have an even clearer and more egre­gious ex­am­ple of at­tempted dis­en­fran­chise­ment, this time in North Carolina. As The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported, the doc­u­ments show “that North Carolina GOP lead­ers launched a metic­u­lous and co­or­di­nated ef­fort to de­ter black vot­ers, who over­whelm­ingly vote for Democrats.”

The story con­tin­ues, “The law, cre­ated and passed en­tirely by white legislators, evoked the state’s ugly his­tory of block­ing African-Amer­i­cans from vot­ing — prac­tices that had taken a civil rights move­ment and ex­ten­sive fed­eral in­ter­ven­tion to stop.”

Post reporter Wil­liam Wan backs up that tough as­ser­tion by quot­ing from the doc­u­ments.

In one email, writ­ten while the GOP­con­trolled Leg­is­la­ture was craft­ing what has been called the most oner­ous voter ID law in the na­tion, a staffer asks for a break­down of the 2008 voter turnout show­ing whether blacks and whites dif­fered in their pref­er­ence for early vot­ing. In an­other email, a Repub­li­can law­maker wants to know if His­panic vot­ers tend to vote out­side their home precincts. In an­other, an aide to the House speaker asks for “a break­down, by race, of those reg­is­tered vot­ers in your database that do not have a driver’s li­cense num­ber.”

Wan writes that “months later, the North Carolina Leg­is­la­ture passed a law that cut a week of early vot­ing, elim­i­nated out-of­precinct vot­ing and re­quired vot­ers to show spe­cific types of photo ID — re­stric­tions that elec­tion board data demon­strated would dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fect AfricanAmer­i­cans and other mi­nori­ties.”

Thank­fully, a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Ap­peals rec­og­nized the Leg­is­la­ture’s dis­crim­i­na­tory in­tent and struck down the law.

Fed­eral courts have also struck down new vot­ing re­stric­tions in Texas, Wis­con­sin, Kansas and North Dakota. In all cases, the laws were en­acted by Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tures and gov­er­nors. And in all cases, dis­crim­i­na­tory im­pact on mi­nor­ity vot­ers is at is­sue.

GOP of­fi­cials de­fend these laws as nec­es­sary to pro­tect the sanc­tity of the vot­ing process. The judge in the Wis­con­sin case, how­ever, found that “a pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with mostly phan­tom elec­tion fraud leads to real in­ci­dents of dis­en­fran­chise­ment.”

The North Carolina ex­am­ple clearly puts to rest any no­tion that these re­stric­tions are col­or­blind. The law be­gan as a sim­ple 16-page bill man­dat­ing voter IDs. But in June 2013, while the leg­is­la­tion was still be­ing worked on, the Supreme Court struck down Sec­tion 5 of the 1965 Vot­ing Rights Act, which com­pelled South­ern states with a his­tory of voter dis­crim­i­na­tion to ob­tain Jus­tice De­part­ment ap­proval be­fore mak­ing changes in elec­tion laws.

“Now we can go with the full bill,” the Repub­li­can chair­man of the state Se­nate’s rules com­mit­tee told re­porters. The bill grew to 57 pages, with new pro­vi­sions that short­ened early vot­ing, elim­i­nated same­day reg­is­tra­tion and took away coun­ties’ abil­ity to ex­tend poll hours to ac­com­mo­date long lines, among other curbs.

Repub­li­cans claim they want sup­port from African-Amer­i­cans, His­pan­ics and other mi­nori­ties. They don’t de­serve the time of day un­til they stop this ap­palling ef­fort to keep us from vot­ing at all.

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