The new battle over voting rights

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The Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1870, stated that no American could be denied the right to vote on account of race.  But white supremacists in the South figured out new ways to disenfranchise African-Americans.  One was a poll tax, which most black people and many poor white people could not afford to pay (the poll was outlawed by the 24th Amendment in 1964).  Another was a “literacy” test, with an exemption for those whose grandfathers had been registered voters.

Wasn’t it reasonable to require voters to be literate?  Wasn’t the right to vote so precious that it is worth saving your money to exercise?  All good questions, but besides the point, because these were not neutral requirements aimed at producing a better electorate.  They were subterfuges intended to prevent particular groups of people from voting.

So it is with today’s new voter ID laws.  You can make the argument that voting is a privilege that should be earned and not granted automatically.  But if you believe that (I don’t), then the requirements for earning that privilege should be equally difficult for all segments of the population.  The new voter ID laws don’t do that.  Republican lawmakers want to discourage voting by members of certain groups that tend to vote Democratic—poor people, minorities and students.  The new laws have the same purpose, although they are less stringent, than the literacy tests and poll taxes in the South in the days of white supremacy.

I have had a driver’s license since I first got a car in 1959, and I had no trouble obtaining a stamped copy of my birth certificate when I applied for a passport.  But if I hadn’t had a car to begin with, it would have been hard to get to the DMV office to apply for a license.  If I had been poor, it would have been hard to afford the license fees.  If at birth I hadn’t been delivered in a hospital by a physician, I don’t know what I would have done for a birth certificate.

Things that are easy for me as a middle-class person are not easy for everyone—especially when lawmakers are intentionally trying to make things difficult.

There are two sources of political power in the United States.  One is the mobilization of money; the other is the mobilization of people.  While legal barriers to the first are coming down, legal barriers to the second are being erected.

If you’re a liberal or a Democrat, it is important to get people registered despite the hurdles, and to overturn the laws.  This could be a good basis of grass-roots organizing.  You shouldn’t count on the federal courts to overturn these laws, because not all the judges support basic Constitutional rights.

Click on UFO Sightings Are More Common Than Voter Fraud for a report by Mother Jones, with charts and many good additional links.

Click on Voter ID Laws Could Swing States for a report by Politico on how voter ID laws could change the outcome of the coming Presidential election.

Click on The Challenge of Obtaining Voter Identification for a report by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University on the difficulty and expense of obtaining photo ID, especially for Americans who don’t own automobiles or weren’t born in hospitals.

Click on Lead plaintiff in Voter ID lawsuit gets birth certificate, still can’t vote if you think the Candorville cartoon is an exaggeration.  This is a report on a 93-year-old woman who has voted in Presidential elections since 1960, but is disenfranchised by Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law.

Click on Think Getting “Free” ID Is Easy? Think Again for stories collected by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of American citizens and formerly registered voters who’ve been disenfranchised under voter ID laws.

Click on Pennsylvania Is Key to Republican Vote-Blocking for a report by the Washington Monthly on how voter ID laws could swing Pennsylvania from Obama to Romney.

Click on Gutting the Right to Vote for a report by Counterpunch on Pennsylvania’s voter ID law.

Click on Florida looks ready to repeat many of the same mistakes in how it conducts its elections for a Slate report.

Click on CANDORVILLE daily comics by Darrin Bell for more cartoons.

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One Response to “The new battle over voting rights”

  1. Chico Says:

    Reblogged this on The Deliberate Observer – keeping my eyes open.

    Like

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