Posts Tagged ‘Voter ID’

How difficult is it, really, to get voter photo ID?

November 13, 2014

Getting photo ID for voting is damned difficult if the process is set up intentionally to make it hard for you.

pennsylvania_voter_id_rally-thumb-640xauto-6483-thumb-640xauto-6766Richard Sobel, a researcher for Harvard’s Institute for Race and Justice, looked at what some people in Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas went through as they tried to get photo ID.  He wrote a report on what he found, which was published in June.

steve-frank67FAC2A7-A14C-4F72-D3C8-71613E397404He said “free” ID cost $75 to $150 if you figure in the cost of getting birth certificates, naturalization documents and other documents, the cost of travel, and time spent traveling and waiting.   Sometimes there were legal fees as well.

Sobel noted that this is considerably more than the poll taxes that were outlawed by Twenty-Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1964.  I don’t see how any requirement to pay money in order to vote can considered anything but a poll tax.

Here are some examples from his report of what would-be voters ran into.

In Pennsylvania

According to a September 13, 2012 letter to The Morning Call in Scranton, a Pennsylvania resident seeking a “free” voter ID had incurred costs of $94.61 so far, which were likely to eventually reach $133.61. The potential voter traveled 34 miles round trip to and from the PennDOT agency in Bethlehem, an estimated hour of travel time.

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Another problem with voter ID

August 22, 2013

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The problem with voter ID laws and all the other laws intended to restrict voter registration is that they will be selectively enforced.   Republicans in voter-suppression states will not try to disqualify every married woman whose married name does not fit her identification documents.   Rather they will have this available as a tool to disqualify someone whom they wish to disqualify for other reasons.

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The continuing battle over the vote

January 16, 2013

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The Republican voting coalition since Richard Nixon’s administration has been based on polarization of middle-class and working-class white people against troublesome racial minorities, welfare recipients, elitist intellectuals and what George Wallace called “the exotics”—feminists, gays and hippies.

This polarization distracted attention from the fact that wages were stagnant, many workers were falling behind and a tiny fraction of the population held a huge and growing share of national income and wealth.

But in the past 40 years, the makeup of the country has changed and the Nixon-era division now favors Democrats.  Many of the Republican leaders, rather than try to broaden their party’s base, seek to narrow the franchise through voter ID laws and other means and to change the ways the votes are counted, to the advantage of the Republican Party.

Emily Scultheis of Politico noted that eight states—New York, North Carolina, Missouri, Virginia, West Virginia, Arkansas and Alaska—are considering legislation to enact or strengthen voter ID legislation.  Getting Voter ID can be a problem if you don’t have a car, can’t get time off from work or don’t have money to pay fees.

Another group of states—Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Ohio—are considering legislation to have electoral votes counted by congressional district (each state has electoral votes equal to the number of its Senators and members of the House of Representatives).  Steve Benen of The Maddow Blog pointed out that if this system had been in effect in the past Presidential election, Mitt Romney would have been elected, even though Barack Obama got a majority of the votes.

American voters historically have divided along lines of race, religion, ethnicity and geography rather than economic class.  This makes it easy to ignore the fact that both parties are beholden to Wall Street fianciers and Fortune 500 executives, and neither one has a program for achieving a high-wage, full-employment economy.  A party whose leaders brought about peace and prosperity would win the votes of whites and blacks, Anglos and Hispanics, old and young, heads of households and single women.

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Will we have an honest election in 2012?

September 26, 2012

Dark red states have passed voter suppression legislation. Pink states have voter suppression legislation pending as of August.   Click on the Spreading Suppression link below for an interactive map giving the particulars for each state.

While I think Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are more alike than they are different on the issues that matter most to me, there is one subject on which the Republican Party is clearly in the wrong—the attempt to subvert the democratic process by creating arbitrary obstacles to voting, aimed at black and Hispanic people, college students and others likely to vote Democratic.

This is more serious than the Bush v. Gore decision, because it is not just a one-time thing.  It threatens to become a permanent change in the way we Americans choose our elected representatives.  It is a limited and partial (so far) return to the practices of the Old South of a century ago, when poll taxes and so-called literacy tests were used to to suppress voting by black people and poor white people.

Elizabeth Drew, writing for the New York Review blog, reported on what’s going on.

The Republicans have been making particularly strenuous efforts to tilt the outcomes—in most of the “swing states”: Florida, Ohio, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin.  The Republican leader of the House in Pennsylvania, previously considered a swing state, was careless enough to admit publicly that the state’s strict new Voter ID law would assure a Romney victory in November.  In fact a state document submitted in court offered no evidence of voter fraud.  On September 18, Pennsylvania’s supreme court sharply rebuked a lower court’s approval of the law, questioning whether the law could be fairly applied by the time of the election.  This battle continues despite the fact that the Romney campaign in mid-September suspended its efforts in Pennsylvania because polls show that Obama was substantially ahead.  Even if the state’s electoral votes are not in question the outcome could still decide whether a great many people will be allowed to vote in November, and could also affect the popular vote.

Eight states have already passed Voter ID laws—requiring a state-approved document with a photograph in order to register or vote, a form of identification that an estimated 11 percent or over 21 million of American citizens do not possess.  But these laws are just part of an array of restrictions adopted to keep Democrats from voting.  Some use other means to make registration difficult, or put strict limits on the number of days before the election that votes can be cast , or cut back the hours that polling places can stay open.

In the aftermath of the 2004 election, which was characterized in Ohio by lines at voting places in black districts so long as to discourage voters, Ohio Democratic officials made voting times more flexible; after the Republicans took over the state they set out to reverse that.

Iowa, Florida, and Colorado tried to purge the voting rolls of suspected unqualified voters, but their lists turned out to be wildly inaccurate.  Florida officials compiled a list of 180,000 people whose qualifications were questioned, but after voting registrars checked (some protesting the unfairness of the purge) only 207, or 0.0002 percent of the state’s registered voters, were found to be unqualified to vote.  Nearly sixty percent of the 180,000 names had Hispanic surnames, another 14 percent were blacks.  Officials said that whites or Republicans were unlikely to be on the list.

While a combination of outraged citizens and legal challenges led all three states to ostensibly give up on the idea of purging voters, Florida and Iowa officials have said that they intend to pursue those who haven’t been proven innocent.  As a result, hundreds of thousands of citizens don’t know if they’ll be allowed to vote—which, like a number of the restrictions, could be a disincentive to even subjecting oneself to what could be a hassle or humiliation at the polling place.  Florida also enacted a voter ID law, which was struck down by a federal court. 

Ever on the lookout for ways to keep Democratic supporters from the polling places, the state cut short the number of days for early voting, and established rules that in effect barred outside groups such as the League of Women Voters from conducting registration drives. Though this restriction was later overturned by a federal court, voter registration groups said that important time had been lost while they contested the new restrictions on their activities.

In Ohio—the swingyest of the swing states, now in Republican control—secretary of state Jon Husted is trying to block voting on any weekend before the election; and he has appealed the ruling of a federal district judge ordering him to allow voting even during the last weekend before the election.  Husted also made the extraordinary proposal that voting hours in Ohio be extended solely in white districts, but this preposterous idea couldn’t withstand a citizen outcry.  Two Democratic county election officials from the Dayton area (one the few predominantly Democratic counties in the state) who objected to Husted’s proposal to permit no weekend voting were fired.

Elizabeth Drew noted that many American citizens will go to the polls in November not knowing whether they will be allowed to vote or not.

Having covered Watergate and the impeachment of Richard Nixon, and more recently written a biography of Nixon, I believe that the wrongdoing we are seeing in this election is more menacing even than what went on then.  Watergate was a struggle over the Constitutional powers and accountability of a president, and, alarmingly, the president and his aides attempted to interfere with the nominating process of the opposition party.  But the current voting rights issue is even more serious: it’s a coordinated attempt by a political party to fix the result of a presidential election by restricting the opportunities of members of the opposition party’s constituency—most notably blacks—to exercise a Constitutional right.

This is the worst thing that has happened to our democratic election system since the late nineteenth century, when legislatures in southern states systematically negated the voting rights blacks had won in the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

While she and other writers focus on the Presidential election, voter suppression tactics are likely to be more effective, and more dangerous, in state and local election contests that don’t attract much attention and election tampering is less likely to provoke a big outcry.

Click on Voting Wrongs for Elizabeth Drew’s full report on voter suppression for NYRblog.

Click on Spreading Suppression for an interactive version of the above map showing the status of voter ID laws and other voter suppression legislation in the various states.

Click on The Ballot Cops for Mariah Blake’s report on voter intimidation in The Atlantic.

Click on Machine politics: the real threat of voter fraud for my earlier post on voting machines susceptible to hacking.

The new battle over voting rights

August 6, 2012

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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.