Thursday, July 12, 2012


These days, American politics does not inspire much confidence in anyone. Sadly, it could get worse, as eleven states- Texas, Georgia, and Tennessee among them- have passed strict laws requiring photo IDs before a person can vote. State governors say the new rules are meant to curb voting fraud, but in practice, the new laws will prevent many legitimate voters from casting their ballots.

The voters shut out are primarily, black, poor and elderly. On the whole, 11% of eligible voters don't have updated, state issued photo IDs; the percentage rises to 25%, 15% (among those making less than $ 35 K a year) and 18% respectively. These groups are likelier to lack driver's licences, be born out of state, work multiple jobs or have disabilities, which means they cannot afford the extensive and expensive paperwork required for state IDs. Many government services have never needed state IDs, and things like employee and student cards are not accepted by many of the states' new laws.

Texas Governor and former presidential candidate Rick Perry has declared his support for the law. His state's version would allow concealed-carry handgun licences as valid ID, but not employee or student IDs.
The scale of disenfranchisement is far more extensive than any fraud the laws seek to prevent. Fraud is not, as supporters of the laws claim, a serious issue in American elections- a 2011 report by the Republican National Lawyers Association found 400 election fraud prosecutions in the US over the past decade, not even one per state per year. Between 1997 and 2010, in Kansas, there were 7 convictions for voter fraud, none for voter impersonation- the true kind of fraud voter IDs would stop.

By contrast, the new laws could adversely affect more than five million voters. As it is, in 2008, 2.2 million registered voters did not vote because they lacked proper ID.

More than anything, the new laws appear to be the latest weapon in a tragically vitriolic campaign for November's elections, as if the attack ads weren't bad enough.
 To me, this move is nakedly political, coming as it is in states under Republican control, some of which are key battlegrounds this November. Seeking an advantage in a close election, Republicans must surely have realised the new laws will bar many voters who traditionally vote Democratic. One Republican official in Pennsylvania said as much, even. 

Eric Holder, who recently called the new laws 'poll taxes' , has, as Attorney General, the power to prevent the laws' implementation.
If states insist on laws like this, even though they don't solve the true fraud that DOES occur in American elections, then they should also undertake a commitment to provide free IDs to everyone who lacks it.

Under the Voting Rights Act of 1964, states with a history of discrimination must obtain permission from the Department of Justice or the Appeals Court of the Washington D.C. Circuit to change election laws, and its likely both these institutions will strike down many of these laws. Still, if Republicans agree there is a crisis of faith in American politics, they should realize it is not at the ballot box, but up on Capitol Hill, where the word 'compromise' has long been forgotten.

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