01.29.08

History, Voter ID, And Partisan Advantage

Posted in Around The Nation, Around The State, Commentary, Elections, Right Wing Lies at 5:29 pm by wcnews

It’s key to know history to put things in proper context. If a person doesn’t understand that there once was a poll tax, among other things, that excluded certain people from voting, it’s hard to understand why so many people are against the proposed voter ID law. That why this poignant commentary from Harvey Kronberg, Voter Identification requirements at the poll, on the Voter ID hearing from last week is a must read.

While going through my fathers papers a few years ago, I found the receipt for his $5 1963 poll tax payment.

It was a dramatic moment.

In my hand was a 40 year old document that was less about giving him permission to vote than it was about preventing poor African Americans and Hispanics from having a say in their government.

That was the last year of the poll tax. In 1964, LBJ signed the Voting Rights Act into law. Pre-1964, southern states were particularly creative in finding ways to keep African-Americans from voting.

My father’s poll tax was actually fairly benign.

Some communities instituted literacy tests, other required blacks to pass a civics test.

The first hundred pages of Joseph Caro’s LBJ biography, Master of the Senate, is a heart-breaking chronicle of the lengths to which whites would go to keep some in their community from voting.

In those days, election judges at polling places had the ability to capriciously deny some Americans access to the voting booth.

The Voting Rights Act now explicitly guarantees the right to vote.

All very true. But he finishes with some very good clarifying comments about fraud and the proposed ID law.

And pretty much everyone does agree there is a problem with mail-in ballot fraud and voter registration lists that include non-citizens and the dead.

But a photo ID wouldn’t deal with those frauds.

The only problem a photo ID solves is someone impersonating a voter at a polling place, something that every one agrees is all but non-existent.

While race and illegal immigrants may be a subtext of the argument in 2008, it’s really mostly about partisan advantage.

Again very true. To reinforce what a non-existant problem this is just read these irrational comments from Rep. Dwayne Bohoac, via Kuff’s analysis of this past Friday’s hearing:

Bohac, who sounds to me to be conceding the point that fraud-by-impersonation is anything but common, is saying that he’s prepared to disenfranchise up to 400,000 people in Texas in order to ensure that five cases of fraud-by-impersonation don’t occur. The point about this being an extreme overreaction to a nonexistent problem could not be made more clearly than that.

I’d add one caveat, Boahc’s only willing to do that as long as most of those 400,000 people are likely Democratic voters.

There’s one more thing to keep in mind form last session’s debate that I’ve been meaning to add to this debate. While the issue, as most state it, is about showing a picture ID at the polls that is not what the bill last session would have mandated. Many forms of ID without a picture would have been accepted.

House Bill 218 was amended to allow voters to present other forms of identification such as a military ID, valid employee ID, citizenship certificate, passport, student ID card issued by a public college or university, handgun permit, utility bill, bank statement, pay stub, mail from a government entity, marriage license, birth certificate, adoption certificate, pilot’s license, hunting license, or even a library card.

Of course that wouldn’t have gotten any press, and the GOP robocalls and direct mail certainly wouldn’t mention it when trying to scare voters without ID away from the polls.

It just goes to show what a pointless the voter ID issue really is, especially once a our country’s history in taken into account. It’s clear that the fraud fight should be focused on securing mail in ballots and shoring up voter registration lists. And until it can be proven that there are more then a handful of instances of polling place fraud, it’s not worth chancing disenfranchising up to 400,000 people.

1 Comment »

  1. Eye on Williamson said,

    April 28, 2008 at 10:05 pm

    [...] to stop is, for all intents and purposes, non-existent. For some background here’s some history on the issue and the kind of voter suppression, and partisan politics that could happen as a result of a law [...]

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