The trial on the solution in search of a problem - Voter ID

Posted in Around The State, Elections, Right Wing Lies at 2:32 pm by wcnews

Last week there was a trial in Washington D.C regarding whether or not the GOP Voter ID bill in Texas violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The Voter ID issue in Texas has always been a solution in search of a problem. In person voter fraud does not happen, and even if it did this bill wouldn’t stop it. It’s really about keeping certain groups, that usually vote more for Democrats, from voting. As you’ll see below it has an historical context.

Kuff has a good wrap up and I agree that there wasn’t much new in the trial last week.

I didn’t follow the day to day reports from the voter ID preclearance trial, mostly because there wasn’t anything in the testimony that was truly unexpected. Lots of numbers, some of questionable provenance, were presented. The state continued to claim that nobody would be prevented from voting, not even the people who don’t have drivers licenses and would have to drive 120 miles to the nearest DPS office to get a state ID; this prompted one of the judges to note that federal court rules discourage the issuance of subpoenas when it requires a person to travel in excess of 100 miles to appear in court. Reporting on the closing arguments indicated that the three judges on the panel were skeptical of the state’s case, but as we saw with the Affordable Care Act one cannot always guess the ruling by the courtroom demeanor. Trail Blazers, Texas on the Potomac, the Trib, and TPM have the coverage; Texas Redistricting has a few extra links if that’s not enough for you. At this point all we can do is wait, but I’ll predict that we get a ruling on this case before we get one on redistricting.

But the larger context of the debate over voter ID, in any state, should not be lost. It’s really about voter disenfranchisement, or taking away someone’s right to vote. The best explanation I’ve seen recently is this clip from Chris Hayes over the weekend. (The juxtaposition of the two Texas politicians - LBJ and Rick Perry - couldn’t be more stark).

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And an excerpt from Crooks and Liars, Chris Hayes On How The Republicans Intend To Prevent Millions From Voting.

U.S. attorneys who balked at wasting resources chasing down non-existent villains, found themselves condemned by local Republican party bigwigs and ultimately fired by the White House. That was the core of the U-S Attorneys scandal. No amount of prosecutorial vigor could change the fact that voter fraud and/or impersonation is exceedingly rare, almost non-existent.

In fact, as this handy graphic created by the Democratic party shows, UFO sightings are far far more common than actual instances of voter fraud.

Because the effects of restrictions on, say, voter registration drives and requirements to show ID fall so disproportionately on poor people and people of color, it’s not unreasonable to see in these efforts-pushed almost exclusively by white Republicans — a loaded racial substext.

That’s what Attorney General Eric Holder was referring to this Tuesday, when he pushed back on Texas’s proposed new voting regulations.

Under the proposed law concealed handgun licenses would be acceptable forms of photo ID, but student ids would not. many of those without ids would have to travel great distances to get them, and some would struggle to pay for the documents they might need to obtain them. we call those poll taxes.

To conservatives, there is no greater affront than to allege racism. The reaction to Holder’s comments were offended and histrionic. How could he compare the practices of the racist old south with the common sense, race-neutral desire to simply ensure clean elections?

But it’s worth remembering what the original poll tax was like. Sure, we now understand it as a tool of white supremacy and oppression, but the point of the poll tax or the literacy test was that those who pushed them could claim they had nothing to do with race. On their face, they weren’t disciminatory. Shouldn’t people be able to read if they’re going to vote? Isn’t that common sense? Of course they were designed and implemented so as to create massively disproportionate racial effects.

But the genuis in many ways of the Voting Rights Act is that “intent” doesn’t matter, effects do. Lawyers for the Department of Justice simply consider the effects of new proposals and redistricting, not the intent. No one has to do any mind-reading.

We can leave aside the question of what Rick Perry feels in his heart of hearts about people of color. Back in the bad old days of Jim Crow, it was of course, mostly racist White Democratic politicians who oversaw the system of mass disenfranchisement.

And there were more than a few white Republicans who boldy championed civil rights, among them this man: Republican Governor George Romney of Michigan, who marched with the NAACP in 1963 and walked out of the 1964 Republican convention in protest of Barry Goldwater’s opposititon to the civil rights act.. Those days are long gone.

LBJ’s embrace of the civil rights act, followed by the Republicans’ southern strategy, has led to our current situation, in which Republicans essentially don’t have African Americans in their coalition, but do have most of the white racists. Which means that black voters are understandably skeptical of what Republican politicians like George Romney’s son are selling. Romney mentioned not a peep about voter restrictions during his speech to the NAACP this week, though Joe Biden, who addressed the group a day later, most surely did.

The awkward truth is that when a party gets essentially zero support from a sub-demographic of people, it’s strategically sensible, though morally bankrupt, to attempt to reduce their participation in voting. Which means it’s entirely possible that Romney’s fellow Republicans want to make it harder for poor people of color to vote because they’re likely to vote for Demcorats rather than because they aren’t white.

But as the Voting Rights Act wisely says: the intent doesn’t matter. It’s the effect. And either way it’s wrong.

This column points out, Of course the intent is to disenfranchise.

One exchange in particular gets to the heart of the legal battle that unfolded this past week in a federal court over Texas’ new voter ID law.

Q: Now, would you agree that any law that decreases the voter participation of minority voters could lead to Anglos remaining a majority in the legislature?

A: I haven’t considered that before.

Q: Well, considering it now, would you agree that that is a possibility?

A: I guess it is a possibility.

The exchange was between attorney Nancy G. Abudu, representing the American Civil Liberties Union, an intervener in the case, and GOP state Sen. Tommy Williams of The Woodlands, co-author of the law.

Texas is suing the Justice Department to force a pre-clearance of its voter ID law, which requires government-issued photo IDs for registered voters at the polls. The Justice Department contends the legislation discriminates against minorities.

I highlight the exchange between Abudu and Williams because the senator’s naïveté would be breathtaking were it not feigned — but is still indicative of the larger strategy. He was not guessing.


Testimony from J. Morgan Kousser, professor of history in social science at the California Institute of Technology, was also on point. He studied Texas voter ID bills past and present for hints that discrimination was afoot. The hints were as conspicuous as fireworks.

He noted that the bills offered from 2005 through 2011 became increasingly restrictive in ID allowed. This, he said, indicated an effort to “constrain the electorate.”

Kousser noted what anyone paying any attention in Texas has noticed — a racially polarized electorate, Republicans increasingly dependent on Anglos for support and Democrats on a faster-growing minority population.

Two clear strategies present themselves: Attract minorities or mute their votes. Voter ID represents the latter, he concluded.

“So a bill that disenfranchises Democrats and particularly affects poorer people has a very disproportionate effect on minorities. It’s impossible to separate those two,” he said.

Yup. And the fact that the kind of voter fraud this bill was intended to eliminate does not much occur just makes the intent all the clearer.

Of course the intent was racial and ethnic.

It appears - but has health care proved we never know - that the law is likely to be struck down. If so, it will not be in effect for the 2012 election, and will be on the agenda for the Supreme Court soon. Voter ID has always been a fix for a problem that doesn’t exist.

Further Reading:
Updated: Testimony Ends in Voter ID Trial, But Decision Could Be Far Off.

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