Less than a year before the 2012 presidential voting begins, Republican legislatures and governors across the country are rewriting voting laws to make it much harder for the young, the poor and African-Americans — groups that typically vote Democratic — to cast a ballot.
Spreading fear of a nonexistent flood of voter fraud, they are demanding that citizens be required to show a government-issued identification before they are allowed to vote. Republicans have been pushing these changes for years, but now more than two-thirds of the states have adopted or are considering such laws. The Advancement Project, an advocacy group of civil rights lawyers, correctly describes the push as “the largest legislative effort to scale back voting rights in a century.”
Anyone who has stood on the long lines at a motor vehicle office knows that it isn’t easy to get such documents. For working people, it could mean giving up a day’s wages.
A survey by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law found that 11 percent of citizens, 21 million people, do not have a current photo ID. That fraction increases to 15 percent of low-income voting-age citizens, 18 percent of young eligible voters and 25 percent of black eligible voters. Those demographic groups tend to vote Democratic, and Republicans are imposing requirements that they know many will be unable to meet.
Kansas’ new law was drafted by its secretary of state, Kris Kobach, who also wrote Arizona’s anti-immigrant law. Voters will be required to show a photo ID at the polls. Before they can register, Kansans will have to produce a proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate.
Tough luck if you don’t happen to have one in your pocket when you’re at the county fair and you pass the voter registration booth. Or when the League of Women Voters brings its High School Registration Project to your school cafeteria. Or when you show up at your dorm at the University of Kansas without your birth certificate. Sorry, you won’t be voting in Lawrence, and probably not at all.
That’s fine with Gov. Sam Brownback, who said he signed the bill because it’s necessary to “ensure the sanctity of the vote.” Actually, Kansas has had only one prosecution for voter fraud in the last six years. But because of that vast threat to Kansas democracy, an estimated 620,000 Kansas residents who lack a government ID now stand to lose their right to vote.
Eight states already had photo ID laws. Now more than 30 other states are joining the bandwagon of disenfranchisement, as Republicans outdo each other to propose bills with new voting barriers. The Wisconsin bill refuses to recognize college photo ID cards, even if they are issued by a state university, thus cutting off many students at the University of Wisconsin and other campuses. The Texas bill, so vital that Gov. Rick Perry declared it emergency legislation, would also reject student IDs, but would allow anyone with a handgun license to vote.
A Florida bill would curtail early voting periods, which have proved popular and brought in new voters, and would limit address changes at the polls. “I’m going to call this bill for what it is, good-old-fashioned voter suppression,” Ben Wilcox of the League of Women Voters told The Florida Times-Union.
Many of these bills were inspired by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a business-backed conservative group, which has circulated voter ID proposals in scores of state legislatures. The Supreme Court, unfortunately, has already upheld Indiana’s voter ID requirement, in a 2008 decision that helped unleash the stampede of new bills. Most of the bills have yet to pass, and many may not meet the various balancing tests required by the Supreme Court. There is still time for voters who care about democracy in their states to speak out against lawmakers who do not.
By: The New York Times, Editorial, April 26, 2011
This Wednesday morning became one of the most surreal and ridiculous moments
in the history of American politics when the White House decided to release copies of President Barack Obama’s “long form birth certificate,” in an attempt to quiet conspiracy theorists who believe the president was born elsewhere. The president had already released a version certified by the state of Hawaii, but because of the “volume of requests” for the birth certificate, the president asked the state to make an exception andrelease the original document.
It’s tempting to make this simply about reality television personality Donald
Trump, who rocketed to the top of the Republican presidential field by promoting
the slander that the president wasn’t born in the United States. But there are a
number of other factors that created the current situation. Chief among them is
that Trump’s lunacy emboldened conservative media sources to fully embrace
birtherism. According to Media Matters, Fox News has spent over two hours promoting false claims about Obama’s birthplace across 54 segments, and only in ten did Fox News hosts challenge those claims. This isn’t just about Trump. All he did was encourage the communications wing of the conservative movement to go into overdrive in an attempt to make birtherism mainstream.
Aside from being one of the most idiotic moments in American political
history, this marks a level of personal humiliation no previous president has
ever been asked to endure. Other presidents have been the target of crazy
conspiracy theories, sure, but few have been as self-evidently absurd as
birtherism. None has been so clearly rooted in anxieties about the president’s
racial identity, because no previous American president has been black.
This whole situation is an embarrassment to the country. Yesterday Jesse
Jackson described birtherism as racial “code,” but there’s nothing
“coded” about it. It’s just racism. I don’t mean that everyone who has doubts
about the president’s birthplace is racist. Rather, the vast majority have been
deliberately misled by an unscrupulous conservative media and by conservative
elites who have failed or refused to challenge these doubts.
And birtherism is only one of a number of racially charged conspiracy
theories that have bubbled out of the right-wing swamp and have been allowed to
fester by conservative elites. Those who have spent the last two years clinging
to the notion that the president wasn’t born in the United States, who have alleged that the president wasn’t intelligent enough to write
his own autobiography or somehow coasted to magna cum laude at Harvard law, are
carrying on new varieties of an old, dying tradition of American racism. Similar
accusations dogged early black writers like Frederick Douglass and Phyllis
Wheatley, whose brilliance provoked an existential crisis among people incapable
of abandoning myths of black intellectual inferiority.
Whether this farce ends or continues is entirely dependent on those who
nurtured the rumors in the first place. This is an opportunity for conservative
elites, who have finally come around to the possibility that the outsize hatred
of the president they’ve cultivated as an asset for the past two years might
actually hurt them politically, to purge birtherism from mainstream conservative
Sadly, those who fostered doubts about the president’s citizenship are
unlikely to relent in the face of factual proof, because birtherism was never
about the facts. For its most ardent proponents, it was and is about their
inability to accept the legitimacy of a black man in the White House. Nothing
about the decision to release the president’s birth certificate can change that.
By: Adam Sewer, The Washington Post, April 27, 2011