Democratic Perspective recently addressed the issue of GOP-backed voter ID laws which have been introduced in 34 states. Among other things, these new laws require a voter to provide a current photo ID in order to exercise his or her constitutional right to vote.
It seems logical enough.
Yet studies show that this simple requirement may disenfranchise millions of voters. Those who do not drive, the elderly, those who have recently moved, and others may find the effort to obtain a state-approved photo ID too difficult, too expensive or simply not worth the effort.
Republicans argue that voter ID laws will prevent voter fraud. That might be true if voter fraud at the polls were an actual problem. But voter fraud is little more than a GOP myth. It hasn’t happened for a very long time. Only a handful of cases have been confirmed in recent decades; likely because the penalties include up to 5 years in federal prison and a $10,000 fine in addition to state penalties for each act of voter fraud.
Of course, some voter fraud does exist – just not at the polls. Instead, it occurs with absentee ballots or it takes the form of ballot box stuffing. The new voter ID laws will not affect that.
But the truth hasn’t stopped the flood of GOP-backed voter laws. Last year, Georgia passed voter ID requirements despite the fact that the former Secretary Of State could not recall a single case of voter impersonation during her time in office.
Of course, the GOP points to rumors and a few examples of invalid voter registrations collected by ACORN for fictitious characters such as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. But these are not examples of voter fraud. Since Mickey Mouse was never allowed to vote, the actual fraud was committed against ACORN, which paid people to collect registrations.
So why does the GOP continue to push these new laws despite abundant evidence to the contrary? The motivation seems obvious – to supress the votes of African-Americans, Latinos, college students and others who are likely to vote for President Obama in the coming election. This type of voter suppression hearkens back to the days of literacy tests and poll taxes.
Taking a look at just one of these groups, college students often have a new address every school year; sometimes every semester, making it difficult for them to maintain a current ID. So laws requiring a photo ID with a current address could have a large impact on them. (Not coincidentally, college students overwhelmingly supported Obama in 2008.)
Another group that has been disenfranchised consists of felons. In some states, convicted felons are denied the right to vote even after they’ve served their time and paid their debt to society. For example, in Arizona, felons have to petition to restore their voting rights. Most of these people are non-violent and many simply made one bad decision. Of the 5.3 million felons in the US, more than 50 percent are non-violent drug offenders.
Not surprisingly, this coordinated effort is being led by ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council). ALEC has authored a variety of bills that seem designed to affect voter turnout within certain populations. Among other things, these bills require photo IDs and proof of citizenship. Some change requirements for voter registration drives. Others eliminate same day registration and reduce the number of days for early voting.
A study by the Brennan Center for Justice estimates that these laws will suppress more than 5 million votes. If true, our very democracy could be at stake. To quote Lyndon B. Johnson at the time he signed the Civil Rights Act into law, voting is “the basic right, without which all others are meaningless.”