Sunday, May 11, 2008

Voter ID : the 21st-century poll tax

Despite innuendo, there actually is no proof of any widespread fraud in Texas, at least not the kind that government ID would take care of. In fact, there are far greater possibilities of fraud or malfunction with Texas’ paperless electronic voting machines.

That's the moneyshot from James Harrington, the director of the Texas Civil Rights Project.

This government ID scheme works against older voters who no longer drive or travel (as we saw with the old nuns denied the ballot in the recent Indiana primary), students in college, voters with disabilities, minority and poor people, new voters who recently became citizens, and homeless individuals. No matter whether people have voted in their precinct, are known to election staff, or have other ID, they still must get a driver’s license or specified government ID.

Texas Republicans lead by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and state Rep. Leo Berman (Tyler) want to impose the same burden on Texas voters. Surely, although they would deny it, their real agenda is to dilute the electoral strength of individuals, who tend to vote Democratic. There is no other viable explanation.

That's not going to slow them down, though.

Texas originally started out enabling people to vote, rather than impeding them. The delegates to the 1875 convention, which gave us our current constitution, lead by Grangers and progressive Republicans, rejected a variety of electoral impediments: poll taxes, literacy tests, property taxes, and multi-member legislative and judicial districts.

The delegates rejected schemes to limit suffrage because they understood that denying the franchise to African-Americans inevitably would deprive them of the political power they needed to break state government's unholy alliance with big business, railroads, and monopolies.

The 1876 Constitution reflects a populist revolt that gave Texas some of the broadest suffrage rights in the nation. For example, until 1919 non-citizens could vote if they met the residency requirement and declared their intent to become citizens.

Anti-voting laws came into Texas in the early 1900s to disenfranchise African-Americans who voted in significantly higher proportions than did the whites. In fact, African-American voter turn out reached 80 percent in some areas. The poll tax, the white primary, and multi-member districts all became law. Even those tricks didn’t work totally, and the KKK used a violent campaign to suppress black voter turnout. Similar tactics kept down Mexican-American voting. This all lead Texas further down the path of racism and segregation.

The Voting Rights Act and Supreme Court decisions undid much of that history, and minority electoral strength increased dramatically. The Republican Party’s reaction since has been to send “poll watchers” to minority precincts around the state to depress voter turnout through intimidation, even though there was no recent election malfeasance history. Dewhurst and Berman want to add yet another hurdle to people voting.

The Republicans decry voter fraud as a problem akin to illegal immigration; the only difference is that they have failed to figure out how to exploit it for profit as they have the undocumented worker.

Voting is a fundamental right, the cornerstone of our democracy. Our legal system should break down barriers to the polling place, not build them up. Let’s help the Legislature remember this when it meets in 2009.

Yes, let's.

Update: Chris Bell piles on ...

Under the Republican proposal, photo identification would be required. Since there’s no problem, there’s nothing to fix; however, two Hispanic state senators, Mario Gallegos (D-Houston) and Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio), point out there are a lot of elderly voters in their heavily Hispanic districts who don’t have driver’s licenses because they never drove a car.

And that’s just what the Republicans are counting on. Voters like those would have to get some other form of photo identification. That’s obviously going to be a major inconvenience, and since it’s hard enough just to get people to register to vote in the first place, chances are they might not vote at all. ...

(S)some people might be a little concerned what happens with real problems like public school education and health care if Republicans are spending so much time on non-problems.

That argument overlooks the most recent census data which shows the number of Hispanics in the United States rose by 1.4 million in just the last year alone and every study shows that Hispanics now lean Democratic by an overwhelming margin.

So see, if you’re a Republican, this really isn’t a non-problem at all.

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