Monday, August 15, 2011

The New Jim Crow: Republican Efforts at Voter Suppression

Attorney General Eric Holder 
Now that the phony debt ceiling crisis is temporarily behind us, we need to turn our attention to Republican efforts at voter suppression.  If you are not aware of the numerous changes legislated by GOP led state legislatures, you'll be surprised at how much these new laws mirror the "Jim Crow" laws during the period 1875 to 1910 which were specifically designed to disenfranchise minorities.

The most popular tactics include new laws requiring voters to bring official identification to the polls.   Estimates suggest that more than 1 in 10 Americans lack an eligible form of ID, and thus would be turned away at their polling location. Most are minorities and young people, the most loyal constituencies of the Democratic Party. The rationale given most often is "reducing voter fraud".

Texas passed a voter ID law, but wrote in a provision that explicitly exempts the elderly from complying with the law. The law also considers a concealed handgun license as an acceptable form of ID, but a university ID as insufficient.  In Ohio, for example, a recently signed law to curbs early voting but won't prevent voter impersonation; it will only make it more difficult for citizens to cast their ballot.

At the annual NAACP convention in Los Angeles, President Benjamin Jealous underscored concerns about the deliberate disenfranchisement of people of color leading up to the 2012 elections. He cited new laws in 30 states that require voters to present approved photo identification at the polls. "Simply put, people who are too poor to own a car tend not to have a driver's license," he said...In Wisconsin alone, he said, half of black adults and half of Latino adults are now ineligible to vote because of this requirement. Approximately 11 percent of voting-age citizens in the country — or more than 20 million individuals — lack government-issued photo identification.

Jealous also took issue with laws in Georgia and Arizona that require voters to attach a copy of their driver's license, birth certificate or passport to their registration forms. And in Florida, he said, the establishment of a five-to-seven-year waiting period before felons can vote would disqualify more than 500,000 voters, including 250,000 blacks.

In addition to the i.d. requirements, shrinking of early voting periods and felon disenfranchisement expansion, the GOP is also suppressing voting power of people of color through redistricting. In North Carolina, for example, the Republicans are twisting the intent of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) to dilute minority voting. Democrats are accusing the GOP of using the VRA to justify "packing" minority voters into a handful of districts to reduce their influence elsewhere.

Earlier this month, 16 senators sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder calling for DOJ to examine whether the voter ID laws, which are the centerpiece of the GOP’s war on voting, violate the Voting Rights Act. Earlier this week, over 100 members of the House of Representatives wrote to Holder echoing this call for the Justice Department to take action to preserve America’s democracy.

The VRA not only forbids laws that are passed specifically to target minority voters but also strikes down state laws that have a greater impact on minority voters than on others. Because voter ID laws disproportionately affect minority communities, it is difficult to see how many of the voter ID laws being pushed in GOP-controlled states could survive scrutiny under this law.
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