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Those Pesky Republicans

September 22, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Poll tax receipt

You gotta love ’em. Having discovered in Florida twelve years ago that if you manage vote counts, you can win an election with fewer votes than your opponent, they have moved on to passing state laws that make it hard for people in lower income levels to vote. This in the name of minimizing voter fraud, even though they have no evidence that the claimed fraud exists. Or, to quote the first two paragraphs of a report by Wendy Weiser and Vishal Agraharkar of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School:

“Ballot security” is an umbrella term for a variety of practices that are carried out by political operatives and private groups with the stated goal of preventing voter fraud. Far too often, however, ballot security initiatives have the effect of suppressing eligible votes, either inadvertently or through outright interference with voting rights.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with investigating and preventing voter fraud, despite the fact study after study shows that actual voter fraud is extraordinarily rare. But democracy suffers when anti-fraud initiatives block or create unnecessary hurdles for eligible voters; when they target voters based on race, ethnicity, or other impermissible characteristics; when they cause voter intimidation and confusion; and when they disrupt the voting process.

It’s the return of the poll tax, in disguised form. If you can’t tax voters directly, just make them take a day off from work to get newly required IDs. Then harass them at the polls. As Charles Pierce explained at his Esquire blog a few days ago,

the problem with enacting this whole brand-spanking-new style of Jim Crow voter-suppression laws throughout the land is that you have to keep the basic Jim Crowishness of them on the downlow. Which means you have to build and maintain the charade that these laws have nothing to do with suppressing the votes of the Blahs, the Browns, and the Poors, and everything to do with fending off the legions of liberal thugs who are planning to climb on their dilithium-crystal-powered transwarp buses and vote in all 49 states this November. Among other things, this requires you to construct a Potemkin system by which the various suspect classes can obtain the new ID’s that they shouldn’t need to get in the first place.

Elizabeth Drew, the veteran political reporter, put the issue in stark terms in a New York Review of Books blog post yesterday, which I highly recommend reading in full. I’ll quote her closing, which leaves no doubt about how strongly she feels on this issue.

Having covered Watergate and the impeachment of Richard Nixon, and more recently written a biography of Nixon, I believe that the wrongdoing we are seeing in this election is more menacing even than what went on then. Watergate was a struggle over the Constitutional powers and accountability of a president, and, alarmingly, the president and his aides attempted to interfere with the nominating process of the opposition party. But the current voting rights issue is even more serious: it’s a coordinated attempt by a political party to fix the result of a presidential election by restricting the opportunities of members of the opposition party’s constituency—most notably blacks—to exercise a Constitutional right.

This is the worst thing that has happened to our democratic election system since the late nineteenth century, when legislatures in southern states systematically negated the voting rights blacks had won in the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

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