Voter Suppression in 2012


Since 2011, Voter ID laws have been emerging at a startlingly rapid pace. For the most part, there has been little opposition from the constituents of the states that have passed these laws. This is because legislators have been using “it’s common sense” rhetoric to push them through. Governor Rick Perry of Texas, a master of word manipulation, declared “Makin’ sure that there’s not fraud, makin’ sure that someone’s not manipulating that process, makes all the sense in the world to me.” In the minds of Perry’s constituents, if it’s common sense for him to fight voter fraud with this law, then it must be common sense for them too. The problem is that voter ID is not an actual problem.  No, a man rising from the dead to vote for a Democratic candidate is certainly not unheard of. That being said, 146 million people have registered to vote since 200. Out of those 146 million registered voters, there have been ten cases of voter fraud. Ten. As you mathematicians know, this is 0.0000068% of registered voters. Clearly, voter fraud is a crucial issue that must be addressed, namely with Voter ID laws.

This may seem like a solution without a problem, but it’s simply a solution to a different problem: the abundance of Obama supporters. In an interview with National Journal, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky proclaimed, “the single most important thing we [Republicans] want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term President”. With that in mind, during the past two years 32 Republican legislators have proposed strict Voter ID laws that were then passed by Republican controlled state houses and signed into law by Republican governors. They may say that the purpose of these laws is to fight voter fraud, but in reality it is to tip the election in the favor of the Republican Party and achieve their goal of keeping President Obama out of office for a second term. This past June, Pennsylvania state House Republican leader Mike Turzai verbalized this when he declared in his victory speech “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done”. It is understandably difficult to entice certain people to vote for a party that threatens to cut their social safety net. So, instead of trying to appeal to them, it would be much easier if these people (approximately 47% of Americans) just didn’t vote at all. Voter ID laws are an effective way to keep these people out of the voting booth. These laws may disenfranchise as many as 5 million people this November. That’s more than the marginal victory of two out of the past three elections. Specifically, the people who will lose their right to vote are those who don’t have driver’s licenses because they don’t have cars, those who don’t have passports because they don’t have the resources to travel abroad, those who don’t have valid birth certificates because they don’t have the resources to get them. (In many states, people need a government issued ID to receive a certified birth certificate. If they had a government issued ID already, then they wouldn’t have to obtain a birth certificate in the first place). In short, these laws will greatly impact young people, poor people, Latinos, African Americans, and ethnic minorities (or, as Bill Maher comically noted, basically anyone who can dance). Of these five groups, African Americans will be most affected. In fact, if these laws were enforced on a national level, 1 in 4 African Americans would be disenfranchised. Hmm, a seemingly common sense law keeping African Americans away from the voting booth? For those of you who paid any attention at all in Dr. Horn’s class, this should sound eerily familiar (hint: Jim Crow laws).

Today, few people who are not incredibly naïve and are not Ann Coulter argue that racism is dead. Many do, however, insist that although racism may still exist on a personal level, no one now is denied his/her civil rights on account of race. The blatant counter-argument is the emergence of voter ID laws. It is no secret that during the 1950s and 1960s, the white South openly opposed racial integration and all other attempts to raise African Americans from their status as second-class citizens. For example, in opposition to Brown v. Board of Education, Southern politicians drafted and signed the Southern Manifesto in 1956. The key signatories were delegates from Alabama, Texas, Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. Today, the states with the most extreme Voter Id laws are Alabama, Texas, Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. This is hardly a coincidence. It is certainly not a stretch to say that these Voter ID laws are simply another Southern attempt to keep African Americans out of the voting booth.

This is not to say that all those who support these laws are apart of a diabolical, racist scheme to cheat the system for their own gain. On the contrary, some genuinely believe that voter fraud is an important issue that these laws can correct without discrimination. John Fund, a columnist at National Review and author of the new book Who’s Counting? How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk, is a perfect example. In an interview with Bill Maher last week, Fund explained that the reason there have only been ten cases of voter fraud since 2000 is that there aren’t enough laws preventing it. Thus, we can’t detect it when it happens. If “there were laws in place to fight voter fraud, more cases would come to light”. By the same logic, we don’t know of any extra-terrestrial beings living on Earth because we don’t have any means of detecting them. Therefore, we ought to establish a way to do so, and more cases would come to light.  Fund then refuted the claim that these laws deny anyone the right to vote. He explained that the Civil Rights Movement was just the first of two necessary steps to ensure that our election system, which he calls “the sloppiest election system of any industrialized democracy”, is fair. In Fund’s mind, the ultimate goal is to “make it easy to vote and hard to cheat. We’ve made it easier to vote, and I’m glad we did, but we now have to make it a little harder to cheat and balance those interests.” When asked if we can “make it harder to cheat” without disenfranchising poor people and ethnic minorities, Fund replied that these laws would not disenfranchise anyone. Most Americans already have IDs because they “can’t be apart of mainstream American life without an ID these days.” Those who don’t should be able to get IDs easily and at no financial cost. The problem is that obtaining a birth certificate, a driver’s license, or a passport requires money, resources, and time that many don’t have. Fund ignored these facts and continued to advocate for a strong fight against voter fraud, and even stated that those who commit voter fraud should be sentenced to five years in prison.

So, there are a small handful of valid arguments favoring these laws. Certainly after the fiasco of the Presidential election of 2000, laws to prohibit cheating are not without merit. These voter ID laws, however, do not “make it harder to cheat”. Ironically, they are simply a new way to cheat. They don’t prevent fraud. They just prevent actual voting. “At this point” Bill Maher joked in August “we may as well put a literal hoop in front of the voting booth.” Thus, outdated as it may seem, voter suppression is still prevalent today in 2012. Much like before, the root of this is racism and a pathological need to keep African Americans as far away from the voting booth as possible. But, unlike before when voter suppression through poll taxes, literacy tests, and understanding tests was established solely because of racism, today’s Southerners have a political agenda: keep Obama out of office. These laws perfectly kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. It still remains to be determined whether or not anyone in Washington will stand up against these laws.