Simon Williamson

A predictable backlash

2012-08-31 10:32

Simon Williamson

It is a bizarre fact of life in the USA that you don't need ID to go and vote. In South Africa we're pretty used to the national system of registering, getting that little yellow barcode put into your ID book, and rocking up on election day with the only requirements being that your face matches the picture in your little green book, and a thumbnail without a koki-pen mark on it.
In the USA voting laws are done state-by-state with some federal government oversight. In other words, states can decide how they want elections to take place, but the federal government can kak on them if they think they are, for example, limiting some folks' chances at voting. This is all due to a law signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, the Voting Rights Act, which halted voting prejudice against black folks. And bringing this law up here is not coincidental.
The implementation of voter ID laws means that people who don't have ID need to go and get one, and people who don't have ID tend to be young and/or poor - two pretty solid (but certainly not exclusively) Democrat voting groups. In the 2010 mid-term elections, in which Republicans smashed Democrats up and down the country, exit polling by CNN showed that Democrats won voters who earned less than $30 000 per year by 57% to 40%, and those who earned under $50 000 per year by 51% to 46%. Democrats also won the vote of young people e- 57% of those aged between 18 and 24 leaned Democrat, and 54% of those between 25 and 29. And this was in a year Republicans dominated.
The amount of people disenfranchised, should the whole country all of a sudden need to show ID before voting, would be around 10% of the electorate. That's bigger than the margin of victory in every US election since 1984. And these laws are to police a problem of which there is virtually no proof.
Red states

Before you accuse me of immediately pointing out the cost of these laws for the poor pinkos, let's take a run through where these laws came from. Most recently, Texas and Florida (both fully Republican-run states - both houses of the state legislature and the governor) have seen their voter ID law proposals, enacted this year, canned by the courts. Pennsylvania's proposed laws are currently battling in the courts. In 2011 three Republican states (Kansas, Mississippi and Wisconsin) and one Democrat state (Rhode Island) passed voter ID laws, while two (Alabama and Tennessee) tightened theirs, with no peeps from the federal government. Republican legislatures in another five states (Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire and North Carolina) passed voter ID laws but Democrat governors of these states vetoed them.
With the exception of bluey Democrat liberal Rhode Island (which we will come back to later), the trend is pretty clear. States that have enacted such laws are deeply red - in fact the only blue things in Kansas and Mississippi are the balls of the poor unmarried lads whose entire sex ed class is abstinence education.
This has led to a flood of accusations that Republicans are trying to prevent some Democrat demographics from voting, by attempting to solve a problem that is rarer than a Bafana Bafana goal by any crunchable numbers. Although not conclusive, there is enough evidence to put at least a highly circumstantial argument that these laws are adversely affecting Democrats together.
What has made people smell fish is that all of these Republican-led legislatures have decided that people all of a sudden need to show ID at the polls right before this year’s election. There were ways around this. Take for example the miniscule state of Rhode Island, and the southern conservative state of Alabama.

Logical reason

Both states enacted similar laws, but they will only be enforced for the 2014 mid-term elections, giving voters there over three years to get an ID. There is a logical reason these two states aren’t getting dumped on by the federal government, the mainstream media or the opposition: the states aren’t messing around right near an election to enact ID laws. Up to four years to get yourself an ID is pretty fair.
In contrast, up to 750 000 eligible voters in Pennsylvania - yet another red-run state that has implemented these kinds of laws - need to get an ID to vote before the general election in November of this year. And if they all go to the court houses and city halls across the state in the next two months, trying to get them all processed will be like trying to fit a Land Rover into a condom.
In fact, the Republican majority leader of the Pennsylvania State House said in June, "Voter ID, which is gonna allow [Republican presidential candidate Mitt] Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania: done."
Identifying voters to prevent illegal goings on is a plausible argument. But when one party decides to enact all this right before an election, it shouldn't be surprised that there is a backlash.

Simon Williamson is a freelance writer.

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