by Jeremy Leaming
Before 2011 only two states required their residents to produce government issued ID to vote, but a movement to clamp down on civic participation has been on a roll, fueled by wobbly assertions of voter fraud, and according to a new study, “racial resentment.”
A recent poll conducted by the University of Delaware Center for Political Communication shows that support for the harsh voter ID laws “is strongest among Americans who harbor negative sentiments toward African Americans.”
The Center’s research faculty David C. Wilson and Paul Brewer conducted the survey, which included a series of statements intended to measure “racial resentment” of the respondents. For instance, respondents were asked whether they agreed or disagreed, and how strongly, with the statement: “I resent any special consideration that African Americans receive because it’s unfair to other Americans.”
Brewer said the findings “suggest that Americans’ attitudes about race play an important role in driving their views on voter ID laws.”
The Department of Justice is investigating, and challenging in court, several of the new laws. For example, It has opened an investigation of the Pennsylvania, to determine whether it violates the rights of African Americans and other minorities, protected by the Voting Rights Act. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, in a speech to the NAACP, said some of the voter ID laws, such as the one in Texas, are akin to the Jim Crow era poll tax.
In reference to the Texas voter ID law, Holder said a “concealed handgun license would be an acceptable form of photo ID – but student IDs would not. Many of those without IDs would have to travel great distances to get them – and some would struggle to pay for the documents they might need to obtain them. We call those poll taxes.”
His comments seriously irked right-wing pundits. But a recent report by The Brennan Center for Justice supports Holder’s assertion.
Studying the states with the restrictive voter ID laws, including the one being challenged by a coalition of civil liberties groups in Pennsylvania, The Brennan Center’s report found that “nearly 500,000 eligible voters do not have access to a vehicle and live more than 10 miles from the nearest state ID-issuing office,” which has limited hours of operation.
The report, moreover, found that 1.2 million black voters and 500,000 eligible Latino voters “live more than 10 miles from the nearest ID-issuing office.” Again, those offices have limited hours of operation, making it even more difficult to obtain the correct ID to participate in an integral part of democracy.
Information about the Pennsylvania law recently obtained by the AFL-CIO shows that “nearly half of registered voters” in Philadelphia do not have the requisite ID to participate in the upcoming general election. Reporting for TPM, Ryan J. Reilly said that about “437,237 registered voters in Philly either lack a state-issued ID or have one that has expired before Nov. 6 of last year, which would make it invalid in the upcoming elections under the Pennsylvania’s new law.”
Reilly continued, “When broken down by county, the percentage of Philadelphia voters who lack a current form of Pennsylvania-issued identification far outnumbers any other part of the state ….”
In a recent ACS Issue Brief, Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt noted that the “vast majority of states allow citizens a broader set of options to prove their identity,” such as utility bills, bank statements and employee IDs, to name a few.
Pennsylvania, Texas, Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida and others, however, are defending some of the most stringent voter ID laws in the nation. The justification for these laws inevitably rests on the notion that our elections are plagued by voter fraud. But as Levitt notes in his Issue Brief, there is little proof that voter fraud exists. “Americans are struck and killed by lightning more often,” he wrote.
Far from protecting the integrity of the nation’s elections, lawmakers defending the onerous voter ID laws appear bent on suppressing the vote of certain populations of voters, namely those in communities of color.