The first African-American president is in the White House, yet in this election year people may not realize that this country is still combating disenfranchisement, which most would assume ended with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Act prohibits states from denying “the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color,” and was passed by Congress to put an end to the literacy tests many states implemented as a means of disenfranchising blacks during Jim Crow and after Reconstruction. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law.
Literacy tests are no longer the issue, but another one has arisen to take their place, and that is voter identification. According to an article published in The Economist magazine, “Supporters [of state legislation requiring voter i.d.] contend these laws are simply meant to ensure the integrity of the voting process. If Americans must show a photo ID to board a plane or buy a beer, they can easily show one to vote.
“But,” the article continues, “the sort of deception that showing a government-issued photo ID would prevent—voter-impersonation fraud, in which one person on the voter rolls tries to vote as someone else—is very rare. Too rare, say some opponents, to justify erecting barriers that will disproportionately disenfranchise poor, young and minority voters, who tend to support Democrats.”
And according to another article, “Since the 2010 mid-terms, states have introduced and passed laws requiring proof of citizenship, ending election day voter registration, restricting voter registration efforts, limiting early voting, and making it harder for the formerly incarcerated to regain their voting rights post-release. The most common of the new restrictions, however, are photo ID laws that require voters to show particular forms of government ID in order to cast a ballot. According to the Brennan Center report, nearly 11 percent of Americans, or 21 million people, lack a government issued photo ID.”
The vastly wealthy and increasingly visible Koch brothers are allegedly behind the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the “silent” group which has been pushing the voter i.d. legislation by both writing the legislation, and introducing it into statehouses across the country. Seven states-Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin-have passed laws requiring voter i.d.. since 2010.
This is really crucial, and it is crucial for two related but different reasons: one concerns enfranchisement, the other, the use of corporate money in our political system in all its insidiousness. Regarding enfranchisement and the need for voter i.d., it’s clear that adults without i.d. are already living on the margins of society, or without full citizenship, as it were, and that is an issue on its own, one of class, and, inevitably in the United States, of race. Further excluding them on the basis of voter impersonation fraud amounts to going backwards forty-five years. (Unlike during Reconstruction or Jim Crow, however, I’d wager the people behind these laws are no longer afraid of “black domination” when whites were a minority in states like Louisiana, but instead corporate interests blocking voters likely to vote Democrat.)
Just as important as enfranchisement, therefore, is the issue of corporate power and money in the American political system. This affects all of us, including those with passports who vacation in Cancun and believe our vote counts. Will this election be democratic?
Read The War on Voting