The legislation (House Bill 159) that would require Ohio voters to show various forms of identification in order to cast a ballot is not needed. It reflects a stunted sense of history, or most charitably, a form of electoral amnesia.
Where is the evidence of voter impersonation that might warrant such a requirement? This bill is simply an attempt to make it harder for certain citizens to vote. And many of those citizens are African-Americans.
As I said in my testimony before the Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee on June 22, “throughout history, whenever those engaging in the strategy of voter obstruction were challenged, the answer was always a denial that racial motives were involved, just as those advancing this pernicious voter ID now contend.”
After the Civil War, and the enactment of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, guaranteeing the right to vote, a number of Southern States introduced Poll Tax laws. The states argued that such a tax was benign and race neutral. However, the effect of the laws was to deny blacks the right to vote.
After those laws were struck down, the next strategy of denial was a literacy test. Not only did the tests measure your ability to read, but asked how many bubbles were in a bar of soap. Again, proponents insisted that such laws were race neutral. But the effect was to keep blacks from voting.
Then came voter registration laws aimed at excluding blacks. Those laws were struck down in the 1939 landmark decision, Lane vs. Wilson, where Justice Felix Frankfurter stated that the Constitution rejects and nullifies “sophisticated as well as simple-minded modes of discrimination.”
It is my belief that the identification that would be required under this proposed legislation falls into that category. It is aimed at blacks, a group whose right to vote has been historically targeted for denial and dilution. This legislation also targets Latinos and the poor.
What we have here is an attempt to create a legislative remedy for a nonexistent problem. H.B. 159 should be rejected.