As we inch forward to the 119th anniversary of Booker T. Washington’s Atlanta Compromise speech, where “in all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress,” Wisconsin, not to mention the entire nation, is more separated than ever — like the fingers in a hand. From Ferguson, Mo., to Milwaukee and throughout all these United States, African-Americans perceive themselves to be targets of unfair treatment by our institutions. There are many issues that the African-American community must address from within (such as crime and poverty), but that cause is decidedly not helped by laws whose effect, if not intent, is to marginalize African-Americans from the political process and, thus, society. One such case, out of many, is the law requiring approved photo ID for participation in elections. The recent federal appeals court ruling on voter ID is unhelpful to Wisconsin’s poor who are disproportionately African-Americans, Latinos, women, students and the very elderly. It is also shameful to a nation that prides itself on liberty, equality and justice for all. Simply put, the courts in the U.S. have become overly politicized, as illustrated by the recent ruling by a three-judge panel, all appointed by GOP presidents, who rendered a decision that is advantageous to a governor in a tight gubernatorial campaign. We cannot say for certain that this factor weighed on the court; however, the haste in which the law just prior to an election will be executed is cause for concern.
In the voter ID law, we have a “solution” for a problem that does not exist in any significant measure. The Bush Justice Department spent $86 million and several years looking for this problem but found very few instances of fraud. Others assert they don’t care. For them, the question is “if we can prevent potential fraud from emerging, then why not?” That’s a fair question.
The problem is that IDs are easily faked (ask any college student). Thus, the securing of an ID itself would be little deterrent to anyone determined to engage in fraud, although given voting lists, it likely would get caught anyway. Unfortunately, many honest citizens without the required ID will have a difficult time getting a legitimate one, thus the law really only deters legitimate voters.
While it’s hard for many middle-class Americans to understand, our cities are populated by many who, mostly due to poverty, do not drive. Thus, the problem of getting to a Division of Motor Vehicles for the approved ID can be challenging. If you have no car and little money, a 5-mile trip to the DMV might as well be 50 miles.