Could Bill Clinton have it right — that we’re seeing the most “determined effort” in half a century to limit Americans’ right to vote? That the new wave of restrictions are the worst, as the former president puts it, “since we got rid of the poll tax and all the Jim Crow burdens on voting”?
Alarmingly, the evidence supports Clinton’s position. Bills to require government-issued photo identification at the polls have passed this year in several states where Republicans control both the governorships and legislatures — Texas, Wisconsin, South Carolina, Alabama, Kansas and Tennessee. And they’re being advanced in several more GOP-held states.
The alleged reason: serious voter fraud. But the facts beg to differ. The Brennan Center for Justice reports that actual prosecutions, arrests or findings of voter malfeasance are exceedingly rare. Kansas reports more sightings of UFOs than voter-fraud charges. Realistically, there’s no significant problem.
But there are serious politics. It’s true — carrying a photo ID does seem to be part of life for most of us today, necessary from driving to purchasing alcohol to boarding a plane. But repeated surveys by reputable polling firms show up to 11 percent of Americans lack either driver’s licenses or the equivalent government-issued identification.
And who are these folks? Disproportionately, the studies show, they are blacks, Hispanics, Asians, low-income elderly, students and young adults. And what a strange coincidence — the very voting groups most likely to vote Democratic.
Check which states have passed the new laws: With the exception of Rhode Island, all have Republican governors and Republican-controlled legislatures looking to entrench their power.
The new Texas law, advanced and signed by Gov. Rick Perry, provides a clear giveaway on intent. A voter doesn’t even have to show his driver’s license or passport — he can qualify just by producing his license to carry a concealed handgun. Yet note what’s (BEG ITAL)not(END ITAL) eligible now in Texas: any form of student identification (heaven forbid ballot-casting by young people with all their inexperience!).
It’s true: Stacking the deck of the eligible electorate to match political and racial stereotypes is as old as the American republic. But there’s a companion truth: the two-century-old story of growing, vibrant American democracy told precisely through our constant expansions of the right to vote.