Once upon a time, American elections were rife with corruption. Party bosses bought votes with strong drink and cold cash, or stuffed ballot boxes with bogus names. Then along came the good-government reformers who cleaned up our democracy with new election laws and regulations. That’s the story we all learned in high school. And it’s true, up to a point. But it leaves out a crucial fact: Those measures also sought to bar certain people from the polls. The goal of election reform wasn’t simply a clean vote; it was also to keep out the “wrong” kind of voter. Pennsylvania’s voter-ID law, which is being challenged in state court, follows this pattern. On its face, it seems neutral and unimpeachable: Who could object to safeguards against fraud? But in practice, as opponents told the court last week, it would make it harder for poor people and minorities to vote.
Since these people are mostly Democrats, voter-ID laws are thought to favor the GOP. In the 10 statehouses that considered voter-ID bills from 2005 to 2007, 95 percent of Republican legislators supported them; only 2 percent of Democratic lawmakers did. Does that sound neutral to you? Like other electoral reforms across our history, voter-ID laws aim to discourage a subset of citizens from participating. The only thing that’s changed is who these voters are.
In the late 19th century, during the first great wave of election reform, they were mostly Irish Catholic immigrants. Surging into American cities, they threatened to dislodge the old-guard Protestants who had traditionally dominated municipal politics. So the old guard fought back with new election regulations: secret ballots, voter registration, literacy tests. Ostensibly, all these reforms aimed to reduce vote-buying and other types of corruption. But they also sought to prevent immigrants from voting in the first place.
Full Article: Voting ‘reform’ across the ages – Philly.com.