COMMENTARY | In state after Republican-controlled state (now more than two-thirds of all states), there’s a tactical imperative high on the legislative agenda. No, it’s not job creation; it is, in fact, more along the lines of empire creation. That lofty ideal of the “permanent Republican majority” is again enjoying a chilling resurgence. Under the guise of prevention of “voter fraud,” onerous and costly “voter ID” bills are in various stages of life in state houses across the country, reports the New York Times. In a few states, bills have already passed and are law.
So extreme it has been labeled an effort at voter disenfranchisement and suppression, the state of Kansas’ law requires a birth certificate, passport, or some proof of citizenship in order to register to vote, according to Redding. And Colorado is threatening to pass the next. The effect these laws will have on registering those newly eligible to vote is easy to predict.
Forget about those registration drives at festivals, fairs, sporting events, schools, colleges, public transit stops, public assistance offices or shopping centers, Kansas. Forget about those tables outside of grocery stores – who shops with his birth certificate in his pocket? And programs like the League of Women Voters (LWV) High School Registration Project, which registers students in schools nationwide, will, well, no longer be nationwide.
Voter suppression does have historical precedent. It was employed by conservatives all over the South until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 made most of the practices illegal. Traditional tactics once included poll taxes and literacy tests aimed at African Americans and working-class whites. Fast-forward to present day, and add a proof of citizenship and a government-issued ID requirement for any young people who haven’t already succumbed to the suffocating cynicism they are unrelentingly subjected to about their government.
What happens to voter participation? More than that, how does this attack threaten the next generation’s likely engagement in civic life? Republicans have their fingers crossed. The Advancement Project, a civil rights advocacy group, has described this voter suppression go-round as “the largest legislative effort to scale back voting rights in a century.” Even an old notion can be cause for new concern – this one should be.
You see, all that really has to happen is any impediment. To all those who might argue that producing a driver’s license at your polling place shouldn’t be a big problem, you might want to consider: In Kansas alone, an estimated 620,000 residents lack a government ID and now stand to lose their right to vote. Factor in the Wisconsin bill which does not recognize a college photo ID even if issued by a state university, according to the New York Times, forcing out-of-state students to the DMV for a Wisconsin driver’s license at their own expense. Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s new “emergency” voter ID bill also rejects student IDs, but allows anyone with a handgun license to vote. In Florida, Republicans want to decrease early voting and limit address changes at the polls. And, a recently passed voter ID bill in South Carolina has the potential to disenfranchise 180,000 voters, according to the ACLU, most of whom are students, elderly, minority or low-income voters, according to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.
Why would one political group so obviously try to limit the number of voters? Patriotism and democracy be damned, conservatives have found when great numbers of younger Americans vote, they lose. Especially fresh is the effect of increased turn-out of first time voters on the 2008 election. So what if LWV research points to an enhanced possibility “to create long-term change by encouraging life-long civic participation from young people” while warning “Americans under the age of 30 remain severely underrepresented in the electorate.” Representation is even lower among minorities and those not attending college. But, if you are among those who consider the Tea Party sufficient new blood for our democracy’s survival, then who needs the young?
A potential roadblock to this GOP free-for-all: The courts have concerns. The Brennan Center reports recent case law suggests states adopting new ID requirements will likely have to incur “substantial costs” in added election administration and court challenges. How can the same states spouting the “we’re broke” rhetoric expect to justify covering these extra costs? They seem to be hoping it won’t come up.
Our country may yet survive the current economic crisis; I don’t know if it can survive less participation in the democratic process.