During a speech at the NAACP on Tuesday, Attorney General Eric Holder departed from his prepared remarks to draw a comparison between the new voter ID laws like those in Texas with the unconstitutional poll taxes of the early 1900s.
In Texas, the majority of those without photo ID live over ten miles from the nearest DMV office, and almost half of those live over 20 miles away. Holder noted, “Many of those without IDs would have to travel great distances to get them and some would struggle to pay for the documents they might need to obtain them. We call those poll taxes.” He focused on the Texas law, which his Department of Justice is challenging in court. He called the law “harmful to minority voters” saying that 8% of whites do not have valid ID, but 25% of African Americans don’t. “Especially in recent months, Texas has – in many ways – been at the center of our national debate about voting rights issues. Let me be clear: we will not allow political pretexts to disenfranchise American citizens of their most precious right.”
Defenders of the law always cite the alleged epidemic of voter fraud, usually by citing the incidents of registration fraud that were caught out in 2008. Since 2002, Texas has prosecuted a total of 50 vote fraud cases, and less than a dozen of them involved actual voting fraud. For the 2008 presidential election, there were 17,735,442 voting age persons in Texas, and 13,575,062 of them were registered to vote. Only 8,077,795 of them did vote. Let’s be generous and say those whole 50 prosecuted cases of vote fraud took place in the voting booth and in the 2008 election, which is where the advocates of voter ID laws say so much voter fraud took place that it stole the election from John McCain. What do you get with 50 illegal votes out of 8,077,795 votes? A whopping 0.0000061% of the votes in Texas would have been illegal. John McCain won Texas in 2008 with 55.45236% of the vote. President Obama took 43.68312%. If you assume, as conservatives do, that all illegal votes went to President Obama, the totals should have been 55.4523661% for John McCain and 43.683114%. Wow, that made an earthshattering difference, didn’t it?
The voter ID laws disenfranchise citizens, bar legal citizens from voting. This time, they have targeted those who for one reason or another do not have drivers licenses or equivalent photo ID and for one reason or another do not have birth certificates. They do not have these documents for perfectly legitimate reasons. They don’t drive, they can’t drive, they were born at home before states required registration of birth.
Though West Virginia was the last state to pass a birth registration law in 1925, in 1940 an estimated 55 million Americans had never had their births registered, over 40% of the population. At that time, 94% of whites had been registered, but only 81.5% of blacks had been. Rural births were less likely to be registered than urban births. There are approximately 25 million Americans over the age of 70 and it is impossible to guess how many might not have had their births registered, but if the percentages hold across time, it could be as high as 10.25 million. These are people who have been voting for over five decades and would suddenly be denied that right.
Our voting rights are not just dependent on the constitution, but on a body of laws. A Republican controlled House and Senate, with a Republican President, could push through other laws that make voting difficult if not impossible for certain persons. They could void the portions of the Voting Rights Act which make certain states and counties accountable for their voting practices, thereby freeing those states to gerrymander their districts to reduce the power of certain voting blocs.
There’s a very famous poem, written by Martin Niemöller in 1955.
First they came for the communists,and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.
First, they have come for those who don’t drive and are too old to have birth certificates, those who cannot afford the costs of acquiring the proper “documents”…..