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Clippings: Voter ID laws don’t stem fraud, and aren’t intended to

Before South Africa became a democracy, the band Johnny Clegg and Savuka created controversy not only because its members were both black and white when apartheid was still the law of the land, but also because it agitated for political change.
One of the group’s most famous and popular songs was “One (Hu)Man, One Vote,” which as well as being highly danceable describes the foundation of democracy as well as anything I’ve heard:
“The west is sleeping in a fragile freedom
Forgotten is the price that was paid
Ten thousand years of marching through a veil of tears
To break a few links in these chains
These things come to us by way of much pain
Don’t let us slip back into the dark
On a visible but distant shore — a new image of man
The shape of his own future, now in his own hands — he says:
One man, one vote — step into the future
One man, one vote — in a unitary state
One man, one vote — tell them when you see them
One man, one vote — it’s the only way.”
The concept of one human, one vote sounds pretty straightforward, but its history in the United States is anything but.
After our Revolutionary War, only white male landowners could cast ballots in most states, although four in the North were kind enough to allow freed slaves to vote.
In the century after the Civil War, a series of Constitutional amendments and laws gradually expanded voting rights (broke a few links in those chains, as Clegg and his group would have it):
•  In 1868, all men born in the U.S. were given the right to vote.
•  In 1870, men of all colors could cast ballots.
•  In 1920, the nation decided in its wisdom the world would not end if women’s suffrage was allowed.
•  In 1964, poll taxes were banned.
•  In 1971, the nation decided if our nation could send 18-year-olds to fight and possibly die in wars, they could also vote on candidates who might support or oppose those conflicts.
Who could argue these steps all represented progress?
Oh, right.
The right wing of the modern Republican Party, which cares more about winning than about the essential principle of one human, one vote. Republicans argue that voter ID laws prevent fraud, an amusing point considering the Republican National Committee just had to fire its main voter registration organization for submitting bogus signatures in several Florida counties.
Propublica.org, a non-partisan investigative journalism website, has the best summary of voter ID laws I found.
Some nuggets:
•  “Aside from Rhode Island, all voter ID legislation has been introduced by Republican-majority legislatures … In 2011 alone, legislators in 34 states introduced bills requiring voters show photo ID — 14 of those states already had existing voter ID laws but lawmakers sought to toughen statutes, mainly to require proof of photo identification.”
•  “According to a study from NYU’s Brennan Center (for Justice), 11 percent of voting-age citizens lack necessary photo ID while many people in rural areas have trouble accessing ID offices.”
•  “Indiana in 2006 became the first state to enact a strict photo ID law, a law that was upheld two years later by the U.S. Supreme Court.” According to The New York Times, “the court acknowledged that the record of the case contained ‘no evidence’ of the type of voter fraud the law was ostensibly devised to detect and deter.”
•  “(U.S.) Attorney General Eric Holder and others have compared the laws to a poll tax, in which Southern states during the Jim Crow era imposed voting fees, which discouraged blacks, and even some poor whites … from voting … Given the sometimes costly steps required to obtain needed documents today, legal scholars argue that photo ID laws create a new ‘financial barrier to the ballot box.’”
•  “There have been only a small number of fraud cases resulting in a conviction. A New York Times analysis from 2007 identified 120 cases filed by the Justice Department over five years. These cases, many of which stemmed from mistakenly filled registration forms or misunderstanding over voter eligibility, resulted in 86 convictions.
•  “An analysis by News21, a national investigative reporting project, identified 10 voter impersonation cases out of 2,068 alleged election fraud cases since 2000 — or one out of every 15 million prospective voters.”
So why are the Republicans pushing these laws so hard?
“The (Brennan Center) analysis also found that those who lack valid photo ID tended to be young people, those without college educations, Hispanics and the poor,” per propublica.org.
Yup, Democratic-leaning voter constituencies. Easier to disenfranchise them rather than address their concerns.
Oh, it can’t be a conspiracy, you say? Well, every now and then some dumbbell lets the general public have a glimpse behind the curtain, again per propublica.org:
“Republican figures have championed such laws. For instance, Mike Turzai, majority leader of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, recently praised the state’s legislative accomplishments at a Republican State Committee meeting last month. ‘Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done,’ he said.”
And then there’s this: “News21 also has … a report on the close affiliation between the bills’ sponsors and the conservative nonprofit group, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).”
So what’s to be done? I know Vermont is full of Republicans of good conscience, and there is a struggle in the national party between its more extreme elements and those who would favor a more moderate course blending fiscal responsibility and tolerance.
As an independent I can only urge those within the party to think of the greater good and do what they can to not “let us slip back into the dark.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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