I was watching Al Sharpton on his show Politics Nation on MSNBC the other day. He was showing clips from the civil rights movement, still shots of Martin Luther King, Jr. and other images meant to highlight, in particular, the vicious disenfranchisement wrought upon us back then by Jim Crow and the terrible struggle we had to endure to gain the safeguards for our voting rights finally guaranteed to us by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Powerful. Then he proceeded to tie all this to, and seemingly to equate this terrible persecution with, the current controversy over voter I.D. law requirements being debated in states across this country, laws which according to some could prevent up to 5 million Americans, disproportionately minorities, from casting votes this November.
Come on Al, get real for a moment. Voter I.D. is not Jim Crow revived. We’re not dealing with voter intimidation, poll taxes or literacy tests. It’s nothing like that and to try and draw any type of parallel is, well to me anyway, ridiculous. Having said that, we are dealing with a cynical, election year political tactic being waged by Republicans across this country, and this Republican isn’t afraid to call it what it is.
For those who aren’t familiar the simple background is this: in recent months there has been a push in states across this country (overwhelmingly by Republican lawmakers) to enact voter identification requirements to prevent voter fraud. All that means is that, if your state passes such a law in time for the November election this year, you will probably have to present your drivers license or your state I.D. to be able to cast your ballot. For most people that’s not such a big deal. But not everyone has a state I.D. Some college students, for example, going to school out of state are residents of the state they go to school in but do not have an I.D. issued by that state. Some elderly people who are retired and do not drive have no need of a drivers license and there have already been instances of such people not being able to cast a ballot in states where these laws have gone into effect. But the people who would and will lose the most as a result of these laws are poor people who simply do not have I.D. Such people, disproportionately, are black and Latino Americans and that is what the controversy is all about.
Now some call this voter I.D. push racist. I don’t. As many or more poor white people than minorities will probably be adversely affected by this bill. I do however call it a cynical move by the GOP to gain the upper hand in the elections this November, particularly of course to defeat President Obama. The head of the Justice Department (DOJ), Attorney General Eric Holder (the first black attorney general of the United States), has directed his department to block the implementation of these laws in certain states and has referred to the initiatives as being “a solution in search of a problem.” He’s largely right. There is no evidence of any significant level of voter fraud taking place anywhere in this country, making it rather clear then that the motivation for this legislation is political. And that’s the problem. Truthfully, I have no problem with the proposed laws themselves. There is not much voter fraud going on, but to the extent that there is, voter I.D. would prevent it and that’s a good thing. Moreover, there is no compelling legal argument against it, making the injunction by the DOJ itself rather ridiculous. You need I.D. to do a million other things, why not when it comes to voting? But to do this in an election year, so close to the Presidential and congressional elections particularly, rings of political opportunism more than it does concern for the integrity of the vote. The laws could easily be passed so that they would not take effect until the day after this election, thus ensuring that the maximum amount of people would obtain I.D. in order to vote in the following elections in the states in question. Instead Republicans are content to see thousands and potentially millions not vote at all to give them a leg up in this November.
Having said all this, black people should not complain too much, because laws such as this can only hurt us to the extent to which they capitalize on our own apathy. If you don’t have an I.D. and you care about the rights our parents and grandparents fought for us to have, you need to get one if you live in one of these states. Nobody likes to go to the DMV but this is politics. The Democrats are at least as cynical when they allow illegal immigrants to come freely across our border,distorting the constitution to give people the right to vote who aren’t entitled to it because they know who they’ll vote for. These are the imperfections of our system. But there is no excuse for sitting back and not exercising the rights our people fought and died for just because some politicians decided to make it just a little bit harder to do so.