One of the most popular legislative efforts among conservative lawmakers is the Voter ID bill. Conservatives insist the measures, which greatly increase registration requirements and force voters to present proof of identification at polls, are necessary to combat voter fraud.
But the rhetoric does not match the reality. In Kansas, for example, the state recorded 221 cases of reported voter fraud between 1997 and 2010. During that same period Kansans cast more than 10 million votes in 16 statewide elections. Of those 221 reported allegations of voter fraud not a single one resulted in a criminal conviction.
Or to put it in perspective this way, there were more reported UFO sightings in Kansas over the past decade alone than reported acts of voter fraud.
So what’s going on with these bills- passed in Texas, Alabama, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee and Wisconsin- not to mention introduced but defeated in a host of others? It’s simple. Suppressing the vote.
That’s because when voter turn-out is low conservative candidates do better. The evidence shows that the elderly, young students and minorities are less likely to possess a driver’s license, passport or other acceptable form of government issued identification and those constituencies, largely, vote democratic.
And those efforts are not even that transparent. In Texas, for example, their Voter ID law exempts voters over 70 (who largely vote Republican) from the ID requirement. For Texans under 70, a concealed-weapons permit meets the ID requirements but a student ID from the University of Texas does not.
The efforts are so obvious that former President Bill Clinton called the efforts the worst since Jim Crow. Adam Sewer takes some issue with Clinton’s invoking of Jim Crow since those voter suppression efforts were about actual or implied threats of violence toward African-American voters (and their sympathizers), but acknowledges that they share the same goal of voter suppression.
The widespread impact of these laws will be immediate in upcoming recall elections in Wisconsin for example, but the goal is longer term with potentially more devastating consequences. If those pushing suppression efforts are successful those bills will pair nicely with a challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act that will likely come before the Supreme Court and give the Roberts majority a chance to strike the one provision that allows for the Department of Justice to step in to jurisdictions and monitor elections when there is evidence of suppression or related discriminatory efforts.
Sounds like former President Clinton’s remarks are right on the money.
photo from Muffet via flickr.