Sunday, July 22, 2012

STUDY: Racial Animus Fuels Voter ID Laws

One of the big stories of 2012 as the United States approaches the presidential election on November 6 has been what progressives like to call "the war on voting." It's pretty much an article of faith among most people who are not Republicans that our Democracy is strengthened if more people vote. However, in many states with a Republican majority in the legislature and a Republican governor (like Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Florida) due to the low-turnout 2010 elections, Republicans have passed "voter identification" (sometimes called "vote protection" laws by Republicans or "voter suppression" laws by Democrats) which appear to have the effect of reducing the number of people who will be allowed to cast a legal vote.

Voter ID Laws Have Disparate Impact On Racial Minorities
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law has analyzed the impact of these voter identification laws on various racial groups, poor people and young people and the results are striking:
The 11 percent of eligible voters who lack the required photo ID must travel to a designated government office to obtain one. Yet many citizens will have trouble making this trip. In the 10 states with restrictive voter ID laws:
  • Nearly 500,000 eligible voters do not have access to a vehicle and live more than 10 miles from the nearest state ID-issuing office open more than two days a week. Many of them live in rural areas with dwindling public transportation options.
  • More than 10 million eligible voters live more than 10 miles from their nearest state ID-issuing office open more than two days a week.
  • 1.2 million eligible black voters and 500,000 eligible Hispanic voters live more than 10 miles from their nearest ID-issuing office open more than two days a week. People of color are more likely to be disenfranchised by these laws since they are less likely to have photo ID than the general population.
  • Many ID-issuing offices maintain limited business hours. For example, the office in Sauk City, Wisconsin is open only on the fifth Wednesday of any month. But only four months in 2012 — February, May, August, and October — have five Wednesdays. In other states — Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas — many part-time ID-issuing offices are in the rural regions with the highest concentrations of people of color and people in poverty.
More than 1 million eligible voters in these states fall below the federal poverty line and live more than 10 miles from their nearest ID-issuing office open more than two days a week. These voters may be particularly affected by the significant costs of the documentation required to obtain a photo ID. Birth certificates can cost between $8 and $25. Marriage licenses, required for married women whose birth certificates include a maiden name, can cost between $8 and $20. By comparison, the notorious poll tax — outlawed during the civil rights era — cost $10.64 in current dollars.
A poll tax by any other name is still a poll tax (and is therefore just as unconstitutional)!

Joan McCarter at DailyKos points out that the suppressive effect on the voting rights of these constituencies, all of whom tend to vote more prevalently for Democrats than Republicans, is precisely what the people who passed the laws intended.

Voter ID Laws Are Fueled By Racial Animus
One interesting question is what is fueling the drive for voter identification laws now and another academic study has analyzed that question and come to a conclusion (that is unsurprising to some) that it involves racism.

The University of Delaware's Center for Political Communication recently conducted a national survey of American voters to discover what kind of voters support voter identification laws and demonstrated that support for the measures is highly correlated with racial resentment, regardless of party affiliation.

In fact, while most Republicans and conservatives strongly support voter identification laws regardless of their level of racial resentment, it is Democrats and liberals who have more racial resentment that are more likely to support voter identification laws.
The survey reveals strong partisan and ideological divisions on racial resentment [see Figure]. Republicans and conservatives have the highest “racial resentment” scores, and Democrats and liberals have the lowest; Independents and moderates are in the middle. In addition, Democrats and liberals are least supportive of voter ID laws, whereas Republicans and conservatives are most supportive. The link between “racial resentment” and support for such laws persists even after controlling for the effects of partisanship, ideology, and a range of demographic variables.
Read the last sentence again. Regardless of partisanship (Republican or Democrat) or ideology (conservative or liberal) or other demographics, people who support voter identification laws are correlated with people who harbor racial resentment. There's also the matter-of-fact reporting that Republicans and conservatives have the highest levels of racial resentment; it is not just partisanship which animates the Right's energetic efforts to replace the first black Democratic president.

Hopefully, federal courts who are considering challenges to these voter identification laws in places like Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania (which "just happen" to be the swing states where the outcome of the 2012 presidential election may be decided) will also consider the unconstitutional disparate racial impact of these laws as well as the evidence that that they are fueled by unconstitutional racial animus.

Our nation's democratic tradition is one of the wonders of the modern world, but it is vulnerable to partisan manipulation, especially in a close election, because all one has to do is produce a disturbance or perturbation which either (more likely) suppresses voter turnout of your opposition or enhances voter turnout of your supporters on Election Day to swing an election in your favor. Once Election Day is over, it's over and the results will stand, even if those results were tainted by partisan trickery. And once a group is able to achieve a result that does not reflect what the majority of voters actually intended (some would argue that this already has happened!) it is basically the end of our nation's democratic tradition.

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