“Swing states are always much more likely to have these kinds of laws restricting voting,” said Wendy Weiser, director of Brennan’s Democracy Program. “To the extent that it’s a political tactic to try and game the system, … it does make sense that that is where we see a lot of that because that is where it could make a difference to the outcome.”Emily Shultheis at Politico has a good summary of some of the new laws. As Joan McCarter at Daily Kos and The New York Times have been reporting for months, there is a lot of pushback against these laws. A Pennsylvania court is currently hearing a challenge to that state's law. And the U.S. Department of Justice is reviewing the Pennsylvania law under the Voting Rights Act. Attorney General Eric Holder has compared some of them with "poll taxes," one of the ways in which the African American vote was suppressed in the Jim Crow South.
The argument the backers of the new ID laws use is that these protect against voter fraud. But the fact of the matter is, voter fraud by impersonation is incredibly rare. The real purpose was made clear by Republican House Leader Mike Turzai, who, it's been frequently pointed out, openly said that Voter ID "is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done." It really is a war on voters.
It's hardly news that, throughout American history, it has been people with little political clout whose right to vote has been suppressed. Short of laws directly protecting that right and enforcers willing to stand behind it, there has been a vicious circle—no clout = no vote = no clout. Jim Crow laws dedicated to keeping African Americans from being full citizens were adopted in the face of the 15th Amendment. The 1924 act that gave American Indians the right to vote didn't stop several states from denying Indians access to the ballot box 25 years and more later. Young people got the right to vote at 18 in 1971, but states have fought to keep those living in college towns from voting there.
These days, voter suppression is done more on the sly. But it's still done to hit people whose political clout is weak, people in demographic cohorts whose economic and social circumstances (or cynicism about the value of participation) already make them less likely to vote. These include shenanigans like reducing the amount of time given over to early voting, or how many polling stations are opened in particular neighborhoods or arrangements in which at-large districts are imposed to dilute the influence of minority voters.
That's what the voter photo ID legislation is about. While it would seem on the surface to be reasonable since people have to show IDs before traveling by air, making certain purchases and, of course, dealing with the police, those passing these laws know full well that their impact will be to suppress turnout among people who have every right to vote and are more likely than not to cast their ballots for Democrats.
If laws like Pennsylvania's stand, the worst impact will be this year. Because there, perhaps more than a million voters don't currently have the required ID. City Paper in Philadelphia concluded that 43 percent of the population of that heavily Democratic city may not have proper ID. What's worse, however, is that many of them aren't aware of it. The governor himself recently couldn't explain what sort of ID would pass muster at the polls. People aware a new law has been passed but who think they do have proper ID will show up in November and be turned away or only allowed a provisional ballot, which could make for all kinds of problems when the tally is made.
In a democracy, officials should make every effort to ensure that each citizen has access to the polls without a hassle. Voting should be actively encouraged, not made more troublesome, and certainly not made more troublesome for people who traditionally have cast their ballots a certain way. There is a name for people who do that. At the moment, in America, we call them Republicans.
* Wisconsin's new voter ID law will not apply in November.