It is becoming clear that the wave of new voter ID laws set to take effect in this year’s elections will disproportionately disenfranchise the old and the young, the poor and minorities. It has also been widely alleged that these laws are intended to do precisely that in order to give the Republican Party an electoral edge.
PBS’s Bill Moyers spoke about these accusations on Friday with Keesha Gaskins and Michael Waldman of the Brennan Center for Justice, which recently issued a report titled “The Challenge of Obtaining Voter Identification.”
“You saw laws like this all across the country,” Waldman began. “And it was sudden. There was no wave of voter fraud. There was no crisis being dealt with. It was just, unfortunately, a shift in who controlled these state legislatures. That’s what happened starting in 2011. … Minutes after they gained ascendancy. It wouldn’t be the first time in American history for politicians to manipulate the system for their own benefit.”
“This is all about politics,” Gaskins noted. “Seeing the real push of dollars into the election, and understanding … that someone might be able to write a big check, but they still only have one vote. … When these votes come under attack by this level of partisan gamesmanship, it’s completely inappropriate and antithetical to our history. … This is a real issue of real Americans, and really being able to access and be self-determinative in how we’re governed. “
“What we see when we look at these highly restrictive voter ID laws,” she continued, “is they actually end up cherry picking voters, allowing politicians to choose who votes rather than letting the voters choose their politicians. … Our studies have shown us that there are — that 18 percent of senior citizens over 65, that 25 percent of African Americans, that a high percentage of young people all lack these strict kinds of government issued photo IDs.”
Gaskins went on to say that ten million Americans live more than ten miles away from an office that issues photo IDs, that half a million of those lack cars, that public transportation is often inadequate, especially in rural areas, and that the offices may not be open at times when people holding full-time jobs can get to them.
Waldman further explained that even though there may be no charge for the ID card itself, “the underlying documents that you need to get your free ID cost money. And they actually cost more in current dollars than the poll tax did when it was declared unconstitutional in the 1960s.”
He suggested that the solution is for the country to move “toward a system of modernized voter registration, where the government, the state governments, said we have a computerized list, and if you’re eligible to vote, you’re 18, you’re a citizen, you’re eligible, you’re on that roll permanently. … Would add up to 65 million people to the rolls. It would cost less. And for people who are really worried about fraud, it addresses that potential as well.”
“I keep at this because of my core belief that it can get better,” Gaskins concluded, “and that we as Americans have these rights, and we’ve got to keep striving for that.”
This video is from Moyers & Company, August 3, 2012.