White southern Republicans enact voter ID laws because they don’t want Democrats to vote, particularly people of color. Republicans have gerrymandered districts to dissolve the Minority vote, as well as set as many impediments as possible in the way of voters.
Nearly 150 years after the end of the US civil war, the South and the federal government are poised for a rematch over the voting rights of black Americans, and ultimately over the fundamental rights of all Americans. Once again, the former Confederate states are determined to defend their traditions and way of life, while the Union forces in the North – the federal government – are positioning themselves to defend justice and equality.
But this time, in an ironic twist, two black men – President Barack Obamaand Attorney General Eric Holder – are leading the charge.
In the 1860s, the fight between the North and the South was about slavery and the right of the Confederate states to maintain a dreaded institution that kept people of African descent in bondage. Unprecedented carnage resulted.
A century later – in light of the 1954 US supreme court decision in Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, which ended racial segregation in public schools – the South struggled to maintain a Jim Crow system that kept black people legally and politically impotent, all in the name of states’ rights.
Two hallmarks of the civil rights movement are the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. Passed by Congress and signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson, the legislative victories were achieved only through the blood of civil rights workers, both black and white, who were beaten, sprayed with fire hoses, shot, firebombed, bitten by police dogs and lynched.
The purpose of the Voting Rights Act was to apply a nationwide ban against discriminatory election practices such as literacy tests. The existing anti-discrimination laws, Congress concluded, were insufficient to overcome the Southern states’ resistance to the Fifteenth Amendment.
In June 2013, the nation’s high court cut the voting law at its knees inShelby County v Holder when it eviscerated the key component of the act – the section 4 preclearance requirement – which determined which states must receive approval from a federal court or the Justice Department before making changes to their voting procedures. The act applied to nine states – Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia – and various other localities and counties across the country.
In the second decade of the 21st century, the latest battle centers around southern states with a history of voting rights violations, and currently exhibit the most anti-black, racist sentiment. These states want to employ restrictive and racially discriminatory voter suppression methods such as voter ID. This time, the Republican party has replaced the Dixiecrats as the party of white supremacy and the old Confederacy, of racial discrimination and voter suppression. And Holder has decided to make an example of Texas, firing the first shot at the Lone Star state.
Within 24 hours of the high court decision, five states – Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia – decided to move forward with their voter ID laws. They required preclearance under section 4, which no longer exists. Moreover, Holder and a federal court had already blocked the South Carolina and Texas voter ID laws because they violated the Voting Rights Act.
Florida has resumed its purge of Hispanic voters following the supreme court decision, and after a federal court lifted a ban on removing potential non-US citizens from the rolls. North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory is about to sign into law the nation’s most restrictive voter suppression measure, though, he admits he has not read the provisionprohibiting 16- and 17-year-olds from pre-registering to vote. The law also eliminates same-day registration, cuts early voting by a week and requires government-issued ID to vote. According to the North Carolina secretary of state, voter ID laws are having a disproportionate impact onDemocratic voters and voters of color.
SB 14, the Texas voter ID law considered the most severe in the US at present, requires Texans to prove their citizenship and state residency in order to vote, using a passport, military ID or birth certificate if they lack a driver’s license, concealed handgun license or photo ID. In 2012, a federal court struck down the Texas law on the grounds that:
The implicit costs of obtaining SB 14-qualifying ID will fall most heavily on the poor and that a disproportionately high percentage of African Americans and Hispanics in Texas live in poverty. … We therefore conclude that SB 14 is likely to lead to ‘retrogression in the position of racial minorities with respect to their effective exercise of the electoral franchise.’
Yet, in light of the Shelby County decision, the Supreme Court discarded the lower court’s Texas voter ID ruling, and threw out a ruling that found Texas’ state redistricting maps were “enacted with discriminatory purpose” and diluted the Latino vote. Although Latinos made up nearly 40% of the Texas population in the 2010 census and accounted for 65% of the growth in the state population, Texas Republicans essentially pretended Texas is a white state. The GOP kept Latinos and black voters out of the redistricting process, added only one minority district, and manipulated an electoral map “that would look Hispanic, but perform for Anglos”.
In addition, the court found that 603,892 to 795,955 Latino voters in Texas lacked voter identification – as Texas Republicans had intended. Student IDs are not adequate identification at the polls, but gun permits are acceptable, reflected a preference for Republican constituents.
Holder announced he would ask a federal court to force the state to continue to receive permission to make changes to its voting laws. The Justice Department has requested that a federal court impose an additional 10 years of preclearance.
Governor Rick Perry said in a statement:
This end run around the supreme court undermines the will of the people of Texas, and casts unfair aspersions on our state’s common-sense efforts to preserve the integrity of our elections process.
Greg Abbott, the Texas state attorney general, accused Holder of “sowing racial divide” and tweeted “I’ll fight #Obama’s effort to control our elections & I’ll fight against cheating at ballot box.” Conservative proponents of voter ID measures invoke the specter of voter fraud and the need to protect the integrity of elections as justifications for the legislation. However, voter fraud is exceedingly rare, and about as infrequent as death by lightning strikes, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.
Rather, white southern Republicans enact voter ID laws because they do not want Democratic constituencies to vote, particularly people of color. Rather than embrace the changing demographics in the US and adopt platforms to address the needs and concerns of voters of color, Republicans have chosen to eschew these voters and wage an assault on civil rights, immigration and policies of diversity and inclusion. This is the endgame for the Republican Southern Strategy of race card politics. The GOP was able to win elections on the margins by appealing to the racial insecurities of disaffected working class whites. In the process, southern whites fled the Democratic party, and the GOP became the party of the white South. Now, this marginalized base of angry white voters is all that is left of the Republican strategy and of the GOP as well, so Republicans must remove the segments of the electorate that will not vote for them.