You may not have realized it, but this week marks the 47th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act in the United States, the law that upheld the fundamental right of voting for millions of our fellow citizens. But while we quietly celebrate, conservatives are busy trying to turn the clocks back to 1965 – and I’m not talking about the Beatles in Shea Stadium.
What am I talking about? Good olde fashioned voter suppression, but this time in the guise of “voter ID” laws.
Here's what's really going on: Republican politicians love to make these false allegations and cry wolf because they know it drums up support for their anti-voting laws. But in case after case after case, it turns out clerical errors, people pulling pranks, or simple explanations are at the root of the charges. It’s just the same old ideas dressed up in new names.
For example, among the many provision of the Voting Rights Act was the prohibition on the notorious poll tax, which was specifically designed to eliminate large (and poor) groups of otherwise eligible voters from casting their ballot. In inflation-adjusted dollars, your average 1965 poll tax cost $10.64. In contrast, today it can cost $25 for a birth certificate, up to $100 for a driver’s license, $97 for a passport, and over $200 for naturalization papers, all of which could be required under various versions of voter ID laws.
Over 20 million American citizens do not have valid IDs, including an even greater percentage of African American, low-income, and older citizens. In a study of 10 states with anti-voting ID laws, more than 10 million eligible voters -- including 500,000 without a car -- live more than 10 miles from their nearest state ID-issuing office open more than two days a week.
Protecting the integrity of our elections is hugely important. That’s why we have strict laws and protections in place. Anti-voting laws do the opposite and undermine our democracy by preventing eligible voters from voting. And guess what – those laws work!
During the Bush administration’s unprecedented years-long attempt to prosecute “voter fraud” cases, they were unable to find a single case of in-person polling place impersonation out of the 197 million ballots cast in the 2002 and 2004 federal elections, which is the only type of voter fraud such voter ID laws might address. Politicians trying to manufacture a conspiracy of voter fraud will only find incidence rates that are virtually zero. And I'm not kidding: 0.000002% nationwide; 0.0009% in Washington; 0.0002% in Wisconsin; and 0.00004% in Ohio. And virtually all the cases of "voter fraud" are actually due to clerical or typographical errors, mismatched record entries, and simple mistakes.
We narrowly escaped having voter ID laws passed in North Carolina this year, but some of our neighbors have not been so lucky. Nationally, the new GOP voter suppression efforts will undermine the voting rights of as many as 5 million American citizens in the 2012 election, which is equal to the margin of victory in two of the last three presidential elections.
Five million is a lot of lost votes. And if you think that’s a coincidence, I’ve got a ticket to a great show I’d like to sell you.