Why GOP's Southern Strategy Moved North
The scariest voter-ID laws might be the ones that aren't in solidly red states.
Last week the state of Pennsylvania was forced to admit that no significant instances of voter fraud -- the very reason for voter-ID laws, claim supporters -- had occurred there. Only 13 cases were reported since 1999, out of 31 million votes cast. In June, Pennsylvania's Republican House leader Mike Turzai revealed what liberals had long suspected: The new laws were purposely designed to suppress votes. In a videotaped speech before the Republican State Committee, he boasted that voter ID is "gonna allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania."
Independent studies reveal that the restrictions will affect 9.2 percent of eligible registered voters -- roughly 758,939 residents -- and that is well above the margin by which Obama won the state against John McCain. Speaking before the NAACP in Houston in July, Holder referred to the voter laws as a "poll tax" and vowed to fight them.
Despite GOP insistence that their efforts are not politically motivated, the racial bias is clear. As many as 25 percent of African Americans lack a government-issued photo ID, compared with 8 percent of whites. Asian Americans and Latinos have equally high numbers, with 20 percent and 19 percent respectively lacking photo identification.
In years past, proof of residence -- a bank statement or utility bill -- would have sufficed. Indeed, for the elderly and those without cars in urban areas, Social Security cards and birth certificates -- which do not bear photos -- were the definitive form of ID for generations. Young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 could use student-ID cards to vote -- but not anymore.
In Ohio a statewide survey found only four instances of ineligible voting, out of more than 9 million votes cast in 2002 and 2004. This amounts to a ratio of 0.00004 percent -- which is statistically negligible and mathematically almost nonexistent. Yet in March, the state's Republican-led House of Representatives passed one of the most restrictive voting laws in the country, which could affect as many as 900,000 Ohioans. In particular, early voting, which has served as a stalwart in African-American communities, was severely limited.
The past doesn't always repeat itself, but it can echo quite loudly in the events of the present. And as the nation's farmlands suffer devastating drought, it seems that Jim Crow has found fertile Northern soil in which to thrive.
Edward Wyckoff Williams is contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on MSNBC, Al-Jazeera, CBS Washington and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.