Attorney Barbara Arnwine, leader of the D.C. based Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, is on a mission. She wants to make sure that every citizen has the right to vote. On its face, it seems like a retro mission, since the right to vote has long been established. But one look at her Map of Shame, a map she shared at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition's 40th Anniversary and annual conference, and the mission becomes quite urgent.
States are passing laws that require people to have a government issued photo ID in order to vote. Arnwine's Map of Shame shows 8 states – Kansas, Texas, Wisconsin, Indiana, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina --that require a government-issued photo ID for voting. Several other require proof of citizenship, which may mean the birth certificate President Obama was challenged with producing. Sounds suspiciously close to a passbook to me. Often when these laws are enforced, the government issued photo ID must include a "current" address, which poses barriers to those who have moved. Americans have a mobility rate of 14 percent, and African Americans have a mobility rate of 18 percent. In the middle of a move, many do not return to the Department of Motor Vehicles to change the address on their driver's license.
Government-issued photo ID does not include a Social Security card, but is usually restricted to a driver's license or a passport. Eleven percent of all Americans, and 25 percent of African Americans, does not have driver's licenses. In Georgia, 36 percent of those over 75 do not have a driver's license. What about passports? The process of obtaining a passport often takes weeks, and costs upwards of $100. Requiring a government-issued photo ID may be a burden for some Americans. Yet that is precisely the intent that legislators that are assaulting voting rights have. When elections are close, it is in their interest to exclude young people, seniors, and African Americans. These voter ID laws do exactly that. Additionally, in some high unemployment states, those who owe child support cannot get a driver's license. Talk about a double whammy. You may need a car to get to work or look for work to pay child support, but without a car you can't look for work or get to work.
The Map of Shame shows that more than 20 states are considering the repressive laws that have been passed in the eight states that have frontally attacked voting rights, along with the two, Ohio and Florida that require proof of citizenship. Is it any coincidence that these are "swing states"? How much does this have to do with the upcoming 2012 election, where the stakes are high and the Tea Party seems determined to push our country backwards?
This attack on voting surely has nothing to do with real voter fraud. A five-year investigation by the Bush Department of Justice showed a scant 86 voter fraud conviction, and most of these cases could not have been prevented by voter ID laws. Another study showed that only 24 people were convicted of or pled guilty to illegal voting between 2002 and 2005. Again, photo ID laws would not have prevented this fraud. Instead of attempting to suppress the vote, we ought to be encouraging it – we have one of the lowest levels of voter participation in the world.
In the middle of an economic crisis, legislators are passing laws that it will cost millions of dollars to implement. Is this the price of democracy, of voting integrity? Hardly. It is the price of chicanery. It is officially sanctioned voter suppression that, when combined with informal intimidating tactics already keep millions from the polls. For example, in Georgia, at the cusp of an election, those who owed child support were sent letters warning them that their status might be checked at the polls. In an urban center, during an anticipated close election, voters in some precincts were called and told the election had been decided (it had not been) and they did not need to vote. Furthermore, efforts that have been made in the past to expand the electorate are now being eliminated. In some states, early voting and Sunday voting has been eliminated; in others, churches and community centers can no longer register voters. Civic organizations that once registered voters now will not because laws have been passed that make it difficult to comply with laws (such as registrations must be turned in within 24 or 48 hours), and that impose harsh penalties for noncompliance.
Some states are eliminating precinct voting. When you voted in your precinct you could walk down the street or around the block to vote. With "regional voting centers" several precincts are combined and it may be necessary to take public transportation, if there is such a thing in your area, to get to a polling place. If there is such a thing. Repressive states are refusing federal funds for public transportation because they have absolutely no interest in a mobile African American population.
The bottom line – many are planning to make voting harder in 2012 than it was in 2008. They are planning to steal the 2012 election, and activist lawyers like Barbara Arnwine are passionately fighting back. Check out the Map of Shame at www.lawyerscommittee.org.
Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina.