Tuesday, August 30, 2005The state of Georgia has take some heat for passing a law requiring voters to present a photo id. Since African-Americans are less likely to have such I.D., it is tantamount to a method to bar blacks from voting. Given the long history of discrimination in the South and the recent tendency of the Republicans to suppress minority turnout, you can guess why we might be concerned.
Well now we have a rebuttal from Frank Strickland and Anne Lewis, two Republican lawyers. They make a number of claims in defense of the law. First, the intent of the law is not to discriminate, but to limit fraud. Of course, it really doesn't matter what the intent of a law is, but its results. They then throw the burden onto critics, asserting that we have to prove that the intent of the law is to discriminate. They know better than that - civil rights law and numerous Supreme Court rulings have labelled African-Americans a "suspect classifcation." This means that it is up to the accused to demonstrate that they are not discriminating, if there is prima faciae evidence that they are. This standard is applied whenever there has been a long, systematic, and pervasive system of discrimination - which is certainly the case for African-Americans.
Of course discrimination might not be the only reason to oppose the bill. What happens to people who are in a hurry to vote before or after work and just forget their id at home? And Georgia already has a big problem with long lines and short hours in which to vote. Gee, it's almost like Republicans don't want working people to be able to vote!
Next let's examine their argument that we need such a law to prevent fraud. They point to a history in Georgia of "dead" voters participating in elections. They cite an Atlanta Journal study which discovered 5,000 such voters since 1980. 5000 in twenty-five years? That's hardly a major problem - it averages out to 200 a year. If they can point to a single election in which such votes have changed the outcome, they might have a point. But there are certainly better methods for addressing such questions than a law which might disenfranchise thousands of voters. Does Georgia require a signature to match up with voter registration cards, for example? Those are certainly much harder to fake that just knowing someone's name. And the Republicans are misidentifying the real problem with voting today - it's not voter fraud but voter suppression. But the Theocons don't want to talk about voter suppression, since they're doing so much of it.
Strickland & Lewis argue that just because black legislators were against the vote doesn't mean that there's something fishy going on. This is because the breakdown was by party affiliation, not race. That's a pretty cute argument, since there are zero black Republicans in the Georgia Assembly. Not exactly sound statistics. Could it be a coincidence that Republicans (who are white) were for the bill and that blacks (all of whom are Democrats) were against it? Is there a reason why Democrats would be opposed to the bill if there was no discriminatory effects? Are you really suggesting that Democrats are in favor of fraud? Because the old "courthouse Democrats" who once routinely engaged in voter fraud are now all dead or Republicans.
I'm going to skip their statistical arguments, since they don't provide any data. All they claim is that their opposition's position is "unsupported." They don't give any supporting information.
Finally, our Republican friends claim that even if there are some people who don't have id's, there will be roving "ID vans" to help people. What I'd like to know is whether the money to appropriate a large number of these vans is in the bill. If it isn't, then how can we know that there will be one such operation for the entire state? Legislative promises without built-in enforcement aren't worth the paper they're written on, as we have learned from the No Child Left Behind Act.
So nice try, guys, but no dice.