November 20, 2005

The GOP Continues to Act Reprehensibly, Part I



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Remember the old days when southern states tried to stop blacks from voting by instituting things like poll taxes? Well, it's a good thing they don't happen any more, right?

Well, in GOP-land, we have a case of one-step-forward, twenty-steps-back. Georgia's Republican-run state legislature passed a Voter ID law earlier this year which requires all voters to present a photo ID in order to vote. For those with a driver's license, that's all they need. But for those without a driver's license--which includes a great many of the state's poor and black populations, who vote predominantly Democratic--they need to spend a day going to the DMV, and shell out between $20 and $35 for a photo ID.

Fortunately, a judge suspended the law a month ago in time for the elections, calling the law discriminatory in a 123-page opinion:

The photo ID requirement is most likely to prevent Georgia's elderly, poor and African-American voters from voting.... For those citizens, the character and magnitude of their injury — the loss of their right to vote — is undeniably demoralizing and extreme.
The GOP, of course, claims that this is not about disenfranchising Democratic voters, but about stemming voter fraud--though it often seems, under the GOP definition, that any Democrat voting is a case of voter fraud. They have in the past made grand yet vague claims about voter fraud being rampant in poor and black communities, though in typical fashion do not present any reliable evidence that this is so. In August, Alberto Gonzales approved the voter ID law, showing a clear distinction between the Bush 43 and Clinton administrations--the Clinton DOJ slapped down a similar law in Louisiana in 1994. The current administration and GOP mindset, however, seems far more prone to be hostile to blacks, the poor, and the elderly.

One recent example, in a memo from the U.S. Justice Department, includes a bizarre claim by a Georgia Republican lawmaker:

The chief sponsor of Georgia's voter identification law told the Justice Department that if black people in her district "are not paid to vote, they don't go to the polls," and that if fewer blacks vote as a result of the new law, it is only because it would end such voting fraud.

The newly released Justice Department memo quoting state Rep. Sue Burmeister (R-Augusta) was prepared by department lawyers as the federal government considered whether to approve the new law.

I've tried to find the full text of the memo, but cannot--if any readers know where it is, please tell me. I'd love to see the full context of those remarks, and why they were put into that memo. But one thing is pretty undeniable: Burmeister believes that blacks are responsible to a disproportionate amount of voter fraud. Again, no evidence is forthcoming. Burmeister spoke out, claiming that the memo "misrepresented" her, and the DOJ is backpedaling, making the usual GOP claim when an embarrassing memo is discovered that it was only a "draft" and shouldn't be paid attention to.

As for the part about blacks not voting unless they are paid to do so, I have no idea what she's talking about. Is she suggesting that the DNC pays black people to go to the polls? Seems so--if not them, then who?

Georgia Republicans are also backpedaling, trying to say they will amend the bill somehow, or change elements like making the ID card free of charge. That may be less bad, but it's still bad. Forcing people to get photo ID cards still puts a disproportionate burden on some people (by coincidence, of course, predominantly Democrats) to jump through hoops before they can vote. It means setting aside a whole weekday so they can go to the DMV by bus or on foot and wait in the infamous long lines to get an ID card. This is not an easy thing for the people who need it most--mostly people who cannot afford to miss a day of work (which will cost them much more than $20, a cost no one seems to have factored in). It's a matter of proportion: for a middle-class person, it would likely be equivalent to a much higher fee and somewhat greater effort. For example, what if a law were passed requiring middle-class voters to drive 50 miles and pay a $200 fee in order to get to vote? How would that be greeted?

The fact is, any hurdle, any disproportionate effort imposed on any group of voters would violate the constitution. But the GOP has consistently demonstrated that its supposed high regard for the constitution is outweighed by any chance of solidifying their power base and forwarding their political and cultural agenda.

Posted by Luis at November 20, 2005 12:37 PM
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