(AP/David Goldman)

Republicans are preparing to suppress minority voters in November through new voter ID laws, and they're getting away with it

There are now 33 states with voter ID laws — denying rights to an immeasurable number of Americans


Sean Illing
May 3, 2016 3:57PM (UTC)

Voter ID laws are being enacted all over the country for one reason and one reason alone: to curtail the minority vote. The discourse surrounding this issue is frustrating because it's easy to mask the intent with pleasant-sounding rhetoric about preserving the “integrity” of the voting process. But the truth is obvious enough: Black and Latino voters are disproportionately impacted by these laws, and the lawmakers know it.

In places like Texas, minority voters are twice as likely to lack accepted forms of ID. The numbers are similar in other states as well. Pushing these laws, therefore, has a clear and predictable effect on a specific subset of the population, the very population least likely to vote Republican.

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As a New York Times report noted, “new or strengthened voter ID laws will be in place in Texas and 14 other states for the first time in a presidential election” this November. Such laws may not swing the election one way or the other, but there's no doubt they will have a significant impact, particularly on down-ballot races in Democratic-leaning regions.

The latest batch of voter ID laws brings the total tally of states with such laws to 33 — 17 of which require both written and photographic proof of identity. It's impossible to know how many voters will be turned away as a result of these laws. Whatever the number, we can be sure which segment of the population it will effect most. We know also that, however many voters are physically denied the right to vote, many more more will be dissuaded from voting at all, which is precisely the point.

A study by the Baker Institute and the University of Houston polled 400 registered voters and found that nearly 13 percent of respondents cited lack of proper ID as a reason for not voting. Importantly, though, the majority of those voters were later discovered to have the appropriate identification. But they didn't know it, and part of the reason for that is the needless confusion caused by voter ID laws.

Zoltan L. Hajnal, a political scientist and author of a new report on photo ID laws and minority voting behavior, concluded that “strict voter ID laws double or triple the gap in turnout between whites and nonwhites.” Given the paucity of evidence for the problem of voter fraud, it's hard not to conclude that such laws are achieving their desired ends.

Laws ought to make it easier for citizens to vote, not more difficult. That officials are drafting laws designed to disenfranchise minority voters is an affront the democratic process. Republican officials take refuge in false claims about “voter fraud,” and yet virtually all the evidence we have suggests this is a fake solution in search of a mythical problem. As an ongoing study by NYU's Brennan Center for Justice found, an “examination of voter fraud claims reveal that voter fraud is very rare, voter impersonation is nearly non-existent, and much of the problems associated with alleged fraud in elections relates to unintentional mistakes by voters or election administrators.”

This data, like all data that undermines false narratives, is ignored by the Republicans who continue pushing what are thinly-veiled racist laws. And we know many of them ignore these facts because they occasionally admit what they're actually aiming at. A few months ago, for example, John Oliver tackled this issue and ran footage of Republican lawmakers boasting about the political gains resulting from these voter ID laws.

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“Voter ID is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania,” said Pennsylvania State Rep. Mike Turzai. Robert Gleason, chairman of PA Republican Party, insisted they “had a better election” and “cut Obama by 5 percent” and that “voter ID probably helped a bit in that.” This, ultimately, is what it's all about – suppressing minority votes via contrived laws. Republicans will deny that inhibiting votes is the aim, but don't believe it. Statements like these tell you everything you need to know about the motivations behind voter ID laws.


Sean Illing

Sean Illing is a USAF veteran who previously taught philosophy and politics at Loyola and LSU. He is currently Salon's politics writer. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Read his blog here. Email at silling@salon.com.

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