Over at The Nation last week, Ari Berman reported from an event put on by the Democratic National Committee's Voting Right's Institute, at which civil rights icon U.S. Rep. John Lewis addressed voting rights and the GOP's recent nationwide push to restrict them.
The piece is worth reading, if only for the perspective of Lewis, a man who was beaten on Bloody Sunday in Selma, Ala. But buried toward the bottom of the piece are some astounding statistics that put the voter ID wave into context.
The nut graph, after the jump:
According to Susan Falck, a research associate at California State University — Northridge, twenty-nine laws restricting the right to vote were passed in the United States from 1865-1967. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, twenty-five laws restricting the right to vote have been passed from 2011-12. Eight of eleven states in the former confederacy have passed laws aimed at suppressing minority voters since the 2010 election. These are unbelievable statistics — and make one wonder why the likes of Lewis aren’t speaking in prime time.
If we take Republicans at their word — that this wave of restrictions is born out of sincere concern over voter fraud — then what are we to take from this information? Should we assume that 100 years of elections were fraught with voter-impersonation? Is it time to start reconsidering whether John F. Kennedy was fairly elected in 1960? Then again, to be fair, cheating voters would have a better chance of affecting the outcome of a low-turnout election. Perhaps we shouldn't have been so quick to trust the results of the election that made Ben West mayor of Nashville in 1951?
Or is it the opposite? After all, Republicans spent their week in Tampa hearkening back to the good old days. Perhaps back then people were less inclined to defraud elections, but ever since the 2010 mid-term elections they just can't help themselves? Has a sudden spike in voter fraud necessitated a century's worth of voter restrictions in the last two years?
Of course, we now know it's not the latter. Voter fraud, in general, is exceedingly rare, and the type of fraud that voter ID laws are ostensibly aiming to stop is even more so. As for the former, I haven't heard anyone actually suggesting that pre-voter ID elections were significantly tainted, if not altered, by fraud. So why the sudden urgency on this matter?
There only seems to be two options.
If you're feeling generous: perhaps the nationwide, ALEC-fueled, Republican push for voter restrictions that disproportionately affect likely Democratic voters was the result of a simultaneous epiphany about the threat of voter fraud that, upon further examination, turned out to be aimed at the most rare type of voter fraud instead of the most common. Oops.
Or Republicans, doing the math on America's changing demographics and realizing that the minority vote will soon be the majority vote, are in the throes of a desperate attempt to make it more difficult for those people to vote at all.
And when it comes to Tennessee in particular, these are the options:
Either Tennessee Republicans are gullible saps who actually believed the line that voter fraud was threatening the democracy and, unbeknownst to themselves, went about enacting a policy that is, among other things, inherently racist ...
Or Tennessee Republicans are willfully ignorant tools who disingenuously claim that voter fraud was threatening the democracy and knowingly went about enacting a policy that is, among other things, inherently racist.
Stupid or sinister? You pick.
In other news, that statewide voter purge in Florida, which was going to rid the rolls of illegally registered voters? It worked. They caught ... one Canadian.
And a reminder: As noted in a federal court's recent ruling against Texas' voter ID law, a state has a better chance of avoiding the wrong side of the gavel if "they ensure that all prospective voters can easily obtain free photo ID ..." So it's good that Tennessee has decided to open eight driver centers on the first Saturday of October and November. Go get one.