Favorite

Voter suppression 

The history of voting in America and in our little corner of it has been the struggle to empower more and more people to have a say in how laws are made and are applied to them.

From propertied white men, the franchise was extended by increments to all men, including African Americans, and in 1920 to women, and then Congress and states removed the artificial barriers to voting by the unprivileged.

That was the trend until now. The other point of view — that too many people, or at least the wrong people, are voting — is ascendant. Next month, Arkansas will almost certainly join that march by changing its constitution to require people to leap another hurdle before they can vote. Even if every election official in the precinct knows them, they will need to present an official photo identification to get a ballot.

For most of us, that is no hurdle, but it is for many — by prevailing standards, the least consequential people among us. That is one reason I say voters almost certainly will adopt the new requirement Nov. 6.

The ballot question is Issue 2, the proposed voter ID law. Several Republican-controlled state legislatures have adopted such laws. Arkansas has been trying for four years, but the Arkansas constitution, which prohibits such voting barriers, has stood in the way. Issue 2 will take care of that by installing the photo ID in the constitution.

Photo IDs will do nothing to protect the sanctity of the ballot or to remedy Arkansas's and many other states' vile history of election fraud, about which volumes have been written, including "Waiting for the Cemetery Vote," which I penned with the late Tom Glaze.

That is because the photo ID laws are supposed to combat "voter fraud," not election fraud. Election fraud occurs when voting officials — sheriffs, county clerks, precinct officials and anyone else who may have control of ballot boxes and machines — manipulate the returns by destroying ballots, creating bogus ones, miscounting them or the scores of other schemes to produce a desired election result. Modern reforms like permanent registration, voting machines and joint primaries have ended most of the fraud, although the peril of online manipulation of voting results is growing.

Voter fraud, which Republicans promise that photo IDs will stop, is something else. There is no known history of its happening or at least on any measurable scale. It happens when an individual figures that some registered voter is not going to vote that day, goes to the voter's precinct, pretends to be that person, signs the person's voter affidavit and casts his ballot for him. He would have to match the voter's signature on the affidavit. He would have to figure that the precinct officials would not know either him or the real voter — in small precincts a virtual impossibility. If they did, he would not be allowed to vote and the prosecutor would be notified. Besides a candidate's brother-in-law, who would take that huge risk for the sake of casting one vote?

Requiring an official photo ID on top of having to match your affidavit signature is a deterrent to voting — not for you or me, who intend to vote come hell or high water, but for those for whom voting is already a burden. Those are the poor, mostly black, and the disabled and the elderly, for whom just getting to a polling place is an ordeal. Why bother?

Remember that Governor Hutchinson, who favors Issue 2, couldn't vote in May because he didn't have his driver's license, and a state trooper had to drive him to the Governor's Mansion to get it. Many people wouldn't have the luxury of time.

The legislature last year passed a photo ID statute and, although a circuit judge ruled this spring that it was unconstitutional, the Supreme Court allowed it to be used in the May and June primaries. The turnout, 312,000, was among the lowest in 50 years. It was 328,000 in the 1950 Democratic primary, when the poll tax still ruled.

The statute, which will be the enabling law once Issue 2 is adopted, allows people without a photo ID to cast a provisional ballot. They must step aside and sign an affidavit that they are who they say they are and will produce proof to the county election commission within a few days after the election — a scene most people would rather avoid. They must be warned that their affidavit is going to be turned over to the prosecuting attorney. But the law makes it clear that if the election commission — Republican-controlled at the moment — just doesn't want to count their provisional ballot, it won't. At the May primary, at least 250 ballots went uncounted.

Republican leaders have occasionally admitted that the ID laws are intended to depress Democratic turnout but they say Democrats would do the same if they could find such a remedy and were in charge. They are right.

In fact, vote suppression has mostly involved schemes perpetrated by Democrats, especially in the South. Jim Crow and all its voting constraints — white primaries, the poll tax, the Australian ballot and tests of literacy and civic knowledge — were Democratic artifices. As the state representative from Craighead County, Dr. Joe Meek, roared in 1888 when Jim Crow was being implemented: "The Caucasian race must govern America!"

African Americans got unfettered voting rights only upon the passage of the Voting Rights Act, which the Supreme Court effectively quashed in 2013, clearing the way for photo ID laws. As the dynamics change, there will be more such ruses.

Favorite

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Ernest Dumas

  • ACA will stand

    If you are worried about your health care — and that ought to be nearly everyone — pay no attention to the triumphant tweet of President Trump last Friday or the hurrah the same day from Leslie Rutledge, the Arkansas attorney general, after the most political judge in America declared the whole Affordable Care Act null and void.
    • Dec 20, 2018
  • Sex and Trump

    No one, least of all Donald Trump, should be surprised when sex puts him in mortal jeopardy, which seemed to be the case last week when his personal lawyer pleaded guilty to violating the law by arranging $280,000 in hush payments to a porn actress and a Playboy model who were prepared to tell voters about having sex with him.
    • Dec 13, 2018
  • A decent man

    The beatification of George H.W. Bush, which even the current president signaled was OK, would have surprised the 41st president, who seemed to have accepted the public's verdict that, although a waffler, he was a decent man who did his best and didn't do any harm to the people of the country or the world with whose well-being he was entrusted for a time.
    • Dec 6, 2018
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Along the civil rights trail

    A convergence of events in recent days signaled again how far we have come and how far we have yet to go in civil rights.
    • Jan 18, 2018
  • The Oval outhouse

    One thing all Americans finally can agree upon is that public discourse has coarsened irretrievably in the era of Donald Trump and largely at his instance.
    • Jan 18, 2018
  • Shrugging off sulfides

    The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported a shocker on its front page Sunday. The rotten-egg odor from the Koch brothers' sprawling paper plant at Crossett is still making people sick, but the state's pollution control agency is unaware of the problem.
    • Mar 29, 2018

Latest in Ernest Dumas

  • ACA will stand

    If you are worried about your health care — and that ought to be nearly everyone — pay no attention to the triumphant tweet of President Trump last Friday or the hurrah the same day from Leslie Rutledge, the Arkansas attorney general, after the most political judge in America declared the whole Affordable Care Act null and void.
    • Dec 20, 2018
  • Sex and Trump

    No one, least of all Donald Trump, should be surprised when sex puts him in mortal jeopardy, which seemed to be the case last week when his personal lawyer pleaded guilty to violating the law by arranging $280,000 in hush payments to a porn actress and a Playboy model who were prepared to tell voters about having sex with him.
    • Dec 13, 2018
  • A decent man

    The beatification of George H.W. Bush, which even the current president signaled was OK, would have surprised the 41st president, who seemed to have accepted the public's verdict that, although a waffler, he was a decent man who did his best and didn't do any harm to the people of the country or the world with whose well-being he was entrusted for a time.
    • Dec 6, 2018
  • More »

Most Viewed

  • Buying way into the Ivies: What else is new?

    If it’s news to you that social climbers see buying their children’s way into fancy, name-brand colleges as the functional equivalent of wearing Rolex watches or driving Maseratis, then I don’t know where to start.

Most Recent Comments

 

© 2019 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation