Opinion by Will Moredock
If you read South Carolina's daily newspapers, you can be forgiven if you never heard of the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is a corporate-funded juggernaut which works with Republican state legislators throughout the country in pushing a hard right-wing agenda, including anti-union legislation, privatization of schools and prisons, and rolling back environmental regulation.
Another of ALEC's priorities is passage of voter ID laws wherever possible. According to In These Times magazine, a total of 30 states already have such laws, which were unheard of five years ago. Eight others passed voter ID laws this year. South Carolina was among them.
Voter ID laws â€“ wherever they are passed â€“ have one thing in common. It is no longer enough to show a voter registration card to cast a ballot. Now one must show a photo ID, usually a driver's license.
Why the sudden compulsion to force voters to show their picture at the polls?
GOPers would have you believe they are protecting the integrity of our elections. Showing a photo ID insures that the person casting the vote is, in fact, who he says he is. Sounds reasonable enough, Yet, when was the last time a person was charged with impersonating another voter at the polls in S.C.?Â It hasn't happened in at least 40 years, which is apparently how far the records go back on such matters. Nationwide, there have been fewer than two dozen cases in the past 20 years.
Clearly there is no epidemic of voter fraud in the state or in the nation. So why the push for voter ID?
â€œThe overall idea is pretty obvious,â€ journalist Frances Fox Piven told In These Times. â€œBoth parties expect close elections in 2012, and if you can peel off just a couple of percentage points, you can determine the outcome.â€
Most adults carry a driver's license with their picture on it. Those who don't are usually people who don't own cars or people who are too old to drive. In other words, poor people and others in need of social services. To put it more succinctly, people more likely to vote Democratic.
This is what voter ID is really about â€“ disenfranchising potential Democratic voters, peeling off those couple of percentage points on Election Day. There is no better evidence of this than the fact that many of the voter ID laws â€“ including S.C.'s â€“ do not accept a college student photo ID, even if it is issued by a state institution. Why no college student IDs? We got the answer in a video â€“ which Stephen Colbert shared with the nation â€“ of New Hampshire Republican House Speaker William O'Brien describing â€œliberalâ€ students who must not be allowed to vote with their college IDs. (The bill passed the Republican legislature, but was vetoed by Democratic Gov. John Lynch.)
In S.C., as in most voter ID states, the new law calls for registered voters without a driver's license to go the Department of Motor Vehicles to have their photo ID made. Yet GOPers are betting it is going to be an imposition on many poor and elderly people to get to DMV without reliable transportation. It will be such an imposition that they will just drop off the voter rolls and out of the electoral process. That is the two percent the Republicans are trying to peel off.
And yet, as cynical as Republicans have shown themselves to be with their new voter ID law, they have actually trumped themselves with another bill, which Gov. Nikki Haley recently signed. The law allows military personnel to fax and email their ballots in from anywhere around the world and it eliminates a witness requirement for write-in ballots. As the Post and Courier points out, our GOP legislature seems quite unconcerned about fraud among this heavily Republican group of voters.
According to the S.C. League of Women Voters, some 180,000 voters may be disenfranchised by the state's new voter ID law. And who are those voters? We got a glimpse into that community a couple of weeks ago with a Post and Courier story about area public transportation. There are 19,439 households without a car â€“ and presumably, without a driver's license â€“ in Charleston, North Charleston and Summerville. Needless to say, they are overwhelmingly poor and black.
â€œThese are our neighbors. These are people who live among us, who work beside us,â€ S.C. ACLU Executive Director Victoria Middleton said. â€œIs that really what we want our General Assembly doing to our electoral system?â€
Somebody thinks so. But don't be fooled. The next time a Republican tries to tell you that we need voter ID to protect the sanctity of the electoral process, just take a page from Rep. Joe Wilson's text, look the GOPer in the eye and say, â€œYou lie!â€