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As the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) kicked off their national convention in Orlando, Florida, three items were the prime concerns for the nation’s oldest civil rights organization. The trial of George Zimmerman for the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down section IV of the Civil Rights Act, and by extension the issue of requiring a state sponsored ID to vote.
The Toonari Post sat down with Hilary O. Shelton, Director and Senior Vice-President for Policy and Advocacy, to discuss each of these items, starting with the issue of voter ID laws. One overriding concept became the foundation for the NAACP’s opposition—an undue burden.
Republicans in states across the country have made a strong push to require state sponsored identification, state ID’s or driver’s licenses for example, to be shown when you show up to vote in an election. Republicans believe that will cut down on voter fraud, and makes for common sense; many agree. A Washington Post poll taken before the 2012 Presidential election found that 74% of Americans favor some sort of government-issued ID for voting. Seventy-four percent agreement on anything in the country is a rare event, but the NAACP and Shelton are not convinced.
“It’s not the idea that you should have some unique identifier to show you are, who say you are, it’s having the stringent narrow requirement that it be a state issued ID. It creates an undue burden that keeps people away from the polls,” says Shelton. “In most states you have to pay for that (a state ID). The idea that you would have to pay to vote is not right. It’s like a poll tax.”
The accusation of a poll tax is one that many have used, including Attorney General Eric Holder, and harkens back to the nasty days of the civil rights era. Ensconced within Jim Crow laws, poll taxes were charges people had to pay in order to vote. If you did not pay the tax, you could not vote. This disenfranchised most blacks and Native Americans, because they could not afford the tax. But it is possible to argue that this has little to do with voter ID.
In all states there is a charge for a state ID or driver’s license. Those fees can range from as little as $10 dollars to as much as $40 but even at the highest price, most people in fact get one. After all, Americans use ID for everything from opening a bank account, paying by check at the grocery store, to obtaining a legal job when they are asked for one before you sign your I-9 form. And for those who feel they cannot pay, many states will give an ID for free if you are below certain income levels. This point did not mollify Shelton at all.
“It is an undue burden because of the narrowness. One major in a city wanted to put photos on library cards, but that was not good enough. They do not want to even allow students going to a state school and have a college ID from the state school they are attending,” says Shelton.
At this point I jumped in; pointing out that college ID’s are held by all students of the school, including ones that are not residents of the state or even U.S. citizens. Therefore they should not be used for voting.
Sheldon, a stately gentleman, leaned back in his chair and smiled. “Sure, sure. But usually there is an extension on the ID for different types of students. Some students even pay different tuition rates.”
How a poll worker would decipher that on any number of different college ID’s did not seem to be a concern.
“If you are going to require something, you have to look at the utility of the requirement. In Washington where I live they have signature attestation. It is adequate to vote. You go in sign your name on the rolls and they have a record of your signature. There is also punishment. If you falsely attest to being someone else you will be punished. The issue is why we want to put an additional obstacle to voting.”
This would seem to be the main thorn for the NAACP. Requiring someone to get an ID, or gather papers they have not looked at in years, or even take three buses to get to the DMV, in order to get an ID is an obstacle. There should be no obstacles to voting as far as the NAACP is concerned.
Republicans would not disagree. Neither would any American. But you have to ask, if blacks in the civil rights era can get bitten, kicked, spit on, and hosed in order to vote, “Why can’t they take two hours in an air conditioned DMV with no one bothering them to be able to vote.” Why is this an undue burden for blacks, but everyone else can do it?
To me, it seems like an excuse. “They (Republicans) want to make it harder just as a way to win elections,” says Shelton. “When Governor Brownback of Kansas signed some the bill into law, he said, ‘Now we can restore integrity to the voting process.’ A question was then asked how many cases of identification fraud they had found. Well we went back ten years and we only found one.”
In other words this is a problem that does not exist. I just wonder why the NAACP would want to leave the door open for it to exist to begin with.
Photo Courtesy of Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights