COLUMN: Jim Crow strikes back in election laws

By Eric Naing

Current White House Press Secretary and former Fox News talking head Tony Snow said in 2003 that “racism isn’t that big a deal anymore” and that it is “quickly becoming an ugly memory.” For millions of Americans, this is certainly not the case. Don’t believe what your history books say, Jim Crow is alive and well in our electoral system.

Earlier this year, the 1965 Voting Rights Act was successfully renewed after House Republicans shamefully tried to delay the vote. This landmark legislation enfranchised black voters by eliminating barriers to voting such as poll taxes and literacy tests. Unfortunately, our own representative Tim Johnson and the rest of the Republican-led House seek to undo all this with the Federal Election Integrity Act of 2006.

This bill would require people to provide a photo ID in order to vote in 2008. By 2010, the requirement would be raised to something that shows a proof of citizenship such as a passport. To a student, this may not seem like such a big deal. But to many American citizens, this could mean not being able to vote.

There are many reasons why someone would not have a valid photo ID, such as being poor or unemployed, not owning a car, being disabled, having to constantly move, living on a reservation or a rural area or not being able to leave your house very often. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of these people are minorities. Also not surprisingly, the vast majority of these people tend to vote Democratic.

Forcing people to pay for a photo ID or a government-issued proof of citizenship is the modern day equivalent of a poll tax. As the New York Times notes, this bill, which was passed along blatantly partisan lines, would ensure that “the electorate would likely become more middle-aged, whiter and richer and…more Republican.”

Supporters of the bill say it will prevent voter fraud despite the fact that there is no evidence that significant numbers of people are voting with fake identification. Similar laws have been passed in Georgia and Missouri and have been struck down and called unconstitutional.

Of course, this is only one small aspect of the GOP’s plan to disenfranchise minority voters. Going back to the 2000 presidential election, Florida Governor Jeb Bush purged supposed convicted felons from voter rolls and in the process prevented thousands of (surprise, surprise, mostly black) non-felons who shared similar names with felons from voting. In the 2004 election, three million (again, mostly black) votes were challenged at the polls.

Other issues, such as the use of provisional ballots, the lack of resources in polling places with high minority populations leading to long lines and the limiting of early voting and same-day voter registration programs all serve to disenfranchise minority voters. Some lawmakers even want all ballots to be English-only, which prevents thousands of legal Asian and Latinos from voting and would amount to a modern day literacy test.

Conservative mouthpiece Rush Limbaugh recently bragged about Republican efforts to trick minority voters into voting on the wrong day, calling them “stupid idiots.” Republicans are not only openly using racist tactics to win elections, they are openly proud of it.

The Republicans really don’t care about the integrity of our elections; they just want to prevent minorities who overwhelmingly vote Democratic from voting. If they truly cared about preventing voter fraud, they would have done something about the dangerously unreliable electronic voting machines by now.

It is startling how much this century resembles the last one, at least for minorities. Tim Johnson and the rest of the House Republicans want to reinstitutionalize racism and deny millions of minorities the right to vote. We can not allow democracy to be subverted and Jim Crow to be resurrected like this. We can not allow our right to vote to disappear.