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Wednesday, 05 October 2016 08:08

Court Strikes Down Voter Suppression Efforts of States Requiring Proof of Citizenship

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

octvotingrightsVoting rights are being taken in away en masse, denying the most fundamental right of US citizenship.(Photo: Lauren Shiplett)

On September 15, I wrote a commentary about how the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law filed a lawsuit to prevent Georgia from implementing an onerous "voter registration verification process." From the title, it may sound sounds like a benign vetting process, but is actually one of the many laws and regulations that Republican-controlled legislatures and governors have been using to place obstacles in the place of non-Republican voters.

This particular voter suppression strategy in Georgia requires voters to show that all the data on four pieces of official state and federal identification match before they are allowed to vote. It sounds harmless enough, but remember that there is virtually no individual voter fraud in the United States involving the casting of a ballot by a person isn't eligible to cast one. There are, however, plenty of instances of voter suppression: denying eligible people the right to vote, along with the possible hacking of vote-counting software, manipulation of final vote counts after the polls close and more.  

Requiring a process such as a four-ID-card data match to be able to vote can be directly traced back to the post-slavery efforts to keep Black people from voting. It provides the opportunity to deny large numbers of people the chance to vote, while not holding other groups of people to the same ultra-stringent requirements.

I offer my wife's ID card situation as an example of the insidious nature of the Georgia regulation. Her legal name is Teresa, but she goes by the name of Terry.  Sometimes she includes her middle name on IDs; sometimes she doesn't. Her passport has her full formal name listed, while her driver's license has her name as Terry. This means that, were she to live in Georgia, she might not be able to vote.  Exactly how consistently such a regulation -- and other non-Republican voter suppression laws -- are applied has not yet been the subject of large scale studies. However, one could speculate that primarily white suburban and rural districts are perhaps less "rigorous" in enforcing voter obstruction laws.

As we've mentioned, there are a multitude of laws and regulations aimed at making it difficult for non-Republicans to vote in Republican-run states. There are, of course, many issues on which the two major parties work as a duopoly, but -- in general -- Republicans in Congress and state legislatures try to prevent people of color and others who are likely to vote Democratic or for a third party from casting a ballot. In general, Democratic legislatures and elected officials in the federal government are for broader suffrage.

Part of this, as we've said before, is symbolized by the birther movement that arose as a core ember of the Tea Party after Obama was elected. After all -- even though his mother was an American white person, his father was from Kenya and Obama himself was born in a US state -- to those who are against the US becoming a diverse nation with people of color in positions of power, Obama represented a group of people who came to the US in chains as captured slaves. Slaves were, ironically, counted in the US Constitution as three-fifths of a person to inflate the Southern white congressional districts, which often consisted of more slaves than whites, but they were, of course, not allowed to vote. At the time of the US's founding, the system was set up to categorize Black people as chattel -- not citizens -- who were seen as "persons" insofar as they inflated Southern electoral power.

The odious driving force of birtherism was to argue that Obama wasn't a citizen. After all, how could a Black man -- and perhaps worse, to racists, the son of an interracial marriage -- be the president of the United States, with ultimate federal power over a land where an extremely large portion of the population still believes the country should be structured by white Christian supremacy?

It is within this context that another recent lawsuit by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law symbolically represents that voter suppression is not just a political strategy, but it is also a regressive effort to return to limiting voting rights to white property owners, as was the case during the first hundred years of the nation. Fortunately, the Lawyers' Committee prevailed in this particular voter denial scheme, as detailed in a recent news release from the organization:

Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District Columbia issued an opinion detailing the reasoning behind its decision to block the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) from allowing three states to implement discriminatory proof of citizenship laws. In January, EAC Executive Director Brian Newby unilaterally approved requests from Alabama, Georgia, and Kansas to require applicants in those states to submit documentary proof of citizenship, such as a copy of a passport or birth certificate, in order to register to vote with the federal voter registration form....

In its opinion, the Court held that “there is precious little record evidence” of fraudulent registration by non-citizens, noting that Kansas’ own evidence of this supposed epidemic revealed only one instance of a non-citizen attempting to register to vote over a 12-year span. The three states at issue are now legally prohibited from requiring Federal Form applicants to submit documentary proof of citizenship for this election cycle. In the coming weeks, plaintiffs will seek to obtain a summary judgment order that permanently blocks these requirements from going into effect.

The states that previously used this regulation argue, as usual, that there could be rampant voting by non-citizens (the immigrants from Mexico that Donald Trump vilifies, perhaps). There has been no proof of such an epidemic of illegal voting by non-citizens. Among other reasons, it would be a felony to do so, and who wants to commit a felony to vote for someone?

What the Lawyers' Committee has done is restore the right to vote, through its successful court challenge, to those who are due that right in the affected states. Remember, however, this is only one kind of voter suppression tactic.

The fact that a cohort of white people is still not able to accept people of color -- and others who do not fit the criteria of being a "patriotic white citizen" -- as eligible voters is a product of their prejudice, and of structural racism. It is bigotry, not the law of the land.

Not to be reposted without the permission of Truthout.