There are no poll tax laws or literacy tests to take away voting rights in the 21st century. Republicans have a much more sophisticated method this time, called voter ID laws. The result is the same. Many blacks and minorities will be systemically denied the right to vote under the guise of these new voting laws. Vice President Biden knew exactly what he was saying and to whom he was speaking when he referred to the GOP as "trying to put y'all back in chains."
Unfortunately, many persons are not aware of the extent of the GOP's disenfranchisement efforts. The effects will linger and go far beyond President Obama and the 2012 election, if not stopped. And once a train starts moving quickly, it's not as easy to stop it. Rest assured that the GOP voter suppression train has left the station in terms of taking away voting rights. It is probably en route to a state near you, if it has not already arrived.
Voter ID laws, under the pretext of protecting voter fraud, enacted now in over half the states, require voters to present some form of identification as a requirement to vote. Fourteen states require a government-issued photo ID when voting in person. At the time of registering to vote, other states, like Kansas and Alabama, further demand proof of citizenship beyond the federal legal requirement that citizens swear they are citizens. During the 2011 legislative session, five states -- Wisconsin, Texas, Tennessee, Alabama and South Carolina -- joined Georgia and Indiana by enacting the strictest form of photo ID requirement for voters. Overall 19 states changed their voter ID law in the past two years. Court challenges are pending in many of those states.
The Justice Department blocked South Carolina and Texas' voter ID laws under the Voter Rights Act of 1965. Both sued the Justice Department. The South Carolina case goes on trial on August 27. The Texas trial has not been decided yet by the federal court. A Pennsylvania state court held last week that even with officials' admission of the absence of voter fraud in Pennsylvania and the nation, an injunction cannot be issued against the state's voter ID law. An appeal will likely follow but may not be ruled upon in time before the 2012 election.
This week a newly released and comprehensive national report by News21, a national investigative reporting project, found "scant" evidence of voter fraud since 2000. News21 gathered public information available from all 50 states. The report concludes in person voter fraud, upon which 37 states passed new voter ID laws, is virtually non-existent.
While the legal battles are waging in court, persons on the ground and online must help voters to become aware of the new voter laws. Voters who have voted in previous elections may not be able to vote in 2012 without proper ID. The laws are not just aimed at new voters but any voter seeking to vote in the 2012 election. And the laws will have a disproportionate effect on blacks, minorities, seniors and students. In Pennsylvania, it is estimated that almost 800,000 voters as of yet do not have the requisite ID needed to vote. Of that number, many live in the urban areas where many black people reside.
Just as in the Jim Crow days, this is a time to rise to the occasion. The battle must be fought on the ground, in the courts, in civic engagement, online and anywhere necessary to right the wrong. Voting is the bedrock of democracy. As President Lyndon Baines Johnson said on August 6, 1965, at the signing of the Voter Rights Act of 1965, "This right to vote is the basic right by which all others without it are meaningless." No qualified citizen eligible to vote should ever be denied the right to vote due to partisan efforts to win an election.
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