08/14/2013 03:30 pm ET | Updated Oct 14, 2013

How the New Voter ID Laws are the Tonya Harding and New Orleans Saints of American Politics


On June 25, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out key sections of the Voting Rights Act. One of the provisions thrown out was Section five, which mandated states with a history of racial discrimination to get approval before carrying out any changes in election law. The 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court was ruled because of what the majority viewed as outdated restrictions. According to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who wrote for the majority, "Our country has changed."

Although the ruling freed nine states from federal voting restrictions, six states immediately began to make changes. Alabama, Florida, Texas, North Carolina, Mississippi, and Georgia went ahead with a Voter ID law that was previously rejected by the Federal government. This week, North Carolina signed into law the changes. In response, the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties along with the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice plan to file suit against these key changes.

This Voter ID law will affect up to 800,000 Hispanic voters in Texas as well as college students with only student IDs. Overall, this will affect up to 11 percent of Hispanics and 4.9 percent non-Hispanics will not reach the Voter ID requirement. Since Blacks and Latinos largely vote democrat, the changing of the law by Republican run states will suppress the vote of minorities.

Racist or Ingenious Strategy?

So was this a racist move by the GOP or ingenious strategy? On one hand, the Right has argued that what has been written in the law is not "we do not want any minorities to vote" rather that a voter ID will be required for each voter. Therefore, the policy cannot be racist if it does not directly go after specific racial groups.

However, the Left argues that because it disproportionally affects blacks and Latinos, Voter ID laws are racists. Just as the poll tax and the literacy test was a racist policy of the earlier 20th century set up to prevent minorities from voting, so too is the 2013 Voter ID laws. Similarly to the Voter ID law, the tax and test restrictions in the South had no direct racial terms in the policy either but were clearly a racist policy of the Jim Crow Era.

Racist claims are serious. To call something or someone racist is to argue that a moral and political wrong has been done intentional based on the color of someone's skin. To admit to or for a policy to be found out to be racist will be a stab to the heart of equity and the democratic spirit that America prides itself on. Likewise, the denial of the racists claim is to defend one's moral identity and one's pure political intensions.

But unless there are obscene racial epithets on billboards, t-shirts or recorded devices, America has a hard time proving racial intent these days. So instead of arguing for or against the Voter ID law's racist motivation, lets look at the GOP strategy. I believe if we look at their strategy closely, even while for a moment ignoring any trace of racial content, we will still find that something unethical and politically wrong is still going on.

Cheating Can't Be Right

From a strategic perspective, the Voter ID law is an aim to prevent groups who largely vote Democrat from voting. Recently, ThinkProgress released a TV interview where Robert Gleason, Chairman of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania explained that Obama beat McCain by 10 percent but Obama beat Romney by 5 percent. For him, "Voter ID had a lot to do with that [decrease]." Earlier last year, Pennsylvania Republican House Leader Mike Turzai (R-PA) predicted "Voter ID is gonna allow Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania." His statement was followed by applause.

The strategy is clear: If you know a group will vote for your opponent in large numbers, than the best thing to do is to prevent them from voting. This will lead to more votes for your party and a possible win. Republicans have said this publically as if there is nothing morally wrong with the strategy. I disagree. To describe how unethical this strategy is, sans the racist intent, I now turn to sports.

An Ethical Lesson From Sports

In 1994, silver medalist skater Nancy Kerrigan was clubbed with a baton while practicing for the U.S. Championships. Her competitor, Tonya Harding along with her husband and bodyguard was later either prosecuted for planning the attack or was charged with conspiracy to prevent prosecution. The purpose of the attack was to make Kerrigan unable to compete. However, she did recover, finishing second while Harding finished eighth. Tonya Harding was later fined and banned from USFSA-run events.

In 2012, the NFL after several years of investigation concluded that the New Orleans Saints operated a bounty scheme that paid defensive players bonuses for inflicting game ending injuries on opponents. The purpose of inflicting the injuries was to cause opponents to leave the game. The Saints were later fined, forced to give up draft picks, and their defensive coordinator and assistant coach was later suspended for their activities.

Sports are about playing the game and seeing competition compete. In both these cases, the competitors not only displayed unsportsmanlike conduct, but instead of playing the game square and fair, they cheated by creating tactics that limited their opponent's ability to show up for the game or continue to play. Any tactic that prevented the game from being played is cheating and cheating is unethical in sports.

While it may be hard to prove that the Republicans are being racist with the new Voter ID laws, it is not hard to see that they are indeed cheating. Our Democratic elections are a game that includes candidates but is all determined by citizens being able to show up and compete with their vote. The result is the result, but the people must decide by having the freedom first to register and vote. When policies or laws are created that restrict the people from showing up to let their vote compete, it's a baton to the leg of democracy and a hit to the heart of justice. Voter ID laws are unfair and unethical because like Tonya Harding and the New Orleans Saints, it uses cheating as a way to win. It prevents the competition from showing up to compete.

Sabotage may be accepted in war but should not be accepted in American politics. Our democracy is supposed to be for the people and by the people. To have this not be so, is to bring injury to citizens, our nation and the democratic process.

While Republicans may not be comfortable with calling their actions racists, they should not be comfortable with priding themselves with cheating either. Both of them are unethical and should not be tolerated.

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