Republic Moving in Wrong Direction
There is within humanity an unavoidable tension between our desire to live up to our highest aspirations and the most basic elements of our human nature.
This tension is manifest in our politics as a struggle between the democratic ideal of "government of the people, by the people, and for the people," and the natural proclivity of those in power to consolidate and perpetuate their power.
The former is exemplified in the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the ongoing struggle to extend those rights equally to all citizens. It is the aspiration for a level playing field for all Americans.
The latter shows itself every 10 years when, based upon new census data, partisan legislatures turn state maps into collages of Rorschach tests - seeking, to the extent that laws will allow, to minimalize the influence of people whose voting interests might be contrary to their own.
Our basest political instincts are revealed when partisan majorities seek to tilt the playing field with laws that have included poll taxes, literacy tests and, most recently, Voter ID laws.
Since the 2010 elections, more than a dozen states have passed laws requiring voters to present an approved, state-issued photo ID in order to vote.
Ostensibly to combat voter fraud, these laws have the potential to discourage the participation of as many as five million qualified voters in the 2012 elections, according to a study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.
The laws, passed almost exclusively in states with Republican-controlled legislatures, will have the greatest effect on the poor, women, elderly voters, young voters and black voters - constituencies that tend not to vote their way.
North Carolina's version of a Voter ID bill was ratified in the General Assembly on June 16. Gov. Beverly Perdue vetoed the bill a week later with the observation, "There was a time in North Carolina history when the right to vote was enjoyed only by some citizens rather than by all. That time is past, and we should not revisit it."
The numbers bear her out.
A study by Democracy NC found 5.6 million active voters in our state. Among them, as many as 460,000 lack an acceptable form of ID to vote under the proposed voter ID law. Ethnic minorities including African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and others, who collectively comprise about 26.3 percent of active registered voters (ARVs), account for a disproportionate 38 percent of voters without approved IDs.
Women, who represent 54.1 percent of ARVs, account for 63.1 percent of voters without acceptable identification. People over the age of 65, who comprise 19.7 percent of ARV's, account for 32.4 percent of voters without acceptable IDs. And Democrats, who make up 47.7 percent of ARVs, account for 57.8 percent of people lacking acceptable forms of identification.
In accordance with the Voting Rights Act, this bill, if enacted, would require the state to provide free IDs to people who cannot afford them. "Free" is relative if you lack transportation or if your time has value. The providers of those IDs do not make house calls, and the process can require hours that are difficult for young working people to find.
In 2008, 43 cases of potential voter fraud were referred to district attorneys in North Carolina. Under the cover of 43 potential incidents of voter fraud out of 4.3 million votes cast, Republican legislators would effectively disenfranchise 460,000 qualified active voters - the majority of whom "coincidentally" would likely oppose them. The very suggestion should offend both your intelligence and your sense of justice.
The reason this still matters even after the General Assembly's failure to override Perdue's veto is that, by virtue of a legislative maneuver, the bill can still be brought up at any time for another vote. Any time over the next two years, if the majority senses that it has the three-fifths majority it needs to override the governor's veto, it can vote on the bill again.
In our collective journey towards a more perfect union, we have measured our progress by the expansion of access to power. In the first decades of our republic, the franchise belonged exclusively to wealthy white males. As access to voting rights has expanded, history has looked dimly upon efforts to restrict or rescind them.
Dimly is how we should regard efforts by a new generation of wealthy, predominantly white men to steal power.
Kevin Smith lives in Aberdeen. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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