*The right of citizens to vote in local and national elections is integral to maintaining a functioning democracy.
But what happens when there appears to be a contingent of officials who owe their careers to the democratic process, yet are attempting to dilute it?
This is the situation the United States finds itself in today. There were 13 states within the Union that have passed Voter ID laws that many consider to be measures of “voter suppression.”
Recently we spoke with Robert “Biko” Baker the situation.
Biko, as he prefers to be called, is the national director of the League of Young Voters. The group has been at the forefront of a vanguard that began back in 2011. There mission is to engage young people who have been shut out by the political process, lobby lawmakers, organize votes and hold elected officials accountable once elected.
“If you look at any process you see that young people are less likely to have their ID and we believe voting is a right,” Biko explained of the League’s mission. “When the voter ID laws started taking place in 2011 we stepped up because these are the people most hurt by the voter laws.”
“When we first started talking about voter ID in 2011 nobody would talk about it,” he continued. “We couldn’t get local news to talk about it. We see that narrative now in the national media. So, we’re proud of that. We were not the only group to do that, but we were one of the first groups on the line.”
For some the Voter ID laws seemed to fall out the sky like meteor, smashing their preconceived notions of what is fair and what is not in a democracy. And, because they weren’t paying attention the entire time, some will assume the Voter ID laws were designed to oust Barack Obama. But Robert says the repercussions are much greater than one election.
“As recently as early 2011, it wasn’t only Republicans that were pushing this at the local levels,” said Biko. ” A lot of times unfortunately our elected officials make laws based on a narrative or rhetoric. I actually think a lot of the voter ID laws have to do with immigration policy based on this fear that their protecting themselves from illegal immigrants. But because it overwhelmingly disenfranchises people of color the GOP is running with it.”
“Voter ID laws and voter suppression tactics are obviously being used to suppress minorities and prevent another Obama presidency, but they were sold to people through the fear of the immigrant population,” he continued. “That’s why people bought into it. There was a narrative of voter fraud and illegal immigrants voting, none of which has actually ever been proven. Elections are about margins of victory. In 2004, John Kerry won Wisconsin by 14.000 votes. Margins of victory are huge and of course both parties are going to try to get that margin on their side. It’s about Obama, but it’s bigger than Obama.”
Thus far the Voter ID dialectic has been rather one-sided. There have been organization like the League of Young Voters who have been on the front line, but what about the Democrats? The term impudent would be an understatement. What the hell’s going on here? (In my Vince Lombardi voice)
“Unfortunately, Democrats didn’t start defending it until too late,” he explained. “We’re non-partisan and we’re just trying to make sure people of color have access. The Wisconsin law had several Democratic champions upstate and in rural areas. You go to the Republican website and they have a log of Democratic supports for the law as well.”
So, let us get this straight … the many Democrats have signed on to this nonsense? Why would any one who professes liberalism even give this a second thought?
“It goes with the idea that illegal immigrants and people of color are weighing down the system, taking up tax payer money and things like that. The neo-con line and Democrats have definitely bought into it. Sometimes Democrats are not as progressive as we think they are. Rick Santorum can win votes from Democrats in places like Pennsylvania.”
As the saying goes, a house divided against itself will certainly fall and it looks like the Democrats mailed it in early on. But this isn’t some nefarious scheme concocted in a backroom. It was conceived by politicians, but the general populous appears Ok with it.
“Even when you look at polling most people are actually for voter ID. Unfortunately that’s the reality of this crazy narrative that we find ourselves in. People believe there’s a lot of voter fraud going on when that’s not actually true. There have been 10 documented cases of voter fraud since 2001.”
As stated earlier, the League of Young Voters’ is trying to prevent young, poor and minorities voters from being excluded from the democratic process. So what’s the big deal about a driver’s license?
“Young people move more and are less likely to have a car to get to the DMV, are less likely to have the resources to pay for driver’s ed class and we’re going to be creating a whole generation of people who don’t vote, and all the studies show that once you start voting you’re a voter for life,” said Baker. “If people aren’t going to the polls because they don’t have an ID then I think we have a situation where our democracy is going to really be weakened. I know a lot of people look at democracy through this black/white paradigm, and that’s actually needed at times, but when we’re protecting the core function of voting it has to be non-partisan and we need people from both sides of the aisle to be passionate about it.”
And the battle rages on.
In December of 2011 the U.S. Department of Justice blocked the law from taking effect in several states citing the 1965 Voting Rights Act that allows the government to veto voting rule changes in states with a history of racial repression. Attorney General Eric Holder called the Voter ID laws “a poll tax”. Interestingly enough, the Justice Department did not fight more lenient voter ID requirements in states such as Georgia and Virginia, but blocked stricter versions in Texas and South Carolina. Arguments over the Texas law were held in July, and a decision is expected in the near future. Texas has tried to restrict voting access at least 54 times in the last 25 years and each time those endeavors have been overturned by the federal government using Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.