In Pennsylvania, the Rosa Parks of voter ID faces down GOP voter suppression
A Pennsylvania court will hear a suit challenging the state's voter ID law, which requires a volume of voter qualification proof not present in a Supreme Court ruling that upheld voter ID. Leading the charge: a 93-year-old black woman. If she loses, Republican voter suppression wins.
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When under President George W. Bush the Justice Department undertook a massive investigation of voter fraud, it ended up charging just 120 people (it convicted 86) in federal elections involving millions of voters.Skip to next paragraph
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In Florida, one of the leading states in enacting new voter ID requirements, the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times) noted that voter fraud is rarer than shark attack. In the presidential election year of 2008, there were 28 shark attacks but only 16 voter-fraud cases, and in 2010, shark attacks outnumbered voter fraud 14 to 10.
In the 2008 Indiana case, the Supreme Court said the “risk” (if not the evidence) of voter fraud is real and that states have a legitimate interest in counting only votes that are real. But a recent study by the Pew Center on the States showed that the real problems in voter registration have their source in poor record keeping that would be unaffected by photo ID requirements. Across America more than 1.8 million dead people are currently listed as active voters.
What the new voter ID requirements do match, however, are the historic voter-suppression efforts that have targeted minorities rather than preserved the integrity of elections.
In his definitive study, “The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States,” Duke University historian Alexander Keyssar makes a point of documenting how, beginning in the late 1890s, Mississippi led the way in disenfranchising blacks by using poll taxes, literacy tests, and elaborate registration systems to keep them from voting.
The lengths to which Mississippi and the South were willing to go to preserve the white vote were reflected in World War II, when 53 Southern members of Congress voted to oppose the Soldier Vote Act of 1942 because it exempted servicemen (including many blacks) from paying poll taxes.
Applewhite v. Pennsylvania holds out the promise of providing a way to stop the current trend in voter suppression, which falls heavily on an estimated 13 million to 22 million Americans who get by without a driver’s license or a passport, usually because they don’t own a car and can’t afford to fly.
The result is a compelling legal case. Viviette Applewhite calls to mind Rosa Parks and the role she played in the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, when she refused to give up her seat to a white passenger.