With Voter Suppression, Intent Isn’t Everything

Written by Jack Mumby

Voter ID laws have received a lot of criticism from civil rights groups on the grounds that they disproportionately target students, the elderly, the poor, and people of color– defenders typically reply that since the laws apply equally to everybody, they couldn’t possibly be discriminatory.

Chicago-based Black Youth Project, a nonpartisan effort launched in 2004 to examine the political participation of African-Americans aged 15 to 25 has just released a report that makes it a lot harder for voter ID supporters to make that claim with a straight face.

Entitled “Turning Back The Clock on Voting Rights”, it details the enormous racial disparities in access to identification that complies with these new laws, and the effects this is going to have on turnout in the 2012 election, especially among young people of color.

The Brennan Center’s calculation that 16% of Latinos and 25% of African-Americans lack government-issued photo ID has often been used to argue that voter ID laws will suppress turnout among these groups- this new study offers empirical support to back that claim.

The report conservatively estimates that at least 500,000 young people of color will be demobilized by these new laws. Worse yet, because so many battleground states have enacted photo ID laws, this and other suppression measures could end up being a decisive factor in the election.

For example, Florida will be requiring photo identification from every voter come November- the report estimates that this could disenfranchise as many as 100,000 eligible voters of color. This is far more than the margin that separated George W. Bush and Al Gore in the controversial 2000 election, and nearly equal to the margin between the two candidate according to current polls.

And, in Pennsylvania, if the State Supreme Court upholds its voter ID law, whose supporters admit they have no evidence that fraud is even taking place, about 40,000 young voters of color will stay home or be turned away.

Defenders of voter ID laws will reply that they are a necessary measure to prevent this mythical voter fraud, but with civil rights issues like this one, intent isn’t magic. If voter ID laws are having the effect of disenfranchising so many voters who have already been marginalized in our political process, even the best of intentions can’t justify it.

Unfortunately, we don’t even have the luxury of taking voter ID advocates at their word, especially when Pennsylvania House Leader Mike Turzai is bragging about how the law “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” Cloaking a program of politically motivated voter suppression with the rhetoric of protecting democracy is a cynical appropriation of the values we hold dear, and it’s not something we should take lying down.

Regardless your politics, no candidate and no election is worth destroying the founding principle of our democratic tradition- one person, one vote. The Black Youth Project is doing important work by shining the spotlight on the deleterious effects of these laws, and we would do well to pay attention to what they’re showing us.

Click here to read the full report!


Jack Mumby is a 2012 graduate of St. Mary’s College of Maryland, where he campaigned for wage justice and other progressive causes and earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Public Policy. He is currently working as an intern with Common Cause’s national office.

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One Response to “With Voter Suppression, Intent Isn’t Everything”

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