Corporations, 1 percenters and Republicans want to take America back. And by that they mean all the way to the 1780s when wealthy white men controlled the nation.
In the intervening 230 or so years, America became increasingly democratic, eventually awarding the vote to white landless males; Quakers, Jews and Catholics; black men; women; Native Americans, and 18-year-olds.
The wealthy are nostalgic for the power they enjoyed when most states limited voting to landed gentry. Republicans are helping them return America to those plutocratic days by passing voter identification laws constraining suffrage by the 99 percent. Country club conservatives are converting voting from a universal right of citizenship to a privilege exclusive to select society members.
Voter identification laws require citizens to provide specific documents before exercising their franchise. Depending on the state, these include a photo driver’s license, a passport or a permit to carry a concealed handgun. The Brennan Center for Justice and others have calculated that 11 percent of eligible voters do not have government-issued photo identification. That’s 21 million citizens.
A survey by the Brennan Center showed that many Americans, primarily women, do not have proof of citizenship under their current name and certain groups, primarily the poor, elderly and minorities are less likely to possess the documents the new voter ID laws require.
The U.S. Department of Justice barred implementation of voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina after determining that the restrictions would disproportionately limit minority citizens’ access to the polls. Texas and South Carolina are among 16 states with records of discrimination, including voter intimidation and poll taxes. As a result, they are required by the 1965 Voting Rights Act to secure federal approval before changing voting laws.
In March, a court in Wisconsin declared the Badger State’s voter ID law unconstitutional. And the American Civil Liberties Union plans to ask a Pennsylvania court this week to do the same in the Keystone State.
But not all such suits are successful. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Indiana’s restrictive voter ID law in 2008. And last year a nearly unanimous Georgia Supreme Court endorsed its voter limitations. Every judge except the first African American to sit on the Georgia Supreme Court bench approved restricting access to the polls. Thirty states will require voters to show identification in November, unless their laws are overturned.
Limiting voter access to the polls is a Republican cause. In 2011 and so far in 2012, nine states passed new or stiffened old voter ID laws. Republican governors preside over all nine states. And in all but one, Republicans completely control the legislatures. Five other states with Republican-controlled legislatures passed voter ID bills last year. These will not take effect, however, because five Democratic governors vetoed them.
Behind every voter-restricting Republican is corporate-sponsored ALEC. ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council, a right-wing group that sends conservative lawmakers on all-expenses-paid junkets where they are wined and dined on ALEC corporate sponsors’ dime while they develop “model” legislation, like the kill-at-will laws that the slaying of Trayvon Martin made infamous.
ALEC gives corporations veto power over proposed “model” legislation, a fact that clearly illustrates who is in charge – the corporations that provide 98 percent of ALEC’s $7 million annual budget.
Corporations embrace voter ID because democracy is downright annoying to them. The Supreme Court has deemed corporations to be people, which allow them to secretly spend unlimited money on political campaigns. But that doesn’t assure victory for candidates that corporations choose because corporations don’t have the right to actually make the choice – to vote.
The best corporations can do is limit balloting by those likely to vote against corporate-sponsored candidates. That would be voters who historically have favored Democrats.
Voter ID laws disproportionately disenfranchise those voters – the poor, minorities and those who actually recall the progressive, popular and successful administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Republican backers of voter ID are completely unconcerned that the laws subjugate these citizens.
Too bad, they say, for grandma, who has voted in every election for the past 65 years but doesn’t have a driver’s license anymore and because she was born at home does not have a birth certificate necessary to get a government-issued photo ID.
Too bad, Republicans say, for the student whose driver’s license address differs from his university address and whose college photo ID does not have an expiration date.
Too bad, the GOP says, for the urban single mother who does not have a driver’s license or the time or money to apply for a birth certificate with a raised seal required to apply at another office for a state identification card.
Voter ID restrictions work for the rich. They’ve got birth certificates and photo driver’s licenses and passports. Or they can send a servant or secretary to apply for the documents. And the more rabble removed from the polls, the more weighty the votes of the wealthy.
In the Halcyon Days of democracy, the unwashed masses were actually urged to vote with slogans like: “If you don’t vote, you don’t count.”
Now corporations, 1 percenters and Republicans are working to ensure you don’t vote because they honestly believe you don’t count.
Leo W. Gerard, International President of the United Steelworkers (USW), was elected in October to his second four-year term since first taking office in 2001 after the retirement of former president George Becker. This article originally appeared on Campaign for America’s Future.