Commentary: The Post-Convention Attention to Voter ID Laws

Rep. John Lewis

Commentary: The Post-Convention Attention to Voter ID Laws

The Democratic convention set the stage for a broader discussion of voter ID laws.

Published September 10, 2012

Okay, Just one final word about the Democratic National Convention.

Of course, there were memorable speeches and soaring rhetoric. There was some of the most electric energy in the convention hall on each of the three nights. But there was a topic that popped up with great regularity, particularly in the speeches that preceded prime-time network coverage: Voting rights and voter suppression.

Nonetheless, it was included in President Obama’s speech and a sufficient number addressed the topic with head-on velocity. As a result, the issue of voter suppression has now moved from the realm of complaints by the civil rights community to a topic gaining the full attention of mainstream media. 

In his short, but stirring speech at the convention, Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, an icon of the civil rights movement, spoke about the rash of voter suppression initiatives throughout the country.

“Today it is unbelievable that there are Republican officials still trying to stop some people from voting,” the Georgia Congressman said. “They are changing the rules, cutting polling hours and imposing requirements intended to suppress the vote. The Republican leader in the Pennsylvania House even bragged that his state's new voter ID law is ‘gonna allow Gov. [Mitt] Romney to win the state.’ That's not right. That's not fair. That's not just.”

Republican-led legislatures around the country have strong-armed the passage of laws that require voters to present identification documents that are, in many cases, difficult or costly for working class and poor people. The design, as several Republican officials have unwittingly revealed, is not to fight voter fraud (which is effectively non-existent), but to prevent Democratic-leaning voters from casting ballots. Foremost on that list of targets are African-American voters in urban areas.

It is an issue that is clearly gaining steam as the nation looks toward November’s election. In the battleground states of Pennsylvania and Ohio there are arguments in various courts on the topic of voter ID laws, with the Ohio case likely to head to the United States Supreme Court.

Also, in Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin, the attorney general recently asked the state Supreme Court to review on an emergency basis two rulings barring the use of newly passed voter ID laws.

The intensified attention to one of the most egregious efforts to suppress minority voting is welcome. The two political party conventions are now over and in the aftermath of the revelry and celebration in Charlotte, the attention to voting rights and the effort to keep Black voters from the polls is one of the most significant legacies to emerge from that gathering.


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Rep. John Lewis  (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Written by Jonathan P. Hicks


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