African-Americans have been denied proper voting rights in many ways since the founding of the United States. At first they couldn’t vote at all, and when they finally were given the right to suffrage, things like poll taxes stood in the way of getting to the voting booth the way the disenfranchisement laws once had. When poll taxes didn’t stop Blacks from coming to the polls, occasionally mobs of armed whites would be waiting to beat African-Americans who dared to exercise their voting right. Now, 46 years after the Voting Rights Act outlawed discriminatory practices at the polls, many Blacks are disenfranchised yet again, although some for a less sinister reason than angry mobs — a new study indicates that some Blacks can’t vote simply because they don’t have proper ID.
According to a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU’s law school, nearly a quarter of African-Americans don’t have photo identifications. That’s compared to about 11 percent of the nation at large. Why that matters when discussing voting is because more and more states are requiring voters to have a photo ID when they vote. With Blacks less likely to have ID, that means people like Dorothy Cooper and others are being disproportionately locked out of the election process.
Other laws stipulating that people will have to show their birth certificate to vote are also distressing voting rights advocates. If this seems like a very reasonable request — why shouldn’t a person have a birth certificate — then consider this, from Slate:
The reason minorities are so much harder hit by these seemingly benign laws has its roots in the tragic legacy of race in this country. They still work because that old Black man, born into Jim Crow in 1940, may have had no birth certificate because he was not born in a hospital because of poverty or discrimination. Names may have been misspelled on African-American birth certificates because illiterate midwives sometimes gave erroneous names.
While seemingly simple to a lot of people, getting proper ID and birth certificates can be extremely difficult for many African-Americans. It only adds insult to injury when those same Blacks are denied their voting rights as well. If these kinds of laws are allowed to stand, it will be a return to the old days of poll taxes and armed voter suppression. The only difference is that the bigots will have turned in their clubs and fists for briefcases and prejudiced legislation.
(Photo: REUTERS/Lee Celano)