Commentary: Study of Voter ID Law Provides New Evidence of White Backlash

Commentary: Study of Voter ID Law Provides New Evidence of White Backlash

A recent study of Mississippi's new voter identification law by a Washington-based advocacy group makes it clear that there is a racial component to Republican-led efforts to restrict voting in the name of stopping so-called voter fraud.

Published January 13, 2012

The election of Barack Obama has produced some of the most extraordinary reactions from various political forces in America, most notably in the arena of voting rights.

In state after state, in nearly all regions of the country, there is a steady and determined effort, championed by Republican-led legislatures, to make voting far more cumbersome for various groups of Americans, particularly African-Americans, Latinos and young people. And there is a growing reaction among those who are fighting against these legal changes.

That reaction has included a wide range of advocacy groups such as the Brennan Center for Justice in New York and NAACP leader Ben Jealous.

Of course, the conservative Republican leaders who are the proponents of changing voter access laws insist that they are driven simply by a desire to rid the voting booths of fraud, and claim that their zeal has nothing to do with the race, ethnicity or age of the potential voter.

A compelling report by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a Washington-based advocacy group, makes it clear that there is a racial component to these Republican-led efforts.

The study focuses on a piece of legislation enacted toward the end of 2011 in Mississippi that requires voters to submit photo identification in order to cast their ballots in upcoming elections. The initiative passed with the approval of 62 percent of the voters, compared with 38 percent who opposed the measure.

But underneath those statistics, the Lawyers Committee uncovered some revealing numbers. According to the group’s estimate, the new voter identification law was supported by 83 percent of the state’s white voters, while more than 75 percent of Black voters opposed it. It’s a report that forcefully supports the idea that voter identification requirements have a disproportionally negative impact in African-American voters.

Of course, few African-Americans would require such an exhaustive well-researched study to convince them that the efforts of states like Mississippi are designed for any other purpose than to suppress the Black vote. If voter fraud were such a compelling problem, why are there so few examples that they are willing to highlight?

The fact remains that race continues to be a powerful subtext to everything political in the United States. The reelection prospects of President Obama may have produced an amazingly lackluster group of Republican presidential candidates.

But the idea of a second Obama administration has empowered and energized Republican rank-and-file politicians throughout the country to everything they can — no matter how mean spirited and un-American — to do anything in their power to diminish the turnout of any group perceived to be supportive the nation’s first African-American president.

Efforts to diminish minority participation in democratic elections are as old as the history of the United States. However, over the years, particularly with voting rights measures enacted in the mid-1960s, there has been the growing perception of acceptance that the right of every American voter should be protected at all costs.

In truth, state and federal government should do everything in their power to ensure that voting in all parts of the county and in all racial categories would be as easy and accessible as humanly possible.

As the Mississippi law, its counterparts all over the country and the study by the Lawyers Committee have made clear, the United States is in the midst of a chilling and appalling series of backward steps. Sadly, it’s all motivated by the seething hostility of some horrified Americans — too many of whom are in power — toward a Black man being an occupant in the White House.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Jamie Rose/Getty Images)

Written by Jonathan P. Hicks


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