Thursday, October 2, 2014

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1425: Fighting for voting rights

  We were fighting for voting rights as we sat around the conference table. On one end sat the Alabama Secretary of State, Jim Bennett, and three others from his office. On the other end sat the six of us: Deuel Ross of the Legal Defense Fund; Jeffrey Jones of Mobile; Rev. Hugh Morris and Albert Bell of Talladega; Brandon Fountain of Greater Birmingham Ministries; and me, Hank Sanders. Most of us were members of SOS (Save OurSelves Movement for Justice and Democracy). We were fighting for voting rights, the very heart of democracy, but we were just nibbling around the edges.

  While leaders on both ends of the table were very serious, we were just going through the motions. Nothing of real substance would come of the meeting because the law in question is so bad that only its repeal can be meaningful. We were fighting for voting rights but we were just nibbling around the edges.

  We were meeting about Voter Photo ID. The law was passed by the Alabama Legislature and signed by the governor in 2011. However, it was never submitted to the U. S. Department of Justice for Section 5 preclearance. Had it been, it would most likely have been rejected. However, the Alabama Attorney General deliberately waited until Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act was deactivated by a U. S. Supreme Court decision in June of 2013. As a result, this June Primary was the first time Voter Photo ID was implemented during an election in Alabama. And there were various problems in how local officials applied the law.

  I truly applaud the leaders who came to Montgomery to try and reduce the adverse impact of Voter Photo ID. We meant well, for each of us must do what we can to lessen the impact of this bad law. However, I knew we were just nibbling around the edges as we fought for voting rights.

  Let’s take a closer look at the impact of the Voter Photo ID law. Several studies have indicated voter Photo ID prevents some 400,000 Alabamians from voting in elections. As a result, the right to vote has been effectively denied to hundreds of thousands of citizens. The studies also demonstrate that the following categories are disproportionately impacted by Voter Photo ID: (1) the poor; (2) the old; (3) the young; (4) the minority; (5) the female; (6) the rural; etc. (And some fall in as many as four of the six categories.)

  Let’s dig a little deeper. If you own a car, you probably have a driver’s license. Therefore, you have photo ID so you can vote. If you don’t own a car, you probably do not have a driver’s license or Photo ID and will not be able to vote. To secure Voter Photo ID requires special effort, extra time and additional cost even if it’s just the cost of travel. Exercising our fundamental rights should not require up-front investment in money or time or effort. We were fighting for voting rights but we were just nibbling around the edges.

  To make matters worse, there is absolutely no need for Voter Photo ID. It does not prevent voter fraud and it prevents hundreds of thousands from voting. A recent study examined over a billion votes cast in the United States over the last 14 years. There were only 32 instances where allegations were made about persons pretending to be someone else in order to vote. On close examination, most of these were mistaken identities; i.e. people with the same names or some other confusion involving family members. Of these 32 instances, few if any resulted in convictions. There simply is no voter fraud by persons pretending to be others to vote. Voter Photo ID does not stop voter fraud. Voter Photo ID is voter fraud, for it steals the votes from hundreds of thousands of Alabamians.

  We have to understand that Voter Photo ID did not just happen. Some people decided years ago to limit the right to vote for particular people. Therefore, they kept raising the specter voter fraud until the public became afraid. Then they enacted laws that limited the right to vote in the name of stopping the voter fraud they had created in the public’s mind. To stop nonexistent voter fraud across this country, we have robbed millions of their vote.

  Secretary of State Bennett was very proud of the mobile units traveling around the state to assist in Voter Photo ID. However, in nine months only 3,900 IDs were issued when some 400,000 needed photo ID. That’s less than one percent. We were fighting for voting rights but we were just nibbling around the edges.

  Our group shared a number of complaints with the secretary of state and his delegation. However, even if every complaint was successfully addressed, it would not cure the harm of 1% of the hundreds of thousands being denied the right to vote by Voter Photo ID. Of course, we will repeatedly urge people to secure Voter Photo ID. Even then we are still nibbling around the edges. The only solution is to flat out repeal Voter Photo ID and let people vote.

EPILOGUE – It’s still amazes me how some can create a problem in the name of solving a problem where there is no problem. I am even more amazed that so many of us fall for such sleight of hand tricks. Voter Photo ID is just one example.

  About the author: Hank Sanders represents Senate District 23 in the Alabama Legislature.

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