More voters facing unfair barriers

Texas may now be the latest state to enact new Jim Crow-like restrictions on American voters. After a six-hour debate, loaded with nearly hysterical allegations of voter fraud and citing unsubstantiated examples of boogey-man immigrants stealing votes, Republicans successfully led an effort to place new restrictions on Texas voters. The Statehouse voted 76-68 in favor of HB 218. Next it goes to the Texas Senate.

The proposed law would require that all voters show photo identification in addition to their voter registration card. Exemptions for voters over 80 years old and disabled veterans were added to the bill’s language, creating what many see as an unfair bias favoring some voters over others.

Known to be a high priority of the Bush administration, unsupported accusations of voter fraud have stirred emotions and prompted ill-conceived legislation across the county. Seven states now require that a photo ID be presented at the polls while still other states have enacted affidavit and signature requirements.

These new barriers to the voting booth are suspected by many to be part of a larger voter suppression effort. Texas AFL-CIO Communications Director Ed Sills noted that, in fact, it has been the Republican National Committee and Karl Rove who have championed voter ID legislation, and they have insisted that voter impersonation is a significant problem. “That assertion is without proof,” he said.

Partisan investigators have used suspect methods to make their case for widespread fraud. By overemphasizing minor inconsistencies between returned jury summons information, Social Security records and voter registration forms, these inspectors have been able to bloat the number of fraudulent cases. In fact, in most instances the omission of a middle initial, a change from married to maiden name or a transposed number was enough to have fraud hunters tag legitimate voters as ineligible. Simple searching for matching names via an online genealogical site was another technique used to “prove” that ineligible voters were casting ballots in the names of deceased persons.

These desperate and erroneous attempts to hype up the number of voter fraud cases have been repeatedly discounted by independent researchers. State Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) stated that for Texans the bill would, in effect, “burn down the forest in case Bigfoot exists.”

There is evidence that the White House is indeed putting pressure on federal prosecutors to uncover what may be the proverbial needle in the haystack. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the Justice Department are currently embroiled in a scandal involving the politically motivated firings of eight prosecutors. Gonzales and the White House cited performance issues as a reason for the firings, alleging that the fired prosecutors had not investigated and prosecuted voter fraud aggressively enough.

Recent studies indicate that wherever restrictive voter identification laws have passed, poll turnout has declined by 3-7 percent. The decreases have represented mainly minority, senior and economically disadvantaged voters who may not have photo identification documents. At a time when most people are decrying the low number of U.S. citizens exercising their right to cast ballots, Republicans seem determined to exacerbate the problem through intimidation and trumped up tales of fraud.

Lisa Casey Perry (perry5 @swbell.net) is an activist in North Texas.