SILVER SPRING, Md. – Calling state “voter ID” efforts moves reminiscent of the days of Jim Crow segregation and poll taxes in the South, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker says the federation is lobbying the Obama administration vigorously to battle such moves.  The AFL-CIO executive council, meeting here this week, issued a formal statement on the issue.

The federation is also mapping plans to educate its members, other workers and the wider electorate in how to overcome efforts to suppress the right to vote, according to Holt-Baker. “We’re making everyone among our allies aware so these Jim Crow tactics and this modern poll tax will not deter people from voting,” she said.

Holt Baker outlined the federation’s plans in an interview Aug. 3 with reporters covering the gathering of union leaders. A veteran of the civil rights movement who was born in the South, Holt Baker is no stranger to the methods states used to keep African-Americans from voting prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The “voter ID” movement in state legislatures reminds her of those days, she said.

GOP-run states, pushed by the same radical right-GOP-business cabal that is trying to destroy unions, the right to organize and the middle class, also pushes the “voter ID” restrictions. The Supreme Court, in a ruling involving Indiana several years ago, opened the way to such efforts, giving states large leeway in demanding voters show they’re qualified to cast ballots.

As a result, GOP-run states, with Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin and several others in the lead, approved new restrictions on identification people must show before they can register to vote.

The restrictions include only “qualified state-issued identification” – such as drivers’ licenses – or registered and certified birth certificates. Other ID or proof of residence, such as utility bills, are out.

Some 11 percent of U.S. adults lack state-issued identification, she noted.

The state restrictions are not only expensive – Holt Baker said the average cost of a birth certificate is $28 – but hit hard at minorities, the elderly, college students and the poor.  She calls the targeting, and disparate impact on those groups, intentional.

“We thought we had taken care of all this in 1964,” Holt Baker commented.

The AFL-CIO Executive Council, after listening to Holt Baker’s call for action, issued a strong statement against state moves restricting voting rights.  It called “the right to vote and the free and fair exercise of voting rights by all eligible voters fundamental principles of our democracy.”

But more than 30 states, the statement said, are trying “to impose troubling restrictions on voting,” with seven states having already passed such measures.

“Legislation requiring voter photo IDs creates a disproportionate burden on racial minorities, senior citizens, young people and low-wage workers,” the federation’s statement said. The federation pointed out that 18 percent of the elderly, 25 percent of African-Americans, 16 percent of Latinos, one of every five young people and 15 percent of people who earn under $35,000 yearly do not have the photo IDs the new state laws often require in order to register to vote.

“Other states have passed laws requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote – laws that have a disparate impact on naturalized immigrants and on elderly, poor and other citizens who lack this documentation,” it added.

It also pointed out that supporters of strict voter IDs say they’re needed to combat fraud – but can’t prove the fraud occurs.

“Efforts to adopt restrictive voting legislation have been part of a coordinated partisan campaign across the country to attack democracy. The proponents of voter photo ID and other restrictive legislation, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the conservative organization linked to corporate and right-wing donors including the billionaire Koch brothers, also have introduced companion legislation that attacks the rights of workers and collective bargaining,” the statement adds.

All this “causes massive disenfranchisement and voter suppression, threatening our democracy.”

“They’re going after the communities that support the progressive agenda,” Holt-Baker said of the Koch brothers and other supporters of voter ID laws. “They can’t rule unless they ruin.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.