The US Supreme Court has just dealt a serious blow to
voters' rights that could help put John McCain in the White House by
eliminating tens of thousands of voters who generally vote Democratic.
By 6-3 the court has upheld an Indiana law that requires
citizens to present a photo identification card in order to vote. Florida,
Michigan, Louisiana, Georgia, Hawaii and South Dakota have similar laws. Though
it's unlikely, as many as two dozen other states could add them by election
day. Other states, like Ohio, have less stringent ID requirements than
Indiana's, but still have certain restrictions that are strongly opposed by voter
The decision turns back two centuries of jurisprudence that
has accepted a registered voter's signature as sufficient identification for
casting a ballot. By matching that signature against one given at registration,
and with harsh penalties for ballot stuffing, the justices confirmed in their
lead opinion that there is "no evidence" for the kind of widespread
voter fraud Republican partisans have used to justify the demand for photo IDs.
Voting rights activists have long argued that since photo
IDs can cost money, or may demand expensive trips to government agencies, the
requirement constitutes a "poll tax." Taxes on the right to vote were
used for a century to prevent blacks and others from voting in the South and
elsewhere. They were specifically banned by the 24th Amendment to the
Constitution, ratified in 1964.
But the court's lead opinion, written by Justice Stevens,
normally a liberal, said that though rare, the "risk of voter fraud"
was nonetheless "real" and that there was "no question about the
legitimacy or importance of the state's interest in counting only the votes of
eligible voters." The burden of obtaining a voter ID, said the court, was
not so difficult as to be deemed unconstitutional. Ohio election protection Attorney
Cliff Arnebeck believes Stevens joined the decision to divide the court's
conservative majority, and to leave the door open for further litigation.
But there is no indication the corporate media or Democratic
Party will be pursuing significant action on this issue any time soon. Though
the Kerry campaign solicited millions of dollars to "protect the
vote" in 2004, it has not supported independent research into that
election's irregularities. In the King-Lincoln Civil Rights lawsuit, in which we
are attorney and plaintiff, 56 of Ohio's 88 counties destroyed ballot
materials, in direct violation of federal law. There has been no official legal
follow-up on this case, no major media investigation, and no support from the
Democratic Party either to investigate what happened in Ohio 2004, or to make
sure it doesn't happen again in 2008. The issue has yet to be seriously raised
by the major Democratic candidates despite the fact that it could render their
This latest Supreme Court decision is yet another serious
blow to voting rights advocates -- and probably to the Democratic nominees for
president and other offices. It will clearly make it far more difficult for
poor, minority, elderly and young citizens to vote. Tens of thousands of
normally Democratic voters in key states -- especially Florida, Michigan,
Georgia and Louisiana -- will simply be prevented from getting a ballot.
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University's
School of Law in its "Friend of the Court" brief noted that between
10 percent and 13 percent of eligible voters lack the identification now
required in Indiana. People without an official photo ID tend to be
disproportionately minorities and poor, ushering in a new Jim Crow era based on
race and class apartheid. One Indiana study, according to Inter Press Service
reporter Jim Lobe, found that 13.3 percent of registered Indiana voters lacked
the now-required ID, but the numbers were significantly higher for black voters
at 18 percent and young voters age 18-34 at more than 20 percent.
Kathryn Kolbert, president of People for the American Way,
put the number at "millions of eligible voters who don't have the ID these
Photo ID has long been a lynchpin of a concerted GOP
strategy to eliminate Democratic voters. In the wake of the theft of the 2004
election in Ohio, Republican activists produced heavily publicized allegations
of massive voter fraud, virtually all of which proved to be false.
Nonetheless, the drumbeat for restrictive ID requirements
has been steadily rising from GOP strongholds. Other such laws are now
virtually certain to follow in states with Republican-controlled legislatures,
though it's unclear how many more can be put into law by November.
Nor has the GOP let up in its other campaigns to restrict
access to the polls. Extremely harsh limitations on voter registration
campaigns in Florida have severely restricted attempts by the League of Women
Voters and others to sign up new voters. GOP election officials also have made
it clear they will severely restrict the franchise of those who have minor
irregularities in the registration forms, such as an errant middle initial or
It is also unclear how many electronic voting machines will
still be in place come November. Despite a wide range of high-level studies
showing them easily hackable, the elimination of touch screen voting machines
has proceeded at a glacial pace. No significant federal legislation has been
passed to eliminate electronic voting machines or even to make them more
secure. With a few exceptions, most notably Florida, progress at the state
level has been minimal.
Thus the GOP hope that millions of Americans will be voting
on hackable computers this November, and that millions more may be eliminated
from the rolls altogether, seems very close to fruition. Whether this will
swing the election to John McCain remains to be seen. But this Supreme Court
decision allowing the demand for photo ID makes it much more likely.
Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman are co-authors of HOW THE GOP STOLE AMERICA'S
2004 ELECTION & IS RIGGING 2008 (www.freepress.org
http://www.freepress.org) and, with Steve Rosenfeld, of WHAT HAPPENED IN OHIO?
(The New Press). Bob is publisher of www.freepress.org,
where Harvey is Senior Editor.