Voting Rights and the Republican Party
by Jonathan Singer, Mon Dec 26, 2005 at 12:48:38 AM EST
ID cards became the subject of passionate debate when the Legislature passed a Republican-sponsored law requiring all voters to show an official photo, such as a passport or driver's license. Previous Georgia law required that a voter show one of 17 different forms of ID, including utility bills and Social Security cards.
Civil rights organizations and Democratic leaders protested, arguing that as many as 153,000 Georgians -- many of them poor, elderly or African American -- would lose the right to vote. In Georgia's 159 counties, there are 54 offices that can grant a driver's license.
The law has been in limbo since late October, when U.S. District Judge Harold L. Murphy issued a preliminary injunction, comparing it to the poll taxes that were used to keep blacks from voting in the segregated South. A panel from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the injunction. [emphasis added]Just as is the case on many other issues, when it comes to race, Republicans want to have it both ways. A number of GOP strategists like Dick Morris trumpet a potential presidential bid by the highest ranking African American in the Bush administration, suggesting that Condoleezza Rice is the only Republican who can beat Hillary Clinton in 2008. At the same time, however, the Republican Party is actively seeking to undermine African Americans' ability to participate in the political system.
This effort is hardly limited to photo identification legislation in Georgia. Earlier this month, The Washington Post's Dan Eggen reported that that professionals in the Justice Department believed that the Texas redistricting plan orchestrated by former House Majority Leader Leader Tom DeLay violated the Voting Rights Act by diluting minority voting strength in a number of districts. This month also brought us a Republican attempt to fundamentally undermine the 14th amendment's protection of all people born in this country.
The Republican Party can certainly continue its attempts to pay lip service to minority communities while at the same time undercutting these communities' ability to affect elections. This strategy might even win some votes in the short run, but it's viability in the long run is questionable.
Does this mean that Democrats can become complacent and take minority votes for granted? Certainly not. Democrats would be well-served by pushing harder for legislation that would ensure the voting rights of all Americans (reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 would be a great start). Not only would this be good politics, it would be good policy. That said, before we buy in to the myth that Republicans are poised to significantly increase their share of minority votes in coming elections, we should strive to remind Americans of the lengths to which the Republican Party -- both historically and currently -- has gone to weaken African Americans' and Hispanics' ability to influence elections in this country.