After voting dutifully for 52 years, a Texas judge last week came up against a barrier when she tried to vote in her own courthouse.
A new Texas voting law went into effect Oct. 15. The law is supposed to prevent voting fraud, even though there has been only one – repeat, ONE – conviction of someone impersonating another voter since 2000 in that state.
Judge Sandra Watts was flagged because the law requires the names on drivers’ licenses or other photo IDs match the names on voter-registration forms. On her license, Watts had long used her maiden name as her middle married name, Sandra Lee Watts. Her voter-registration name for decades had been Sandra Lee. Ironically, a 1964 Texas law requires women to use their maiden names on their drivers’ licenses.
Watts was allowed to vote after signing an affidavit stating that she was really she. An election judge decides in each case if the “match” between names is good enough. If there is doubt, the person can still cast a vote (provisional ballot), which won’t be counted unless the person returns within six days with proof that the two names signify the same person. This onerous law will mainly affect women because of name changes due to marriage or divorce. Such hurdles strike directly at the core of democracy – the right of every citizen to vote without undue interference, the right of all people to freely and fairly choose a destiny.
About 1.4 million Texans will be affected. The state has promised to provide – free – the matching photo IDs needed. So far, 50 IDs have been issued. What a grim joke.
Why care about Texas? Because similar efforts have been happening across the nation, especially during the last presidential election. Suppression is now on a drastic increase since the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year tossed out a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. That act was passed to protect the voting rights of blacks, who had been the victims of vicious voter-suppression in the Jim Crow South through poll taxes and literacy tests – not to mention violence and threats of violence.
One provision of the act was to require federal pre-approval any time a jurisdiction wanted to change its voting requirements. In its recent decision, the court majority claimed the provision isn’t needed anymore because voting access has improved so much for all citizens. Another grim joke. Those court justices obviously weren’t paying attention to the “real” world and the suppression schemes hatched during the last presidential election – against not just blacks but the old, the poor and the young. Their decision now gives aid-and-comfort to any suppression law that comes along.
What’s worse, that decision came in the wake of another bad-news judgment – the “Citizens United” case that gave the green light to a spending orgy of corporate money to influence election outcomes. Witness the notorious Koch Brothers. Big money and voter-suppression go hand in hand, like kissin’ cousins.
Suppression efforts, in states far and wide, include the following: limiting or getting rid of early-voting days; shutting down Sunday voting options, especially in some areas where black Americans traditionally vote after church services, sometimes in car-pooling caravans; putting the crimps on college students voting in the cities where they attend schools; all types of convoluted photo-ID requirements that adversely affect ethnic minorities, the poor, senior citizens and younger people.
What’s so devious about these newfangled laws is their advocates make them sound so “reasonable.” What’s wrong, they ask, with requiring every voter to prove identity at polling places? The answer is these new laws are “solutions” in search of a problem. Widespread reports show cases of voter impersonation are virtually nonexistent. Phony concerns about voter fraud are nothing but excuses to make it more difficult, if not impossible, for so many of our fellow Americans to cast hassle-free votes.
Voter-suppression undermines our democracy in two ways – by making voting needlessly difficult for many and thus poisoning people’s trust in electoral outcomes. That’s the last thing this country needs right now – more poisoning of the wells.
We must pay close attention to these suppression schemes and demand they be stopped wherever they occur. Our precious democracy is at stake.