Supreme Court Test for GOP Vote Suppression Strategy
As the Washington Post detailed on Tuesday, the Supreme Court this term will decide a set of voter identification cases which could well determine the outcome of the 2008 election. In a narrow legal sense, the cases will address the constitutionality of new voter ID laws in Indiana and other states. But more important, the Roberts Court will decide whether to rubber stamp an essential tactic in the all-out Republican war to suppress the votes of minority - and likely Democratic - Americans.
The combined cases to be argued on January 9th, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board and Indiana Democratic Party v. Rokita, have their genesis in the wave of draconian new voter identification laws passed by Republican majority statehouses around the nation. As the Post noted, Indiana joined Georgia, Missouri and Arizona in enacting stringent new photo ID requirements for voters, despite a complete absence of polling place fraud in these or any other state:
The state's Republican-led legislature passed the law in 2005 requiring voters to have ID, even though the state had never prosecuted a case of voter impersonation...
...Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita (R) said voter fraud was something he was asked about "almost daily" by constituents. "At the Kiwanis Club, the chamber of commerce groups, people would say, 'Why aren't you asking who I am when I vote?' " Rokita said.
The state law he and the legislature came up with requires voters to show a government-issued photo ID that has an expiration date, such as a driver's license or a passport. Nondrivers can receive an identification card from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
To date, the courts have agreed with Rokita. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Indiana law by a 2-1 margin. Unsurprisingly, the Court's two Republican appointees blessed the Indiana Republican tactic. Reagan appointee Judge Richard Posner proclaimed, "It is exceedingly difficult to maneuver in today's America without a photo ID." But Clinton appointee Terence Evans in his dissent stated the obvious motivation and desired outcome of the Hoosier State GOP gambit:
"Let's not beat around the bush: The Indiana voter photo ID law is a not-too-thinly veiled attempt to discourage election-day turnout by certain folks believed to skew Democratic."
Which is exactly right. As I detailed just before the 2006 mid-terms, the Indiana, Georgia and other similar laws are an essential ingredient of the Republican strategy of "Divide, Suppress and Conquer" which aims to drive down the participation of potential Democratic and independent voters through unprecented redistricting, curbs on registration, onerous new ID requirements, and polling place eligibility challenges:
Not content to prevent the enfranchisement of new voters, the GOP is committed to blocking their exercise of the right to vote. At the both the state and federal level, the GOP in the name of battling fraud has put up a raft of new roadblocks and barriers to voting with burdensome voter identification requirements.
The fact that voter fraud in the United States is virtually non-existent doesn't derail Republicans in their quest to block access to the ballot box. Just this year, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission issued a report refuting the myth of fraud at polling places. "There is widespread but not unanimous agreement," the report concluded, "that there is little polling place fraud, or at least much less than is claimed, including voter impersonation, "dead" voters, noncitizen voting and felon voters."
The result is a host of new state laws advanced by Republicans with the transparent aim of suppressing the potential Democratic - and especially black - vote. As Perrspectives reported previously, Georgia's onerous new voter ID card program requiring voters to visit one of the state's limited number of offices, would have trimmed up to 150,000 people (primarily African-Americans and the elderly) from the rolls. (The bill's sponsor, Augusta Republican Sue Burmeister explained that when black voters in her black precincts "are not paid to vote, they don't go to the polls.") Versions of the Georgia law have been ruled unconstitutional twice by federal judge Harold Murphy. And while Indiana's new voter ID law and the milder version in Arizona have to date withstood judicial scrutiny, another measure in Missouri similar to that in Georgia has been blocked during the 2006 elections. In his rebuke to the state of Missouri, Judge Richard Callahan deemed the right to vote "a right and not a license."
Voter suppression has been a centerpiece of the Karl Rove Republican electoral strategy in both the states and within the Bush administration. (While supporting the new voter ID laws, the Bush administration's only prosecution for violations of the 1965 Voting Rights Act was against the African-American head of the Democratic Party in Noxubee County, Mississippi for using coercion and intimidation to prevent the white voters from going to the polls.) Voter suppression, after all, was the primary objective of Alberto Gonzales' purge of United States attorneys. As I wrote in March:
Simply put, the Bush White House planned to systematically drive down the turnout of Democrats and independents at the ballot box through an unaccountable campaign against "voter fraud"...
...While former White House counsel Harriet Miers first raised the specter of replacing all of the prosecutors in early 2005, it was President Bush himself who emphasized the importance of supposed voter fraud to Attorney General Gonzales:
Last October, President Bush spoke with Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to pass along concerns by Republicans that some prosecutors were not aggressively addressing voter fraud, the White House said Monday. Senator Pete V. Domenici, Republican of New Mexico, was among the politicians who complained directly to the president, according to an administration official.
The case of Seattle prosecutor John McKay illustrates the Republicans' preoccupation with voter fraud. Washington State Republicans, including Congressman Doc Hastings, were furious at McKay over what they claimed was his inaction on vote fraud in the wake of Democrat Christine Gregoire's 129 vote margin of victory (out of almost 3,000,000 votes cast) in the twice recounted 2004 gubernatorial campaign. On July 5, 2005, Tom McCabe of the Building Industry Association of Washington wrote to Hastings, blunting demanding, "please ask the White House to replace Mr. McKay. If you decide not to do this, let me know why."
In 2008, the Supreme Court will decide whether or not the Republican Party will succeed in its fraudulent campaign against mythical vote fraud. (It does not require a crystal ball to predict where John Roberts and Sam Alito will come down on the issue)) With the Republican Party in danger of losing the White House and yielding even larger Democratic majorities in Congress, the stakes for the GOP are high indeed. The stakes for the American people and the future of American democracy, of course, are much higher.