Thursday, November 17, 2005

Georgia on Our Mind

or "Why's the North always a' Pickin' on Us?"

Once again my homestate has made it to the arena of national debate over her voting practices. Due to problems with this sort of thing in the past, Georgians have to submit all proposed changes in voting procedures that might affect minorities to the Justice Department up in Washington so they can continue to exercise control over our elections (see Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965). Anyway, here is the current problem (from Wash Post):
The [proposed] program requires voters to obtain one of six forms of photo identification before going to the polls, as opposed to 17 types of identification currently allowed. Those without a driver's license or other photo identification are required to obtain a special digital identification card, which would cost $20 for five years and could be obtained from motor vehicle offices in only 59 of the state's 159 counties.
That's not all:
Proponents said the measure was needed to combat voter fraud, but opponents charged that Republicans were trying to keep black voters, who tend to vote Democratic, away from the polls.
I guess the assumption here is that Blacks don't have driver's licenses or other photo id cards and many are too poor or would be significantly inconvenienced by going to a nearby county to buy an id card.

Anyway, I really can't see how this move specifically targets blacks. With the Mexican immigrant population in Georgia increasing daily, such measures could easily be understood to target them. Or perhaps it targets all poor people, or all lazy people. Or perhaps they are actually worried about voter fraud and think that people should have better ids.

I'm waiting for all you Chicagoans to explain to me why this really is against blacks and why we don't need to worry about voter fraud.


Zev said...

You got us liberals! How astute! The laws are not just anti-black, they are also anti-latino. ???

It appears from the recent panel chaired by Jimmy Carter (in whom, I have little faith) that voter identification is an issue. I cannot vouch for it. However, assuming that people do not possess IDs, it would be those who cannot afford cars that would not have drivers licenses (although I bet many rich people in NYC don't own cars, and have no reason to drive, GA does not have the same public transportation system as NYC). There seems to be a direct correlation between income and the tendency to vote. Making it more difficult for the indigent to vote would seem to be a gain for the GOP.

Assuming that is all correct (because I think it is assumed in the article) I would not put it past state legislators, Dems or Republicans, to try and hinder the other party’s turnout.

Furthermore, what does fraud entail? How is the fraud being conducted? Why is a voter registration card not just as good as one of these silly things. Why does it cost $20 to vote? As a general item, Americans do not like the idea of mandatory IDs.

So it goes.

Sam said...

I'm not an expert on this, but I cannot resist posting. Most voter fraud occurs via absentee ballot. In fact, recent examples of voter fraud via false identification seem impossible to come by in Georgia. But the bill in question makes it easier to vote via absentee ballot! It makes it much harder to vote if you don't have a car. This bill isn't about fraud; it's about disenfranchising people who are more likely to vote Democrat, under the aegis of security.

Shmuli said...

Yehuda- You're absolutely right. The measure does not specifically target Blacks. It specifically targets those without a photo ID, among whom, it is claimed, Blacks are disproportionately represented.

Zev- The voter registration card does not have a photo. The major change under this law is requiring a government issued photo ID. The $20 fee for the ID can be waived for the poor, so there is no "poll tax".

Sam- Is it true that "most fraud occurs via absentee ballot"? It certainly is easier, but given the much smaller percentage of absentee ballots, I can certainly imagine the contrary. There certainly has been quite a bit of fraud elsewhere at polling places. Wisconsin is most notorious. Wisconsin has same day registration and very easy ID requirements. In 2000, about 30% of Milwaulkee's votes came from same day registrations and then again in 2004. Do you think a third of the city moved in four years and didn't register in the interim? Now obviously Georgia didn't have such lax controls, but it would be foolish to claim there is no fraud whatsoever. Moreover, many officials aren't interested in preventing fraud. Just as partisan legislators will support election laws that maximize their party's votes, poll officials will often ignore probable fraud that they support if they are not specifically required to confront it. The criminals committing the fraud are not interested in getting caught and will go to polling places with sympathetic poll workers. This law will probably deter fraud rather than intercept it. It will also probably deter some valid voters as well. It seems a tad bit unwarranted to label a minor increase in ID requirements "disenfranchising".

Sam said...

Shmuli: have a look at Cathy Cox's April 8 letter to the governor of Georgia: "In contrast to the lack of voter fraud relating to impersonation of voters at polls during my tenure, the State Election Board has reviewed numerous cases of voter fraud relating to the use of absentee ballots." She emphasizes later in the letter that voter fraud via absentee ballot has occurred in Georgia. I didn't pull this out of thin air. She also addresses the impractical exception the bill makes for indigent voters.

I don't feel like arguing about this. Obviously the legislature didn't pass a bill saying "Blacks can't vote." Instead, they placed a burden on some voters—the ones who cannot afford to take off work to buy an ID, the ones who live in Atlanta, where there are no stations to buy ID, etc.—with the excuse of security. The rest of the country moved on 40 years ago!

Shmuli said...

1. Cathy Cox is a partisan official just like the sponsors of the relevant bill. My general assumption with both is that they are perfectly willing to mislead the public in order to advance their partisan interest but do try to not recite easily disprovable lies. Her account should not be accepted a priori as authoritative and comprehensive. Unfortunately, since my computer refuses to show PDF files, I can't read her letter.
2. I don't doubt that there have been numerous cases of absentee fraud. I even imagine that, because of its greater efficiency, a larger percentage of absentee ballots are fraudulent then regular ballots. Nevertheless, given the greater number of regular ballots, I do genuinely wonder whether your statement that "most voter fraud occurs via absentee ballot" is actually true.
3. A major reason there will be more evidence of specific absentee fraud is that there is an actual documentary trail. Once somebody leaves the polling booth, how could you track that person down if he used a false name.
4. The party organizations publicize their willingness to give rides to voters on voting day. They can easily do the same for getting id's. I believe that if this law is upheld, the party organizations will do just that. They will go down their list of voters, ask if the voter doesn't have an ID, and facilitate its acquisition.
5. When you say "the rest of the country moved on forty years ago", are you referring to voter id laws or Jim Crow laws? The former doesn't make sense and the latter is just plain silly. I would imagine photo ID is much more likely to be required today than forty years ago. As far as Jim Crow goes, I think it horribly inaccurate to suggest this law is equivalent to Jim Crow laws.