The general election in November, 2016 will be the first time that Texas and 14 other states will have their new strict voter ID laws in place for a presidential election. 33 states now have ID laws and l7 require or request not just written proof but photo ID as well. In addition to voter ID, certain states have cut early voting days and limited voting hours, all leading to suppressing voting by minorities ,the poor, elderly and first time young voters.
Voter ID laws grew out of the chaos of the 2000 Presidential election – hanging chads, weeks of delay in Florida – and the Supreme Court deciding George W. Bush was the winner and President of The United States. In the years that followed, 19 states passed laws that required ID for all voters with photo ID accepted in most states. Indiana passed the country’s strictest law, requiring the ID meet four criteria – a driver’s license, a passport , a state issued ID or some other Government issued photo ID. The law was challenged in the courts by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Democratic Party. The ACLU brought evidence that showed there had never been a case of fraud – the supposed purpose of the law– proven in Indiana. They said the real purpose was to depress voting by minority groups, the poor, the elderly, the young and disabled citizens who usually voted Democratic. On April 28, 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that the Indiana law was constitutional.
By 2011, 14 Republican state legislatures had passed laws requiring a citizen to show a government ID card in order to vote. In addition, five states cut back early voting, including Florida that cut from 14 days to 8 and eliminated the Sunday before election day, known as “souls to the polls” by African-American churches. Georgia cut early voting from 45 days to 21. And Maine stopped voters from registering on election day. An estimated 620,000 Kansans who do not have Government ID stand to lose their right to vote. There has been only one prosecution for fraud in Kansas. Wisconsin refuses to recognize college ID from University of Wisconsin and other campuses. A survey by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University in 2011 found that eleven percent of citizens nationwide, 21 million people did not have a current photo ID. That number increased to 15 percent of lower-income voting age citizens, 18 percent of the young eligible voters, and 25 percent of African-American voters.
Let’s fast forward to 2016. Texas is an important state to watch. On April 29, 2016, The Supreme Court left in place a strict voter ID law enacted in 2011. It required voters to present photo ID like a driver’s or gun license, military ID or passport. (College ID was not acceptable.) The law had been challenged in 2014 at the Federal District Court level where Judge Nelva Ramos struck it down in a 147 page opinion. She said it created “an unconstitutional discriminatory burden on the right to vote” and amounted to a poll tax. At the next higher level, a three judge panel of the Fifth Circuit put a stay on her ruling, saying it was too close to the mid-year national elections and would cause confusion among voters and poll workers.
The Supreme Court had considered the stay in October 2014, leaving the law in place in an unsigned opinion. However, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg worked most of the night to write a signed blistering dissent, joined by Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. She wrote that the law “may prevent more than 600,000 registered Texas voters from voting in person for lack of compliant identification.” “A sharply disproportionate percentage of those voters are African-American or Hispanic” she added; “racial discrimination in elections in Texas is no mere historical artifact.” She also wrote, “More than 400,000 eligible voters face round trip travel times of three hours or more to the nearest” government office issuing ID’s and must present a certified birth certificate,usually costing $22. She noted that the state offered them at $3 for elections but had not publicized that information.
Most Americans are focused on the general presidential race looming between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. On the final Super Tuesday, June 7, Hillary Clinton won huge victories over Bernie Sanders in New Jersey and the biggest prize of all, California –plus New Mexico and South Dakota. Despite polls showing a neck and neck race in California with Bernie Sanders, she drew 56.3 % to his 42.7% of the votes. Clinton went over the top nationwide in pledged delegates and super delegates to reach 2755 vs. Sanders 1852. She celebrated at a Victory Rally in New York with tumultuous crowds, cheering the first woman nominated by a major party for President of The United States. It was an historic moment in the long trajectory of the women’s rights movement since Elizabeth Cady Stanton convened Seneca Falls in l837 . Watching Clinton that night, one recalled Susan B. Anthony proclaiming, “Nothing is impossible!”
Trump had already been chosen by the Republicans as their “presumptive nominee” although there remain deep concerns and rejections among party leaders. His comments attacking Judge Curiel who is hearing the case against Trump University have been characterized as “the textbook definition of racism” by Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representatives. Trump called him a Mexican and said he was not fair in hearing the case. Curiel was born in Indiana of Mexican heritage. Trump also questioned Muslims serving on the bench. The furor has not abated on this issue even though he gave a toned down speech saying his words were “misconstrued.”
Both political conventions will take place during the last two weeks in July. Republicans meet first in Cleveland; Democrats meet next in Philadelphia. Trump has already started his campaign against Clinton calling her “Crooked Hillary” because of her e-mail server and old unproven charges against her and Bill Clinton from the l990’s. She gave a major foreign policy speech on June 2, declaring him to be “tempermentally unfit to be commander in chief” with the nuclear codes at his fingertips.
Senator Elizabeth Warren has already launched a fierce twitter barrage against Donald Trump. He usually tweets early each day to control the news cycle, and has dubbed her “Pocahontas”, since she has Cherokee ancestry. Several weeks ago, she attacked him for taking advantage of millions of people who lost their homes in the housing bubble collapse. He had bragged at a rally, and laughed. “I’m a business man. That’s what I do.” She asked “What kind of a man does that? I’ll tell you what kind of man. A little… insecure… money-grubbing man who profits from other people’s misery.” Trump may learn not to match language and wits with a Harvard professor. Or, in the months ahead, with a former First Lady of The United States, two-term Senator from New York and Secretary of State. It will be a new experience for him. Millions of Americans will be paying rapt attention.