Goldrick: Floren’s Voter ID Bill Constitutes the New Jim Crow

In her recent oped, Republican State Representative Livvy Floren asks, “Why is photo identification considered voter suppression?”  Feigning innocence, she claims, ” I just don’t get it!”

In fact, in early 2011, Ms Floren joined in the Republican Party’s concerted and coordinated war on voting, introducing the voter suppression bill, HB 5234, in the Connecticut general assembly.  That bill, had it passed, would have required all “voters to present photo identification and proof of citizenship when they arrive at polling places to vote.”  It sounds innocent enough.  But that bill was specifically crafted to suppress the votes of African-Americans, Hispanics, the poor, immigrants, and also young people.

Ms Floren pretends she doesn’t understand why such a voter ID law would suppress voting; I’m sure she does.  In his 2011 Rolling Stone article titled, “The War on Voting,” Ari Berman wrote, “As the nation gears up for the 2012 presidential election, Republican officials have launched an unprecedented, centrally coordinated campaign to suppress the elements of the Democratic vote that elected Barack Obama in 2008…In a systematic campaign orchestrated by the American Legislative Exchange Council – and funded in part by David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers who bankrolled the Tea Party – 38 states introduced legislation this year designed to impede voters at every step of the electoral process.”  A News21 investigation revealed that of the 62 photo ID bills introduced in 37 states in 2011 and 2012, more than half were sponsored by members or conference attendees of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

As quoted in that article, Tova Wang, an elections-reform expert at Demos, stated, “This latest flood of attacks on voting rights is a direct shot at the communities that came out in historic numbers for the first time in 2008 and put Obama over the top,”

Ms Floren claims not to understand how her bill could have suppressed minority, poor, and immigrant voters.  But in striking down a similar voter suppression bill in Wisconsin in 2014, Judge Lynne Adelman explained exactly why this sort of bill disenfranchises minorities and the young.  As Judge Edelman pointed out, 300,000 voters, or 9% of all Wisconsin voters, lacked the required ID’s.  As detailed in a New York Times editorial, “‘A substantial number’ of those voters, (Judge Edelman) found, are lower-income and poorly educated residents who face a “unique barrier” to getting the underlying documents needed to obtain a photo ID. Some cannot afford the $20 for a birth certificate; others must spend weeks tracking down documents at government agencies inaccessible by public transportation.”  Judge Adelman cited research revealing that “African American voters in Wisconsin were 1.7 times as likely as white voters to lack a matching driver’s license or state ID and that Latino voters in Wisconsin were 2.6 times as likely as white voters to lack these forms of identification.”  He also noted that a significantly higher percentage of Blacks and Hispanics were born out of the state compared with Whites, making it less likely that they would have birth certificates, and making it more difficult to locate them.  This would be the case in Connecticut as well.

The Brennan Center for Justice pointed out in its 2007 study, The Myth of Voter Fraud,” that “11% of American citizens do not possess a government-issued photo ID; that is over 21 million citizens.”  Among African-Americans the figure is 25%.  And lower-income Americans are significantly less likely to have those government-issued ID’s than white and higher-income Americans.

Ms. Floren touted her 2011 bill as a means to “reduce voter fraud.”  Yet the real fraud is the claim that voter fraud exists in the first place.  The Brennan study concluded that, “by any measure, voter fraud is extraordinarily rare.”  It estimated the rate of voter impersonation fraud at between .00004%-.0009%.  In Wisconsin, in several election cycles, the state could find no more than two individual instances in which the identification of a voter could not be ascertained, though none was prosecuted for a crime.

Before 2006, no state required voters to produce a photo ID to vote.  The movement to require photo ID’s was instigated by the Bush administration, which also formed a federal task force to prosecute voter fraud.  Yet, as the New York Times pointed out, over a five-year period from 2002 to 2007, the justice department prosecuted only 120 individuals, and convicted 86.  The Brennan Center noted, however, “Many of those charged by the Justice Department appear to have mistakenly filled out registration forms or misunderstood eligibility rules.”

Ms Floren’s bill, and dozens like it introduced by Republicans in other states, was specifically designed to stop minorities, immigrants, and the poor, from voting, and to help Republican candidates win.

These bills constitute the new Jim Crow, and we “get it.”