“How did Trump win deeply blue states like Michigan and Wisconsin,” was the first question out of “Molly’s” mouth as we started class with a discussion on voting rights. “Lance” blurted out that it’s because of bogus Voter ID laws. As their teacher, I was floored! First, how did Lance know what Voter ID laws were and, second, (and more entertaining for me) the students were leading the class discussion. I loved it!
I made a split decision, decided to scrap my lesson on the expansion of voting rights in the United States, and went with the flow of Molly’s question. What are Voter ID Laws? What ID is required? Why are there Voter ID Laws in many states? Do Voter ID Laws increase or suppress voter turnout?
We started with the facts: 1) 34 states have Voter ID requirements at the polls 2) 33 of those 34 states that have these laws are controlled by Republican state legislatures and these laws are signed by Republican governors 3) 7 of those states require voters to show a limited set of IDs, like a driver’s license or passport, without exceptions. The justification for these laws was eliminating voter fraud. As Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) stated in 2011, “making sure there is not voter fraud, that someone is not manipulating the process makes all the sense in the world to me.” Texas is one of the states that have strict voter ID laws.
Was Gov. Perry right? Is there rampant voter fraud? NO! In a 5-year period during the presidency of George W. Bush, Americans cast 196 million votes. There were 86 reported cases of voter fraud. Correct, just 86, which is .0004 percent of the votes cast. This sounds like a solution without a problem! If voter fraud is statistically insignificant, Molly asked why so many states have these ID laws? Lance said two words: voter suppression. Let us see if Lance’s explanation is accurate.
11 percent of US citizens that are registered to vote—21 million American voters—do not have a driver’s license or passport. Obtaining these two IDs costs money, are a travel burden especially to the elderly, disabled and those living where public transit is less accessible. For example, in rural Texas, citizens would have to travel 170 miles to the nearest ID government office to obtain such an ID.
Furthermore, these voter ID laws are a modern day poll tax declared unconstitutional by the 24th Amendment in 1964. These laws discriminate by disproportionately targeting the poor, minorities, the disabled and the elderly living in rural areas. Case in point: 25 percent of African American voters lack a government issued ID vs. 8 percent of white voters. A MIT study recently concluded minority voters are more frequently questioned than white voters in these ID states. The cost of travel, document fees, and waiting times is estimated at approximately $125. This is clearly an unconstitutional burden on low-income voters.
Additionally, these ID laws are implemented inconsistently. In Texas, a student ID is not a valid ID but a concealed weapons permit is acceptable. In Wisconsin active military IDs are allowed, but they prohibit Veteran’s Affairs ID cards. Moreover, ID laws waste taxpayers dollars as evidenced by the $10 million Indiana taxpayers spent to produce voter ID cards.
Clearly, voter ID laws are a premeditated tool to suppress certain voters, rolling back the decades of civil rights. Wisconsin and Michigan both have voter ID laws, and voter turnout dropped significantly in 2016. In Michigan, the turnout rate of African American voters dropped by 12 percent in 2016, translating into thousands of fewer minority voters. In other battleground states, there was a significant drop-off rate as well, Pennsylvania by 2.1 percent, Florida by 4.2 percent and Ohio by 7.5 percent. A super majority of African American voters would have voted for Clinton over Trump. In Michigan, where Trump won by .2 percent of the popular vote, Clinton would have won the Wolverine state if the voter turnout was higher in the African American community.
Voter ID laws violate our political culture. They make voting discriminatory instead of inclusive. Molly ended class by asking can anything be done about this and Lance said passionately YES! Look to the courts he said and I just smiled! Recently, the courts in North Carolina struck down the ID law in the Tar Heel state, ruling the law intentionally had a chilling effect on keeping African Americans from voting. Ironically, it is the judicial branch, an unelected body, which will safeguard our fundamental right: the right to vote!
Dominic J. Caserta, a teacher at Santa Clara High school and the city’s vice-mayor, is running for the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors in District 4, which includes Santa Clara. He wrote this article for the Santa Clara Weekly.