Pitts: Voter suppression by Republicans is a serious matter

By Leonard Pitts, Columbian Syndicated Columnist

Published:

 
photoLeonard Pitts Jr.

This one is for Mike.

He is a Houston reader who shot me an email after my recent column equating the GOP push for voter ID laws with voter suppression. I agreed with Attorney General Eric Holder, who called that a modern-day poll tax. Mike did not.

"You have to have an ID to write a check," he wrote, "use a credit card and most other things in life. Saying poor blacks cannot easily get IDs is ridiculous. ... Comparing this to the poll tax? C'mon, be serious."

Actually, I am. Not that I don't get why Mike's argument sounds reasonable to Mike -- and to many others who made it. But let us consider it more closely.

First off, I've never made the claim Mike attributes to me, i.e., that poor blacks cannot get IDs. No, my point is that when you don't have a checking account, a credit card or a car, it is less likely you will already have ID.

The name of the game, remember, is not voter prevention, but voter suppression, i.e., bringing down the numbers. In the last presidential election, only 63 percent of eligible voters voted -- and that was the best showing in 48 years. Clearly, Americans are not overly enthusiastic about performing this civic duty as it is.

So, if you can add a layer of difficulty to it that requires some voters to catch a bus down to some office, fill out forms and wait in line to get a card for which they will otherwise have zero use, is it so hard to imagine that some won't bother -- and that there will be enough of them to make a difference in a close race?

Remember: Demographic trends do not favor the Republican Party. As the Center for the Study of the American Electorate observed in a 2008 report, the GOP is either out of contention or seeing an erosion of support in New England, the mid-Atlantic, the West, the mountain states, the industrial Midwest, and even parts of the South. With its growing Latino population, even Texas may be lost to the party before too many years. "Within the next few decades," says the report, "white Americans, the only demographic subgroup from which the GOP draws significant numbers of voters, will be in the minority."

So, while the party posits these laws as a way of fighting voter fraud -- a nearly nonexistent problem -- it takes little imagination to divine a more sinister intent. Sometimes, you don't need imagination at all.

As in Michigan GOP lawmaker John Pappageorge's 2004 observation that his party needed to "suppress the Detroit vote" to have any hope of electoral success. Detroit is 82 percent black.

Then there's the GOP campaign guru in Maryland who was convicted of ordering Election Day robocalls to black households telling them not to bother voting because Barack Obama had the election sewn up.

And let us not forget Pennsylvania Republican Mike Turzai, who recently crowed how the state's Voter ID law would ensure victory for Mitt Romney.

Adopt Mexico's system

Sorry, but there can be little doubt that suppression -- not just of the black vote, by the way, but also of the youth and Hispanic votes -- is a key goal of this shrinking party.

But what if, instead of suppressing votes, we broaden the electorate? Curtis Gans, director of the aforementioned CSAE, believes the United States should adopt Mexico's system, wherein the government automatically issues every citizen a biometric ID card.

Such a card, encoded with your personal information -- and with safeguards to protect your privacy -- would eliminate whatever little voter registration fraud there is. There would be no fraud because there would be no registration. Every eligible citizen would simply swipe his or her card and vote.

And the GOP would have to make its case before America in the fullness of its diversity, an electorate not whittled down by artificial barriers designed to give one party an advantage over another. Surely that's something they'd want, right?

C'mon, be serious.