Sunday, February 26, 2012

Photo ID laws enacted to keep minorities, poor from voting

Ms. Kincaid is a community activist from Kingsport.


Voting is one of our most fundamental rights afforded us by the Constitution. Each and every citizen has a duty to guard, protect, and defend this right even if it means our life.

Many of our forefathers, both black and white, gave their lives to protect this right, and it now appears that our elected officials are attempting to take this right from some of our most vulnerable citizens: minorities, elderly, the poor, and others.

Throughout the history of federal voting rights legislation, there has been a constant need to strengthen these laws as corrupt politicians and others have found ways to violate the basic rights of the people.

The 2000 presidential election brought about tremendous outrage over the antiquated technology and the lack of institutional control in our election process. This outrage led to the landmark legislation the Help America Vote Act in 2002. Many states began making sweeping changes to their election laws under the pretext of preventing voter fraud and safeguarding election integrity, only to find these laws were being used to suppress the vote of certain citizens.

In 2011, states including Tennessee passed measures making it harder to vote for some Americans, particularly minorities, the elderly, and the poor. Senate bill 16 sponsored by Sen. Bill Ketron in the Tennessee Senate states that “voters must show one form of identification that bears the name and photograph of the voter.”

I believe the notion that people are voting fraudulently (no evidence in Tennessee) is simply an act to disenfranchise and marginalize voters. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft in 2002 established a Voter Access and Integrity Initiative and made only 26 fraud convictions between 2002-2005.

I believe the purpose of this voter suppressive behavior is designed to support conservative organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council and its ideological agenda that attempts to remove potential Democratic voters from the voting process.

Why is voter suppression such a hot button issue with minorities, the elderly and the poor? Could it be that voter suppression was designed as a strategy to influence the outcome of an election by discouraging or preventing people from exercising their right to vote? Perhaps it is because the tactics used can range from minor dirty tricks all the way to blatantly illegal activities that prevent potential voters from casting ballots.

Whatever the reason, voter suppression is wrong.

Why the tirade about voter suppression laws now? Thirty states have enacted photo ID laws, and their opponents believe these laws disproportionately affect minority and elderly voters. Many of these individuals don’t normally maintain driver’s licenses and must obtain photo ID for the express purpose of voting. This can be a real hardship because of the cost and the inconvenience to obtain them.

An example of voter suppression in Tennessee involved a 96-year-old black lady (Dorothy Cooper) who was denied a photo ID because she did not have her marriage certificate. She armed herself with other identification but was denied an ID card because her maiden name was on her birth certificate. Is this protecting Ms. Cooper’s right of a citizen to vote?

It is approximately 13.8 miles from Kingsport to the Department of Safety building in Blountville. How many of the poor can travel this far or take the time, from a minimum wage job, to travel this distance? This photo ID law was never about protecting citizens from fraudulent votes, but about suppressing minority and elderly votes.

How can our current lawmakers make this law go away? The obvious way is to repeal it. However, for now, I propose the state find space in Kingsport and once a week provide these photo IDs. I am confident Kingsport can help develop a mechanism to make this a reality.

I have a valid driver’s license and a voter registration card and transportation in order to exercise my right to vote. Should not all citizens have the right to obtain these documents in order to participate in a fair and representative election?