For much of the last century it was common practice across the southern United States for politicians to impose poll taxes, literacy tests, and other absurd laws designed to keep African Americans, Native Americans and poor whites — all legal citizens — from voting. That was life under Jim Crow.
President Lincoln may have freed the slaves but the newly emancipated and their kin were hardly free for generations to come. In fact, it wasn’t until 1966 when an “activist” Supreme Court ruled in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections that such laws violated the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection clause that access to the polls became just a little bit easier.
Unfortunately, as the saying goes, the more things change the more they stay the same.
No one would be foolish enough to argue that the 2012 elections will be a cakewalk for either side. It will be tough, it will be dirty, it will be expensive, and it will be close.
So, what is the GOP doing to tilt this relatively level playing field to its advantage?
Enter cheese curds, cheese heads, and the cheesy folks at Americans for Prosperity.
By now it is well know that the billionaire Koch brothers have been behind efforts in Wisconsin and other states to end the ability of law enforcement, teachers, and firefighters (among others) to collectively negotiate their employment contracts and earn a living wage and retirement — a practice that built our middle class.
Right now the people of Wisconsin are embroiled in a series of recall elections as the result of Republican Governor Scott Walker’s efforts to strip workers of their abilities to collectively bargain in unions. So unpopular is Walker that the simple idea of being associated with his efforts to disenfranchise workers has resulted in a mass political movement at odds with his objectives.
If these recall elections favor the Democrats on August 9, it could shift the balance of power in the Wisconsin State Senate and thus keep Gov. Walker from pursuing more of his extreme agenda.
To keep that from happening the Koch funded Americans for Prosperity and Walker have been working overtime.
Governor Walker and Republicans legislators want to make it harder for those living in urban areas — the poor, people of color, the indigent — from voting. Earlier this year, they passed a law requiring voters to present a state issued identification card in order to cast a ballot.
Whom does such a law impact? Well, nearly one quarter of Wisconsin’s elderly have no photo identification. With African Americans, 55 percent of men and 49 percent of women have no such identification. Among Latino Americans the numbers are even more staggering with 46 percent of men and 69 percent of women lacking proper identification.
Adding insult to injury, Walker is now finalizing plans to close DMV’s around the state in primarily Democratic areas making it even harder for those seeking proper identification to comply with Walker’s own voter identification law.
It may not be a literacy test or poll tax, but it will get the job done impacting not only this month’s recall elections but the 2012 presidential contest as well.
With Democratic core constituencies effectively disenfranchised by Wisconsin Republicans, the deceptively titled Americans for Prosperity have gone in for the kill. The right-wing billionaire Koch brother front group has been caught red handed sending voters in Wisconsin absentee ballot applications for the upcoming recall elections with instructions to return ballots by August 11, which happens to be two days after the election.
Efforts to keep Democrats from voting in 2012 and beyond don’t simply end at Wisconsin’s borders. Texas Governor Rick Perry signed a voter identification bill into law earlier this summer and key battleground states around the country — Ohio, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Missouri — are looking to take the plunge as well.
Meanwhile in Florida, Republican Governor Rick Scott signed into law legislation that cut the number of early voting days by nearly half and made it harder for groups like organized labor to register new voters.
The GOP’s systematic effort to keep anyone who might consider voting Democratic from the polls is not just wrong it is un-American.
These days the Party of Lincoln is looking more and more like the Party of Jim Crow.
Copyright © 2011 KarlFrisch.com.
Karl Frisch is a syndicated columnist and Democratic strategist at Bullfight Strategies in Washington, DC. He can be reached at KarlFrisch.com. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and YouTube or sign-up to receive his columns and updates by email.
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