If you read South Carolina's daily newspapers, you can be forgiven if you have never heard of the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is a corporate-funded juggernaut that works with Republicans in pushing a hard right-wing agenda, including anti-union legislation, the privatization of schools and prisons, and the rolling back of environmental regulations.
Another of ALEC's priorities is the passage of voter ID laws wherever possible. According to In These Times magazine, a total of 30 states already have such laws, which were unheard of five years ago. Eight others passed voter ID laws this year. South Carolina was among them.
Voter ID laws — wherever they are passed — have one thing in common. It is no longer enough to show a voter registration card to cast a ballot. Now one must show a photo ID, usually a driver's license.
Why the sudden compulsion to force voters to show their picture at the polls?
"The overall idea is pretty obvious," journalist Frances Fox Piven told In These Times. "Both parties expect close elections in 2012, and if you can peel off just a couple of percentage points, you can determine the outcome."
Contrary to what GOPers would have you believe, voter ID has nothing to do with preserving the integrity of our elections. When was the last time a person was charged with impersonating another voter at the polls in South Carolina? It hasn't happened in at least 40 years, which is apparently how far the records go back on such matters. Nationwide, there have been fewer than two dozen cases in the past 20 years. Clearly there is no epidemic of voter fraud in the state or in the nation. So what exactly is the heart of the matter?
Most adults carry a driver's license with their picture on it. Those who don't are usually people who don't own cars or people who are too old to drive. In other words, poor people and others in need of social services. To put it more succinctly, people more likely to vote Democratic. This is what voter ID is really about — disenfranchising potential Democratic voters and peeling off those couple of percentage points on Election Day. There is no better evidence of this than the fact that many of the voter ID laws — including South Carolina's — do not accept a college student photo ID, even if it is issued by a state institution. Why no college student IDs? We got the answer in a video — which Stephen Colbert shared with the nation — of New Hampshire Republican House Speaker William O'Brien describing "liberal" students who must not be allowed to vote with their college ID cards. (The law passed the Republican legislature in the Granite State, but was vetoed by Democratic Gov. John Lynch.)
To those without driver's licenses, the Palmetto State's new voter ID law provides a special photo ID card, issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles. The estimated cost of issuing said ID cards to hundreds of thousands of people is a quarter-million dollars a year.
Of course, the GOPers are betting it will not cost nearly so much. They're hoping that for the poor and elderly who don't have reliable transportation, just getting to the DMV will be such an imposition that they won't get an ID. The end result? They will just drop off the voter rolls and out of the electoral process. That is the 2 percent the Republicans are trying to peel off.
And yet, as cynical as Republicans have shown themselves to be with their new voter ID law, they have actually trumped themselves with another bill, which Gov. Nikki Haley recently signed. The law allows military personnel to fax and e-mail their ballots from anywhere around the world and it eliminates a witness requirement for write-in ballots. As the Post and Courier points out, our GOP legislature seems quite unconcerned about fraud among this heavily Republican group of voters.
According to the S.C. League of Women Voters, close to 200,000 voters may be disenfranchised by the state's new voter ID law. And who are those voters? We got a glimpse into that community a couple of weeks ago with a Post and Courier story about area public transportation. There are 19,439 households without a car — and presumably, without a driver's license — in Charleston, North Charleston, and Summerville. Needless to say, they are overwhelmingly poor and black.
"These are our neighbors. These are people who live among us, who work beside us," S.C. ACLU Executive Director Victoria Middleton said. "Is that really what we want our General Assembly doing to our electoral system?"
Somebody thinks so. But don't be fooled. The next time a Republican tries to tell you that we need voter ID to protect the sanctity of the electoral process, just take a page from Rep. Joe Wilson's text, look the GOPer in the eye, and say, "You lie!"