Episode 52: Bill Clinton and Voter ID
Back in episode 47, I had pretty much said what I thought about the Supreme Court’s decision on the Voting Rights Act. Basically, the act was not struck down or gutted, as some have claimed. Rather, the very common sense decision was made that, if states or precincts were going to come under the pre-clearance section – that is, if any and all changes to voting laws must be pre-cleared with the federal government – then the statistics used to determine who is subject to it ought to be updated, rather than being statistics left over from 40 years ago.
Well, that’s just too much for some folks. Former President Bill Clinton, for example, had to mar his speech at the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech with misinformation, and frankly, one outright lie. I use that portion dealing with voting rights laws as a springboard to clear the air and get to the truth of the matter.
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Back in episode 47, I had pretty much said what I thought about the Supreme Court’s decision on the Voting Rights Act. Basically, the act was not struck down or gutted, as some have claimed. Rather, the very common sense decision was made that, if states or precincts were going to come under the pre-clearance section – that is, if any and all changes to voting laws must be pre-cleared with the federal government – then the statistics used to determine who is subject to it ought to be updated, rather than being statistics left over from 40 years ago. Today, some southern states have minority voter participation on par with, or better than, some northern states, and continuing to punish them based on the sins of the past, after they’ve repented, doesn’t sound very just to me.
Just update the statistics to reflect today’s reality. It’s that simple.
Well, that’s just too much for some folks. Former President Bill Clinton, for example, had to mar his speech at the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech with misinformation, and frankly, one outright lie. I’d like to use that portion dealing with voting rights laws as a springboard.
Y’know, if you’re uninformed about what really happened, unlike you, my well-informed and brilliant listeners, you’d be tempted to applaud for that, as many who attended did. But here are the facts, should anyone need them explained.
First, the Supreme Court did not, did not, say that we don’t need this critical provision of the Voting Rights Act. This is an outright lie, told to people who clearly have not been paying attention. The pre-clearance section was not struck down, nor the formula that determines who is subject to it. Neither was struck down, and anyone who tells you that is either lying or is utterly ignorant of the truth. As I said, it’s just that the numbers that were being used in the formula were from the Jim Crow era, and the Court said simply that the statistics must be updated before continuing to implement pre-clearance. This quote-unquote “critical provision” is still in there, and Bill Clinton, of all people, ought to know this. But this former President of the United States looked you in the eye and lied to you.
But secondly, what about voter ID laws? Never mind who get pre-cleared for what, don’t laws like that make it harder for folks to vote? Doesn’t it disenfranchise minority voters? The plain answer is no, and the example is found in the deep-south state of Georgia.
Georgia passed a voter ID law in 2005 and got court approval to implement it in 2007. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the big paper in the capitol, looked at election data before and after the law was implemented, and here’s what they found. Participation among black voters rose by 44 percent from 2006, before the law, to 2010. For Hispanics, the increase for the same period was 67 percent. Turnout among whites rose 12 percent. This was contrary to the predictions of opponents of the law, who predicted just the opposite. So not only did turnout rise for minorities, it did so dramatically outpacing the population growth among those groups.
This is not to say that every voter ID law is created equal, but the AJC noted that Georgia’s version is one of the toughest in the nation. It requires photo ID, but also provides free IDs for those that ask. So yes, a voter ID law could depress turnout, but it would have to be incredibly draconian.
Certainly more draconian than North Carolina’s law, recently passed and already the subject of a lawsuit. Here’s the thing. The Constitution says that you can’t pass a law, such as for voting, that requires special requirements for one or more groups of people. That is to say, you can’t have a poll tax that only includes blacks. North Carolina’s law does not say that. The Voting Rights Act, which is actually still in effect, says that if a law as practiced turns out to depress minority turnout – that is, it discriminates in practice even if it doesn’t discriminate in the letter of the law – then it can be struck down by the federal government. However, as we see with the example of next-door-neighbor Georgia, tough voter ID laws do not automatically depress minority turnout. Now, I’m not saying that the voter ID law in Georgia caused the increase in turnout, but at the very least this assumption, that such laws always do, is false on its face.
But President Clinton, by encouraging those who are suing North Carolina with a lie told at such an auspicious occasion, is simply playing politics with the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. It serves his political purpose, and his listeners applaud in agreement.