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Election 2012: Voter ID Laws are Not a Game

“When it’s easier to get a gun than a voter ID, there’s a problem.” –Parlourista @bklynblkorchid on Twitter following the Aurora, CO shooting.

Cue Prince’s Sign O’ the Times because it’s been getting real out here with our politics here in the US. And that’s why I got on the bus to South Philly with Obama for America this past Saturday to register people to vote and educate voters on Pennsylvania’s new voter ID laws. I’m usually not into door-knocking and street team volunteering when it comes to politics, but this election has me feeling differently. It has me feeling freaked out actually, with all these conservative politicians trying to take us back to 1950—first with their stance on women’s reproductive rights and now on voting rights.

Here are some of the quick facts:

  • Sixteen states have enacted voter ID laws and these states have Republican governors and/or Republican-majority state legislatures.
  • These laws disproportionately affect people of color, poor people, students and the elderly, and populations that are Democrats or lean Democrat.
  • Attorney General Eric Holder has likened these laws to a modern-day poll tax because of the fees associated with getting the proper documents.
  • While states like Pennsylvania may offer free voter photo IDs to be made, in order to get one, the four documents needed (social security card + birth certificate, US Passport or other proof of citizenship + two of the following: lease, current utility bill, mortgage documents, tax records or gun permit registration) are where fees come in and can become a burden for low-income citizens who don’t already have the proper paper work. (Mos Def/Yasiin Bey’s question, “Why do I need ID to get ID? If I had ID I wouldn’t need ID” making some unfortunate sense here). Not to mention the bureaucracy and time it takes to get these kinds of documents just over 100 days out from the election.

On top of that, a new study is explicitly calling out the race factor in these laws, showing that those who conveyed more racial resentment toward African Americans, were more likely to support voter ID laws. So in our post-Civil Rights Act era, conservatives may not be bringing out the dogs and hoses this time around, but they’re still telling us why they’re mad and slipping that madness into voter ID laws.

While that not-so-pretty writing’s on the wall, I was comforted by the majority of residents I spoke to who pledged their commitment to vote, who emphatically said “that’s my guy” in reference to Obama, and were eager to register and get clear on how and where to get their voter IDs. I approached one house where I was supposed to speak with Jamal and first encountered his mother sitting on the stoop. When I asked for Jamal, she said he was lying down. I gave the brief talk about why I was there, and before I could say, “but I can leave some literature, you don’t have to wake him,” she was up and in the house shouting “Jamal! Jamal! JAMAL! Come down here, there’s somebody who wants to talk to you. It’s important!” I smiled at her “I don’t play” face as he came to the door and we got to have our conversation.

Indeed it is important (in addition to being sexy). And it’s been made clear this year especially that it’s time to round up your crew, your mama and your cousin too, and make sure everybody’s squared away with their IDs and registration in time for November.

New Yorkers, if you’re interested in helping swing-state PA to get out the vote, there are two more trips to Philly from NYC on July 28 and August 4. E-mail ofateamharlem@gmail.com for more info or to sign up. And to stay up on the latest info on Voter ID laws, check out the Brennan Center for Justice.

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