Fearing SCOTUS Will Scuttle Voting Rights Act, MSNBC's Toure Hits New Voter ID Laws in Southern States As Racist

February 25th, 2013 6:59 PM

Most U.S. states have some form of voter ID law whereby voters are asked or required to present an ID, preferably with a photograph. In 2005, the Supreme Court, in a decision written by liberal Justice John Paul Stevens validated such laws as constitutional. In 2008,  equally liberal former president Jimmy Carter also endorsed voter ID as a legitimate way to safeguard the integrity of the vote. Recent polls show a vast majority of Americans supporter voter ID laws, including some 60 percent and Democrats and nearly 2/3rds of blacks and Hispanics, two minority demographics that President Obama won in the 2012 reelection campaign (see screencaps below page break). What's more, 73% of Americans believe such laws are NOT discriminatory.

Despite these inconvenient truths, however, MSNBC's Toure believes that voter ID laws are, you guessed it, a racially-charged conspiracy by conservative Republicans, particularly in the South, to disenfranchise blacks. Toure laid out his case in a closing commentary on the Monday, February 25 edition of MSNBC's The Cycle. The transcript of Toure's closing commentary follows:

TOURE NEBLETT*: This week the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Shelby v. Holder, one of the most important cases of the year because it's a challenge to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a federal civil rights law that has been reaffirmed several times by the Court and re-enacted several times by Congress, most recently in 2006 in a House vote of 390-33 and a Senate vote of 98 to nothing. Yet many think the Voting Rights Act will be declared unconstitutional by this Court because its conservative wing deems it unfair to treat different states differently.

What's wrong with that? Well, let's see.

The VRA singles out nine states and several counties and requires them to clear any significant changes in voting laws with the Justice Department before enacting them. This means the states must prove those changes aren't discriminatory. The states targeted most by the VRA are Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and most of Virginia. All states of the old Confederacy, along with Alaska and Arizona.

So is this law outdated? Has the South changed so much that it no longer needs to be on virtual probation with respect to its electoral laws?

Well, since 2005 seven of the nine states covered by the VRA have passed voter i.D. Laws. Only 16% of nonvra states have tried to enact them. States that historically enacted suppressive laws are still at it. In 2008 Texas passed a voter i.D. Law that a three-judge federal court unanimously struck down because Texas couldn't prove it wouldn't harm the voting rights of Texans of color.

The court found the law tantamount to a poll tax because it imposed an implicit fee on the privilege to vote.

If you don't have a driver's license, it will probably mean time off from work to get one and the court recognized that as a problem. The opinion stated, quote, "a law that forces poor citizens to choose between their wages and their franchise unquestionably denies or abridges their right to vote."

Courts have also pushed back against Florida's attempt to constrain early voting because it's a form of voting used disproportionately by poorer blacks. Georgia and Tennessee have also tried to cut early voting.

It seems many agree with Doug Preisse, the Republican Party chairman of Franklin County, Ohio, who e-mailed this nugget to the Columbus Dispatch in 2012. Quote, "I actually feel we shouldn't contort the voting process to accommodate the urban -- read African-American -- voter turnout machine." No one is asking for contortion, Doug, just fairness.

But the GOP sees the white share of the electorate shrinking year after year and sees a future where whites are no longer the majority in America and sees part of their path to victory lies in trying to suppress the electorate of color. So there are concerted efforts to constrain the franchise of people of color via voter ID, via cutting early voting, via redistricting.

So at a time when the franchise is under attack, the Supreme convene to hear arguments in a case that could remove the most powerful tool created to protect voters of color. And many think the Supremes will knock this down. I'm typically an optimistic person, but this makes me fear for the future.

Of course, President Obama won handily in voter ID states, including Michigan, Virginia, Hawaii, New Hampshire, and Florida. Indeed, a federal court pre-cleared New Hampshire's voter ID law -- some jurisdictions in the Granite State fall under the VRA -- two months before the election. In October of last year, a federal court cleared South Carolina's new voter ID, although its implementation was held off until after the November election.

And while Pennsylvania's new voter ID laws was NOT in effect in November, one survey suggests a full 96 percent of Philadelphia voters had valid photo ID they would have been able to present at the polls on election day. And back in September 2012, the liberal Atlanta Journal Constitution noted that "Despite voter ID law, minority turnout up in Georgia":

When Georgia became one of the first states in the nation to demand a photo ID at the ballot box, both sides served up dire predictions. Opponents labeled it a Jim Crow-era tactic that would suppress the minority vote. Supporters insisted it was needed to combat fraud that imperiled the integrity of the elections process.

But both claims were overblown, according to a review of by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution of statewide voting patterns in the five years since the law took effect.

Turnout among black and Hispanic voters increased from 2006 to 2010, dramatically outpacing population growth for those groups over the same period.

And let's not forget Mississippi, where in 2011 some 62 percent of voters approved a change to the state constitution that would require photo ID at the polls. The Magnolia State has yet to enact enabling legislation on that point yet, however it's highly unlikely that the vast majority who supported the law was comprised solely of white Republican voters.

Toure may like to cling to racism as the bogeyman behind voter ID laws, but it's abundantly clear that they are sensible policies supported by a wide range of Americans. What's more, the federal courts that review these laws under the guidance of the VRA have generally agreed that they pass muster both constitutionally and with the Voting Rights Act.

"Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel," Samuel Johnson once said. If the good doctor were alive today, he might agree that pulling the race card is the first refuge for the scoundrels at MSNBC.

*Neblett is Toure's surname, although he only goes by his first name on air as a TV personality.