November 5th, 2013

dc

Voter ID laws

A few days ago, my brother posted an article on his Facebook wall about the difficulties faced by former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Jim Wright when he tried to get a photo ID card that would allow him to vote in today's elections in Texas, which recently enacted an extremely strict new law requiring voters to present a photo ID before voting. In the discussion that ensued in the comments to that post, the question arose whether such laws, which tend to disproportionately affect minority voters, are motivated by racial animus. Most commenters thought not; most believe voter ID laws are motivated by purely political considerations. That's probably true: the Republican Party supports such laws not because they have an institutional hatred of minorities, but because they believe the people who don't have photo IDs, who incidentally are more likely to be minorities than not, are more likely to vote for Democrats.

However, so what? The motivation is irrelevant. It's well-established that minorities are less likely to have photo IDs, and are more likely to face significant hurdles obtaining them, so a law that makes possessing a photo ID a requirement for voting is a racist law. That the racism was probably motivated by political considerations instead of hatred (and that the laws are also classist, ageist, and often sexist) doesn't make it less racist, nor less odious.

Also, I'm not willing to completely rule out racial animus as a motivating factor for the politicians voting for those laws. The Republican Party is not an intrinsically racist organization, but it is extremely tolerant of racists and has invested a lot of time and effort into trying to recruit them into the party. That was the whole point of Richard Nixon's Southern Strategy, after all: to bring conservative white Southerners, many of whom had moved away from the Democratic Party because of its support for the civil rights movement, into the Republican fold. The GOP didn't abandon appealing to while racial resentments as a campaign tactic after Nixon was elected in 1968, and one has to assume that at least some of those new recruits ended up being elected to office.

But again, so what? Voting for a racist law is a bad thing to do regardless of your motivation.