Circular Politics

We took our grandchildren to the Newseum today, and I would recommend it to anyone contemplating a trip to DC. It is a fabulous museum–not at all a dusty repository of newsprint, but an interactive, living testament to the practice of journalism. For our 8 and 10 year olds, there were numerous “games” and short films that buried instruction in entertainment–snapshots of the past as seen through the eyes of those who covered the events.

One of the short films focused on the Freedom Riders, the Birmingham boycott and Selma. Our grandchildren were shocked and uncomprehending, and we had a long talk about the treatment of African-Americans, segregation and the Ku Klux Klan.

The film clip also showed President Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act. The voice-over explained that in many Southern states, ways had been found to keep black people from voting, necessitating a federal law securing their right to cast their ballots.

All I could think of was how contemporary this sounded.

Indiana passed one of the first so-called “Voter ID” laws, justified by a need to reduce a non-existent “voter fraud,” but actually intended to suppress the vote of the poor and minority citizens who vote disproportionately for Democrats. Other states have followed suit. Most recently–and most brazenly–Governor Rick Scott of Florida ordered a draconian “purge” of that swing state’s voter rolls–so draconian, and so indiscriminate (hundreds of eligible voters found themselves summarily removed from the rolls), that the state’s county election officials–Republican and Democrat alike–refused to implement it, and the U.S. Justice Department has sued to halt it.

States may not be able to employ the Poll Tax any more, but these measures have proved to be very serviceable substitutes.

I thought about that while I was assuring my grandchildren that the law signed by President Johnson secured the right to vote for all our citizens. What I didn’t have the heart to tell them was that when you close a door that is being used by dishonorable people, they’re likely to find an open window to wriggle through.

Jefferson was sure right about one thing: eternal vigilance really is the price of liberty.


  1. Your grandchildren are very fortunate to have you entertaining and teaching them at the same time about our history; especially civil rights. I always believed complaints about the way blacks were portrayed in movies years ago was trying to rewrite history. It is they way they were treated and the way they behaved for self-preservation. Bleeping that horribly ugly “n” word from programming today will not show the younger generations of all races a true picture of our racist history. How can they understand what their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents lived with every day of their lives? It’s like rewriting “Gone With The Wind” with a surprise ending. My friends Flo (black) and Ralph (white) had to go to Chicago to be married in the early 1960’s. When the law was abolished here they decided to remarry at home with friends and family to celebrate with them. They went downtown to the Marriage License Bureau and the little old white woman explained she could not issue them a marriage licesne – they would be comitting bigamy. She found her own window to wiggle through but Flo and Ralph left laughing.

  2. There has been no proof of voter suppression due to voter ID, if you have some, please show me.

  3. Dave-
    There hasn’t been any proof the voting law in my state (IN) has prevented any cases of voter fraud. Voter fraud does not occur at the precincts but through absentee ballots, which the law has nothing to do with.

  4. There’s one place I go to get all of my voter ID and voter suppression tactics information and that’s with Brad Friedman’s blog The Brad Blog.

    He covers it extensively.

  5. Dave-
    What there is no proof of is the voter fraud that these disenfranchisement bills are supposed to combat.

  6. Voter suppression is alive and well and the voter ID efforts began when George W. Bush was promoting privatization of Social Security. I have always wondered if that was more than coincidental because many older voters have difficulty gaining photo IDs. My parents were a case in point.

    My parents were active in politics all their adult lives as precinct committeepersons and much more. They never missed voting AT the polls where their neighbors knew them well, but that no longer counted. They needed photo ID and were not allowed to vote without it. (Cong. Julia Carson also was denied the right to vote at her precinct despite having a congressional ID and everyone recognizing her. Yes there is evidence of voter surpression.)

    In their last years, it was a hardship for my parents to go anywhere but they wanted to go to the polls to vote. They knew too many absentee ballots aren’t counted due to technical errors that should not disenfranchise voters. So I took them to the license branch for an ID. It was supposed to be free, but they were charged for it nevertheless (a poll tax). Fortunately they had their old drivers’ licenses and didn’t have to produce a half dozen pieces of information to prove they lived where they said they did. Without those old drivers’ licenses, they’d have had to go to the old Court House for birth certificates. But my dad was born at home 80+ years ago with no doctor present. And a birth certificate costs money (a second poll tax if required to gain the ID to vote).

    If they hadn’t had someone to help them gain these IDs, they’d have had to vote absentee which was also a real chore in their county. The fill-in-the-bubble IBM card ballot without any names on it was difficult to line up with a separate sample ballot showing candidate names. The ink was light and difficult for older eyes to see. The bubbles were difficult for shaky hands to fill in without going outside the lines and possibly invalidating one’s ballot.

    All of this suppresses the vote. I don’t mind showing my ID to vote, but there are many folks for whom it’s a burden and for whom identification is not in question, but they are not allowed to vote anyway.

    Self-government is the reason our country was founded. But partisans today feel it’s a right that’s fair game to deny in partisan battles. Shame on them for denying a right which thousands have died to win and protect.

  7. I think these voter ID laws are not to disenfranchise citizens but is rather intended to filter out illegal immigrants, who may abuse the voting system. This is not a new phenomena either. In the 19th century, the Democratic Tammany Hall conducted similar voting fraud tactics with immigrants in New York City in order to elect the same politicians that exploited them. Illegal Immigration is getting top heavy in this country and these voter laws are necessary to stop the influence of corruption that is trickling in from Mexico.

  8. Travis-
    I disagree with you. If that was their goal then why not ask for proof of citizenship when you register to vote? Then you can show the card when you need to. You get a new card when you move or change your name.

    My current driver’s license doesn’t state whether I’m a citizen. Using an ID that needs to be renewed every four years is a way to disenfranchise those citizens without resources; the poor, the elderly and young people.

    Ronald Rodgers

  9. When my mother stops driving, she’s 80, her driver’s license will expire so there is her ID, right? The state should provide a free photo ID to the elderly that don’t drive anymore so that they can continue to vote like the rest of the citizens. Voter IDs are a poll tax.

    Immigrants cannot vote until they are citizens. I would know. My husband was sworn in as a citizen last week. The social security office and the voter registration office personnel were there to get their information updated and registered immediately. Tell me how illegal immigrants’ names would appear on the voter rolls?

    The only voter fraud I’ve read about lately occurs from the conservatives. Think Charlie White our ex-Sec of State who was found GUILTY of voter fraud. I’d list more but you can all go to the Brad Blog who documents every single instance of it, from both sides of the political aisle. Cheers.

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