“There’s a blurred spot in my vision . . . there . . . no, there . . . no, no . . .”
—Adele Maliss-Morey, as the Woman with Dirty Glasses in Doc Hollywood
I respect and admire John Lewis. He is rightfully regarded as an icon of the 1960s civil rights movement, and his record of achievement—and personal sacrifice—in this regard is undeniable. I actually had the privilege of meeting him once, and found him to be intelligent and engaging.
But he’s wrong on this one.
In a New York Times op-ed last Friday, Lewis invoked the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King in calling State voter I.D. requirements racist “poll taxes.” He claims that these provisions disproportionately affect minorities, and are “clearly crafted to affect not just how we vote, but who votes.” The basis for this claim is his assertion that “as many as 25 percent of African-Americans lack acceptable identification.” One suspects that that number is complete nonsense, especially when you consider the variety of I.D. that is actually acceptable in most states. Interestingly, just as Debbie Wasserman-Schultz did back in June in calling voter I.D. laws "literally" a return to Jim Crow, Representative Lewis cites no source for his figure,* and it isn’t clear whether he’s referring to ¼ of all blacks, or ¼ of voting-eligible blacks.
Most significantly, however, Lewis only says these people “don’t have” I.D. He doesn’t say they “can’t get” I.D., nor does he cite a single example of someone who wanted to being unable to get appropriate I.D., much less somehow being denied that I.D. because they’re black. And there’s the real crux of the issue.
I recognize I’m operating at a disadvantage as a white male born after the era of Jim Crow and the civil rights victories of the 1950s and 1960s. I’ve never seen a “whites only” sign. I haven’t marched, and I haven’t suffered the beatings and imprisonment and other indignities Representative Lewis has. But there has to be something more to the charge than it’s racism because I’m civil rights hero John Lewis and I say it is. He diminishes his message, discounts his achievements, and cheapens the sacrifices he and others have made when he cries racism where it isn’t.
Sadly, there was a time when charges about racist voting laws were legitimate. But this isn’t 1963, and this isn’t Jim Crow. Mr. Lewis, you’ve won that fight. Nobody is going to prevent you from getting an I.D. to vote. Voter I.D. isn’t the same as the old “literacy tests” administered subjectively by boards of white people. I.D. is tied directly to the constitutional requirements for voter eligibility: citizenship, minimum age, and residency. There is nothing racist about trying to ensure that only people who are supposed to vote are doing the voting. And for those who want to dismiss the argument as a false crusade against a problem that doesn’t exist, consider the following:
· This Spring an NAACP official in Mississippi was recently sentenced to 50 years for, among other things, voting in the name of others, including dead people;
· Earlier this month ACORN was assessed the maximum possible fine after a voter fraud conviction by a Nevada judge who cited ACORN’s long history of voter registration violations;
· The Colorado Secretary of State’s office has determined that some 12,000 non-citizens registered to vote in 2010, and as many as 6,000 actually voted;
· The State of New Mexico is investigating 64,000 cases of possible voter fraud;
· A Milwaukee Police study found there was an illegal organized attempt to influence the 2004 elections;
· In Ohio the NAACP has been repeatedly found involved in fraudulent voter registrations;
· In Troy, New York, the City Clerk recently pled guilty to voter fraud charges.
Voter I.D. measures are directed at curbing this kind of abuse, and they have nothing to do with keeping blacks from the polls. The test is objective and simple—do you have I.D. In Texas all it takes to get a driver's license or State I.D., either of which would suffice (other documents are also acceptable, but these are by far the two most common) is a $16 fee ($25 for a DL), and proof of identity and citizenship taken from a pool of acceptable forms including:
· Birth certificate
· Social Security card
· School records
· State or federal government I.D.
· Texas inmate card
· Texas or federal parole card
· Medicare or Medicaid card
· Vehicle registration
Are you really telling me with a straight face that a significant number of blacks who are actually interested in voting can’t come up with this? If voter I.D. opponents were really interested in preventing the alleged racist impact of such measures, they would spend their time helping people get the necessary I.D. instead of railing against the requirement or registering dead people. That they don’t speaks volumes about their true motivation. Heck, they could even hold a fundraiser to foot the $16 fee.
I’ll bet Warren Buffett would write that check for you on the spot if you stop coddling him and ask.
In point of fact, claiming that requiring I.D. is racist is not only ludicrous in 2011, but the charge is in itself racist just as former Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson was being racist when he argued that raising admission requirements for athletes was racist. Both claims rest on the fundamental assumption that blacks are incapable of meeting the requirement, and thus need the rules to be dumbed down for them. Lewis himself should know better, and should bristle at the suggestion. He is a shining example to the contrary.
The unfortunate fact is that what the Left learned in the 1960s is that applying the “racism” label is a powerful political tool. No one wants to be branded a racist, and tapping into white guilt can get you a long way towards achieving just about any political aim you please. So they use it, whether it applies or not. In so doing, they perpetuate the very racism they claim to be working to defeat; at some point, we can’t get past the racial injustices of our national past if we don’t actually allow ourselves to get past them and move on.
You want to honor Dr. King’s memory and his vision for a time when men are judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin? Then stop calling “racism” every time there’s something you don’t like politically. Stop selling the black community short by insisting they’re handicapped when they’re not. All modern voter I.D. requirements are trying to do is ensure that the people casting votes are the people who are supposed to be casting votes.
As Lewis himself said in his speech at the 1963 March on Washington, “One man, one vote is the African cry. It is ours too. It must be ours.”
* I can surmise that they both are referring to a 2006 paper published by NYU's Brennan Center for Justice that extrapolated a 25% nationwide figure for voting-age blacks based on unverifiable responses given in a telephone survey of 987 participants "randomly selected" from an unidentified pool in an undisclosed geography. The survey asked vague questions about whether respondents had identification they could "readily access" with no real tie to actual voter identification requirements. More importantly, the survey makes the same mistake as Mr. Lewis and Ms. Wasserman-Schultz in that it is only concerned with whether people had I.D. right then at the time of the call, and not the salient question of whether they could obtain the proper identification if they needed it to vote.