Some of the liberal commentary on the Roberts Court Segregation Five decision last week in the Shelby County case gutting the Voting Rights Act (VRA) Bob Kuttner in Why Voter Suppression Will Backfire Huffington Post 06/30/2013 gives reasons for optimism. And there are reasons for optimism. Latino voting rates in California went up significantly after Republican Gov. Pete Wilson's anti-immigrant initiative that year, and have remained high. That was a real backlash against a law and a campaign that had clear racial and xenophobia elements. High African-American turnout in 2012 in the face of widespread segregationist voter suppression efforts is also a reason for optimism.
Fortunately, Kuttner is not being superficially optimistic: "we will need to fight the civil rights revolution of the 1960s all over again, on the ground. In the long run, we have demographics on our side. A ton of damage, however, can be done in the short run, and this will take mobilization of a movement to fight for the right to vote and to have every vote count."
Voter suppression does its largest damage over time. Will black and Latino voters be willing to stand in line for hours to vote, sometimes in the cold and rain, in an non-Presidential election year like 2014? And again in 2016, and 2018, and in the various primary and mid-year and off-year elections that take place in between?
Mississippi has one of the new segregationist voter-suppression laws in place, as the AP reports in Voting Rights Act ruling clears path for Mississippi voter ID use in 2014 06/25/2013. Mississippi's Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann - the state secretaries of state manage elections - just after the Segregation Five made their decision happily declared that racial discrimination in voting is now unthinkable in Mississippi: "Mississippi citizens have earned the right to determine our voting processes. Our relationships and trust in each other have matured. This chapter is closed." (Statement on Supreme Court Voting Rights Act Opinion 06/25/2013)
Growing up in what a completely segregated Mississippi in the year I was born, I always try to keep in mind what statements like this mean in SegSpeak. In this case the translation to plain English would be: " White folks in Mississippi have earned the right to go back to gittin' the coloreds off the votin' rolls. Our relationships and trust in each other have matured so that these here blacks are ready to learn what thar real place is ag'in. This chapter of having to practice the American form of government is closed and we can start gettin' us a proper White Man's gubment ag'in."
In-person voter fraud is a minimal, virtually non-existent problem, though that's what's used to justify the Voter ID laws. Urban voters with no driver's license are particularly likely to be affected by Mississippi's Voter ID segregation law. If you don't have a photo ID, ole Delbert says he's settin' up photo machines at the county registrars' offices. But it still means you have to take the time to get the ID.
Even with no hanky-panky by the county registrars or local election officials, this is likely to suppress African-American voting. If you leave your ID at home one election day because you haven't needed it for the last 30 years, you don't get to vote and you may not have time to go get it and come back to the poll.
Add in the tactical voter suppression tricks and it gives the segregationists some extra tools. "This picher don't look like you, boy. We cain't accept this." (Aside to his fellow poll workers when the black voter is turned away: "They all look alike anyhow, hyuck, hyuck!")
Change the polling place at the last minute. Restrict the hours to create long lines. "Darn, our Voter ID camera hyere at the registrar's office broke down just after we took the picher of that white feller who was here just before you. You'll have to come back later." "What, election's tomorrow and you ain't got yore voter ID yet? Well, hope it comes in the mail tomorrow so you can vote."
In other words, even honestly administered - and honestly administering segregation voter-suppression laws is just not part of the program - the voter ID creates an extra impediment to blacks voting in Mississippi. And that's its main purpose, though excluding Latinos and some poor whites is part of the package. Though even then, it's a safe bet that fewer whites will have their voter IDs questioned at the polls. And after one or two or three hastles around the ID in voting, lots of the voters affected with be discouraged from voting. Toss in a few "public service" commercials from ole Delbert's office the week before the election warning of the dire consequences of showing up at the voting places with an improper ID, ... Well, you get the picture. And so does ole Delbert and everyone else in Mississippi, though legal niceties and segregationist neuroses require segregationist whites to pretend otherwise.
As a general thing to keep in mind with these segregationist voter-suppression laws, a large part of the actual discrimination with take place at the local level: at the polling places, in the county registrar's offices. And when local shenanigans suppress the black vote and fewer black candidates get elected, that starts to restrict the pool of experienced African-American talent seeking state and federal offices. Ole Delbert isn't going to be putting out any press releases saying that as of such-and-such a date, only white people in Mississippi can vote. That wasn't how it worked in 1953, it's not how it will work in 2013 and afterward.
From the Southern Coalition for Social Justice: Community Organizing Is Even More Critical After the Supreme Court’s Decision in Shelby (n/d, accessing 07/01/2013)
Tags: segregation, shelby county decision, voter suppression