Tyranny advances in Georgia

Georgia’s Republicans pass a law to forbid poor people from voting.

Georgia’s Republican legislature passed, and its cartoonish Repubican governor signed, a bill to forbid voting on election day by anyone not in possession of a government-issued picture identification document.

It is no accident, comrades, that the elderly and the poor are both disproportionately likely to lack official ID and disproportionately likely to vote Democratic. While the nominal purpose of the law is to prevent fraud, no one in Georgia seems to be able to point to an actual instance of someone’s committing vote fraud by impersonating a voter. (Absentee voter fraud, a much more prevalent problem and a GOP speciality, is not covered by the law, which in fact makes it easier to vote — and to vote fraudulently — absentee.)

And of course the Diebold no-paper-trail, closed-source, eminently hackable electronic voting machines will be allowed to keep churning out “results” with no demonstrable relationship to what voters actually did in the privacy of the voting booth.

The Georgia Republicans thus carry forward developing totalitarian trend of the modern GOP. For a political system to remain republican (with a small “r”) it is necessary that the results of any given election be limited in time, thus encouraging the current losers to lose gracefully and “wait for next year.” By using the power temporarily entrusted to them by the voters to deprive opponents of the means of effective opposition, the red-state Leninists are slowly but surely blurring the distinction between election and revolution.

I’ll belive that a Giuliani or a McCain or a Patacki is actually a “moderate Republican” when one of them denounces this undemocratic trend and demands that his party stand for honest and fair elections, with honest counts and enough voting machines so that Democratic voters don’t have to stand in seven-hour lines to vote, as they did in Columbus, Ohio last November.

This is primarily a political problem, to be handled through political means. Democrats, civil-rights organizations, and the mass media ought to make a huge and continuing fuss about honest elections. So far, the means of vote-stealing the GOP has been willing to resort to aren’t enough to stop a popular-vote landslide, which — let’s not forget — would result from even a fairly modest surge in Democratic (and Democatic-leaning independent) turnout. In addition, there’s a chunk of the Republican electorate that is much less totalitarian-minded than its current leaders; if the election-rigging tendencies of the Republicans became a major topic of media attention, some of them would stay home, or even cross the aisle. Vote-rigging and corruption make a good pair of campaign bookends.

But there are also legal issues here. Georgia’s evil history of denying the right to vote to African-Americans makes it a covered state under the Voting Rights Act. Thus the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice must review the law for VRA compliance. Like any other measure targeted at poor and socially marginal people generally, the ID requirement will disproportionately disenfranchise blacks. Will the CRD do its job, or will it act, as it often does under Republican administrations, as if the name on the door were “States’ Rights Division”?

In addition to the Voting Rights Act issue, the new Georgia law might be challenged under the anti-poll-tax amendment to the Constitution. I don’t know about Georgia, but in California getting a driver’s license or non-driver’s ID from the DMV costs money. By conditioning voting on possession of a document that costs money to obtain, the Georgia Bolsheviks are, in effect, imposing a tax on voting, which is precisely what that amendment forbids. Does the Georgia law conflict with the Twenty-Fourth Amendment? Perhaps that would be a good question to ask Judge Roberts.

Update A reader supplies the text of the bill, which allows Georgians the right to take a pauper’s oath and get an ID issued for free. That probably avoids the “poll tax” issue. Of course, nothing prevents whatever state agency issues the drivers’ licenses from making the process as difficult, time-consuming, and humiliating as possible for those who can’t pay the fees.

Second update On second thought, the “pauper’s oath” provision doesn’t do a damned thing to obviate the poll-tax feature of the new law. The ban on poll taxes applies to rich and poor alike. Just because someone isn’t an absolute pauper doesn’t make it less obnoxious to charge him a fee as a condition of exercising his electoral franchise. Shame on me for being fooled by such a bogus argument.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com