Opinion: GOP’s voter ID campaign aimed at suppressing constitutional rights

Here’s a not-so-funny political joke for you.

Republicans have long argued that voter fraud in the United States is a widespread problem and called for requirements that voters have a government-issued identification.

But they had no proof of any voter fraud. Now they do.

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This month the Republican National Committee (RNC) canceled its contract with a firm accused of destroying voter registration forms for Democratic voters while submitting fraudulent Republican voter registration forms.

The RNC cut ties with Strategic Allied Consulting to do voter registration in the swing states of Nevada, Colorado, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida.

Here’s the kicker: The Los Angeles Times reports that the RNC urged the firm to change its name before hiring it because of allegations of registration fraud in previous elections.

As the 2012 elections approach the finish line, the chatter among columnists and political reporters is about upcoming books that take readers inside the campaigns, cutting-edge efforts to micro-target voters on Internet social applications, the enormous money flowing through super-PACs, and extreme political polarization.

But the political strategy with historical power to impact future campaigns is the Republican push for voter identification to deny the growing number of likely Democrats access to the ballot box.

The rising percentage of Latinos, blacks and young whites, especially young white women, is now a structural political disadvantage for Republicans in most statewide and national campaigns.

Gerrymandering has limited its impact in congressional races by creating more racially and politically homogenous – segregated – congressional districts.

But in statewide and national races, the Republicans have to face a harsh demographic and political reality. Simply put, their voters are dying while voters favorable to Democrats are coming into politics in demographic waves.

The GOP answer is a strategy of voter suppression by imposing voter identification laws and limiting early voting. This approach to winning elections has roots in disreputable historical practices such as poll taxes, literacy tests and land ownership.

In the closing days of this campaign the historic importance of the GOP strategy is evident as more state and federal courts rule that it is unconstitutional to deny Americans of any age, race or class the right to vote.

Last week, a federal court ruled against a South Carolina law requiring that voters show photo ID in the November elections. The Justice Department argued the new law, approved by the Republican governor, violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The court ruled there is too little time to implement the law this year without risking the voting rights of minorities. The judges added they might have blocked the law for all time if South Carolina had not pledged to give wide leeway to voters who cannot comply.

Similarly, federal judges in Pennsylvania, Texas, Mississippi and Wisconsin have stopped voter identification laws until after the election.

However, strict photo ID laws will be in effect this November in Georgia, Kansas, Indiana and Tennessee. Strict voter ID laws without photo-identification requirements are also in place in Arizona, Ohio and Virginia.  

The legal fights over this political strategy all but guarantee an eventual appeal to the Supreme Court before the 2014 midterm elections.

While Republicans may be losing in court, they have been winning the argument for more voter identification in public polls.

The heart of the Republican argument is that everyone has to show an ID to buy cigarettes, drive a car or board an airplane. Why shouldn’t Americans show one to vote? A Rasmussen poll in April found 73 percent of Americans in favor of requiring a government-issued identification photograph for all voters.

But smoking, driving and flying are privileges. Voting is a Constitutional right. Absent any evidence of fraud, all Americans have a protected right to vote, be they rich or poor, black, Hispanic or white, people who live in a big city or in remote rural areas.

And there is no evidence of any fraud.

A study of public records by “News21”, a nonpartisan investigative journalism project sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation and the Knight Foundations, found only 2,068 allegations of fraudulent votes in the entire nation since 2000. During that period, over 600 million people voted in three presidential contests.

The investigators found only 10 cases of in-person voter fraud during that time. Most of the little fraud they found was done with mail-in ballots. Their findings are consistent with those of President George W. Bush’s Department of Justice.

 In 2007, The New York Times reported the Bush-era Justice department’s investigation “turned up virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections, according to court records and interviews.”

That is still the case, if you don’t count the RNC’s own recent embarrassment with fraudulent voter registration.

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.