Voter suppression: It may be legal, but it ain’t right

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice this week trying to force enforcement of the state’s new voter ID law requiring voters to show government-issued photo identification before voting. Although the Voter ID bill was declared an “emergency” by Gov. Rick Perry before the last legislative session, it cannot be enforced until it is “precleared” by the DOJ. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires such action because Texas is among a group of mostly Southern states with a history of voting discrimination. Within the living memory of many Americans, these states used tactics like a poll tax, literacy test, simple intimidation and violence to keep certain citizens – mostly African-Americans – from voting.

Republicans in the Texas Legislature said the Voter ID law was needed to combat voter fraud despite the fact no such fraud could be documented. Abbott spent over a million dollars of taxpayer money trying to prosecute phantom cases of voter fraud, all against Democrats, and almost all involving blacks or Hispanics. These prosecutions were abject failures because the fraud they sought to punish didn’t exist.

Let’s be honest about this. The Texas Voter ID law and similar laws enacted by GOP-dominated legislatures in mostly Southern states in recent years have a single purpose – voter suppression. The estimated 600,000-plus Texans without the required photo IDs are overwhelmingly elderly, poor, African-American or Hispanic. It is no coincidence they are also people who have historically voted Democratic.

The idea that those voters should be disenfranchised to cure a fictional voter fraud problem should be repugnant to every freedom-loving citizen of this or any other state, but in a naked political power grab, it has become somehow the thing to do. Such tortured interpretations of these regressive laws bring to mind this description: It may be legal, but it ain’t right.

People in Southeast Texas should be especially sensitive to such machinations. In case it has escaped your attention, all of the state senators and U.S. congressmen that represent Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange are Republicans from the greater Houston area. State Sen. Joan Huffman represents a district that runs from Katy west of Houston through an uninhabited stretch of Chambers County to take in the union members and minority voters of Port Arthur. This is no accident, but the result of a concentrated Republican effort to disenfranchise those voters. It’s not just Huffman, though, no matter how little she knows or cares about Southeast Texas. Ted Poe, Kevin Brady, Tommy Williams – these aren’t your neighbors, but you’ve been gerrymandered into their districts. It may be legal, but it ain’t right.

As for the voter suppression threatened under this voter ID law, it might not even be legal. The Voting Rights Act views otherwise “legal” actions designed to achieve an illegal result as unlawful. The Republicans in the legislature might think they have the right to disenfranchise 600,000 Texas voters to force-feed their partisan poison to the larger electorate. We respectfully disagree.