Martin Luther King Day is a day of service, quiet reflection — and implications that those supporting voter ID laws are akin to 1960s segregationists.
Democratic politicians and their allies took to the airwaves Monday to campaign against state laws mandating some form of voter identification, often suggesting that feelings of racial animus are behind the initiatives. Legislators supporting the laws — largely Republicans — argue that they help keep elections fair by limiting voter fraud. Opponents claim the rules are “restrictions” deliberately designed by legislators to limit the voting rights of impoverished minorities, which they say often do not possess appropriate identification.
Those opponents were out in full force on MLK Day, perhaps rallied by Vice President Joe Biden’s speech during an event commemorating the legendary civil rights advocate on Monday. “[We’re] trying to stem the tide of new attempts — new attempts — to restrict the right of our people to vote,” he declared. “I have to admit I never thought we’d be fighting the fight again on voting rights.”
“This has been the ultimate fight,” Biden later bellowed, “because our opponents know — they KNOW! — the single most dangerous thing to give us is the right to vote! They know what that is!”
Other Democrats took the hint. “Dr. King has said it in the past, I’ve said it in the past, and I continue to say it: the vote is precious,” Democratic Georgia congressman John Lewis said on MSNBC. “People I knew, people that I work with, people that I marched with, people that Dr. King worked with and marched with — some of those people DIED for the right to vote, the right to participate. And we have to continue to open up our society and let all of our citizens come in.” WATCH:
National Urban League President Marc Morial took it even further, attacking the Supreme Court and directly tying congressional legislation designed to dismantle voter ID laws with the memory of Dr. King. “We are fighting [voter suppression] all over again for a number of reasons,” he said, again on MSNBC. “And those are the actions of states and some local governments, but also the action of the Supreme Court, which is really becoming a threat to forward progress on civil rights.” WATCH:
“But here’s the good news,” former New Orleans mayor Morial continued. “Last week, a bipartisan group of members of Congress introduced the Voting Rights Act modernization bill. So one testament to the legacy of Dr. King can be to pass that bill — and to pass it by overwhelming majorities in the House and the Senate — and to do it this year, so that voting discrimination does not creep back into the body politic.”
The National Conference of State Legislatures lists 34 separate states with some form of voter ID law, spanning all regions of the United States. Most of the laws enjoy widespread popular support both at home and nationwide. A national Marist/McClatchy poll from last summer found that 84 percent of those polled — and 83 percent of “non-whites” — support some form of voter identification. And an October Rassmussen poll found that 59 percent of those surveyed did not believe voter ID laws are discriminatory.
But that hasn’t stopped the laws from coming under ferocious attack. Attorney General Eric Holder is suing North Carolina for its law mandating voter identification, and last Friday a state judge ruled Pennsylvania’s voter ID law unconstitutional. “Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election; the voter ID law does not further this goal,” Judge Bernard McGinley wrote, adding that the state’s substantial (and expensive) efforts to ensure everyone could obtain ID only confused voters.
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