Commentary Magazine


The Jim Crow Lie Debunked Again

Last week, liberals were dealt a cruel blow when a Pennsylvania court refused to grant an injunction prohibiting the Keystone State from implementing its voter ID law in November. The opponents of the legislation, who alleged that hundreds of thousands of citizens would be prohibited from voting, failed to show why a clearly constitutional measure aimed at preserving the integrity of the process should be thrown out, sending the state election machinery into chaos. However, the opponents of voter ID did gain some sympathy with both the judge and the public by highlighting the plight of the lead plaintiff in the suit, 93-year-old Viviette Applewhite. Ms. Applewhite, who once marched with Martin Luther King Jr., didn’t have a valid photo ID or for some reason, a Social Security card, and the name on her birth certificate didn’t match the one on other documents so in theory she lacked the proof needed to get the free photo ID the state is offering to non-drivers who want to vote. Ms. Applewhite’s predicament seem to bolster the argument that voter ID was a new version of segregationist “Jim Crow” laws. That was enough to get her picture on the front page of the New York Times last week in an article intended to bolster voter ID opponents case.

But it turns out the state machinery for helping such exceptional cases is not, as Democrats claimed, devoted to suppressing the vote. Last week, Ms. Applewhite, accompanied by a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer showed up at Department of Motor Vehicles office in the city and asked for a photo ID. She got one with no fuss and without any evidence that the clerks there had any idea who she was (perhaps civil service employees are too busy there to read the Times or other newspapers). Ms. Applewhite was delighted and said it showed that all you need to succeed is “to just keep trying.” She’s right but her erstwhile sponsors were not so pleased as community activists challenging the law reacted with cynicism and disappointment to learn that their claim that the law was intended to arbitrarily prevent honest citizens from voting was effectively debunked. But that hasn’t stopped Democrats from continuing to cast aspersions on the law as racist and to pretend that there is no such thing as voter fraud, even in Philadelphia.

On that latter point, I have pointed out in past posts that one of the primary motivations for the passage of the law in the Pennsylvania legislature last year was the fact that it is common knowledge that voter fraud in Philadelphia isn’t so much endemic as it is institutionalized. Several precincts in the city where turnout is normally light have reported vote totals that exceed the number of registered voters, a feat that is impossible to explain without bringing up the term fraud. It’s true that these events haven’t been investigated or prosecuted by local authorities, a point that is presented by voter ID opponents as proof that such activities are the invention of Republicans. But the explanation for the failure of the district attorneys in question to pursue the matter isn’t complicated: they are dependent on the same Democratic machine responsible for the shady vote totals to get elected to their own office.

Over at National Review, John Fund has gone deeper into the subject and the result is a comprehensive portrait of the recent record of voter fraud in the city and state. It’s a must read.

Americans support voter ID laws because they understand that they are inherently reasonable. You need a photo ID to travel, buy a beer or conduct the simplest of transactions with a bank or the government. Indeed, rather than the onus being on voter ID proponents, opponents of the law have yet to say why they think it’s okay for someone to be able to show up and vote without proof of their identity or even citizenship.

In the no-holds barred atmosphere of a presidential election, partisans are liable to say anything about their foes so perhaps we shouldn’t be shocked at the willingness of Democrats to engage in racial incitement on this issue. But most Americans aren’t buying it. As for Viviette Applewhite, she’s free to vote for whomever she wants this November. Anyone else, be they black or white, who is willing to make a minimal effort, will be able to say the same.