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Stopping Voter ID Is Not Civil Rights

The upcoming 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington is a fortuitous coincidence for groups determined to stop Voter ID laws such as the one just signed into law in North Carolina. To listen to Rev. Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton, the memory of that seminal moment in history when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. asked Americans to judge each other by “the content of their character” rather than by the “color of their skin” is an opportunity to relive the civil-rights struggle in which voter integrity laws will stand in for Jim Crow and segregation. But like the fake outrage expressed by Democrats and liberals over the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision upholding the Voting Rights Act while mandating that the Justice Department acknowledge that it is 2013 rather than 1965, Americans should not be fooled by this scam.

The North Carolina legislation goes further than other voter ID laws in that it rolls back both efforts to make it easier to vote early as well as early registration for those under 18. But whatever one may think of those measures, the idea that any of this has anything to do with racial discrimination or efforts to re-impose the racism that once characterized America’s political system is absurd. No one is attempting to repeal the right to vote or to restrict the franchise. Those who are making this argument in an era when African Americans are voting in numbers similar to those of whites and when we have just reelected the first African American president of the United States are making a mockery of the legacy of the civil-rights struggle.

The gap between the purple rhetoric of opponents of voter ID laws and reality remains great. It should be remembered that the overwhelming majority of Americans, including African Americans, support commonsense laws that require citizens to identify themselves when voting with a picture ID just as they must when they travel by air or train, conduct even the most minor bank transaction, or buy alcohol or even cold medicine. They also know that the claims that there is no such as thing as voter fraud in the United States require us to forget everything we know about American political history and human nature.

But somehow all that is forgotten when Democrats and their racial huckster allies begin sounding off about voter ID laws. While claiming that they are defending the right to vote, what they are really doing is trying to create a false issue with which they can attempt to claim that nothing has changed since 1963.

The point of the recent Supreme Court decision is that the pre-clearance feature of the Civil Rights Act which requires states and localities that were guilty of discrimination in 1965 to be under federal supervision as far as voting laws was rooted in a past that had nothing to do with current conditions. In doing so, it did not take back the right to vote but merely said the Department of Justice must prove that discrimination exists before intervening. But there is a clear distinction between alleging discrimination and actually enforcing laws that prevent blacks or any other group from voting. Blacks are no less capable of obtaining a photo ID—which can be gotten from the state free of charge—than any other group.

To minimize the enormous and positive changes that have occurred since 1963 is to diminish the evil that Jim Crow represented. The racism that the March on Washington helped to reverse was not a metaphor or false argument. Nor was that protest merely a political tactic aimed at inflaming part of the electorate as the current furor over voter ID has been. Any comparison of Jim Crow to voter ID undermines the hard-fought progress that this country has made.


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