Americans set their clocks back one hour last Sunday. But in the state of Mississippi, voters go to the polls today with the option to turn back the clock to the state’s ugly days of poll taxes and literacy tests meant to stop African-Americans from voting.
Ballot Initiative 27 would amend the Mississippi Constitution to require everyone to provide government-issued photo ID in order to vote.
New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice’s 2006 study “Citizens Without Proof” describes the true impacts of these kinds of voter identification laws:
As many as 11 percent of United States citizens – more than 21 million individuals — do not have government-issued photo identification. . . . Twenty-five percent of African-American voting-age citizens have no current government-issued photo ID, compared to eight percent of white voting-age citizens. . . . [T]his amounts to more than 5.5 million adult African-American citizens without photo identification.
In a phone interview, Mississippi NAACP State President Derrick Johnson said he rues the potential effect in the state if Initiative 27 passes: “We oppose Photo Voter ID because we see it as a vote suppression method. It’s akin to poll taxes and other dirty tricks that oppressed black residents of this state for a century.”
So how can the initiative be justified if it disenfranchises thousands of African American citizens?
Well, here’s what Joey Fillingane, the initiative’s sponsor, says on the secretary of state’s web site:
Because the right to vote is too important to allow dishonest people to steal elections by voting in the name of other people; often times in the name of dead people or folks who are out of state on Election Day.
This is utter nonsense. There is no evidence anywhere in the United States — and certainly not in Mississippi — of widespread voter fraud. Similar allegations of people voting in the name of dead people, or in the name of “folks” who are out of state on Election Day, just don’t survive any serious scrutiny.
In the extremely rare cases when elections are fraudulently manipulated, it is generally through tactics like election workers adding or subtracting votes for a candidate or by misinformation provided to voters to get them to not vote — neither of which would be stopped by requiring state issued photo identification.
As Mississippi NAACP President Johnson puts it, “There has never been one case of voter fraud in the history of Mississippi that photo ID would have prevented.”
Legitimate studies of allegations of widespread voter fraud always turn up nothing or next to nothing. Here’s just two examples reviewed by the Brennan Center:
In Maryland in 1995, for example, an exhaustive investigation revealed that of 89 alleged deceased voters, none were actually dead at the time the ballot was cast. The federal agent in charge of the investigation said that the nearest they came was when they “found one person who had voted then died a week after the election.”
In Georgia in 2000, 5,412 votes were alleged to have been cast by deceased voters over the past 20 years. The allegations were premised on a flawed match of voter rolls to death lists. A follow-up report clarified that only one instance had been substantiated, and this single instance was later found to have been an error . . . in which Alan J. Mandel was confused with Alan J. Mandell.
Worse yet, Initiative 27 is hypocrisy in a state that defined voter fraud for generations.
Mississippi and its sister states in the Deep South used large-scale voter fraud for a century to eviscerate the African American vote. Blacks were required to explain portions of the Constitution, pay a poll tax, and laughed out of the registrar’s office when they tried to register to vote.
Nonetheless, the boogeyman of voter fraud is now used to justify state laws whose true purpose is to limit the number of people of color and poor people who can vote.