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Voting Chief Says Voter ID Laws Disenfranchise Whites

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As Paul Kiel of TPM Muckraker reports,

Tanner explained that 'primarily elderly persons' are the ones affected by such laws, but 'minorities don't become elderly the way white people do: They die first,' So anything that 'disproportionately impacts the elderly, has the opposite impact on minorities,' he added. 'Just the math is such as that.'

Video footage of the conference is available at the Brad Blog.

The most striking aspect of this assertion is Tanner’s implicit acknowledgment that voter ID laws have disparate, negative impacts upon certain voting populations. Further, this is acceptable to, even approved by, the Department of Justice because of the necessity in combating so-called voter fraud. The prevalence of fraudulent voting has been debunked repeatedly in recent months, including in this recent report for Project Vote by Professor Lorraine Minnite of Barnard College.

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Tanner has apparently been traveling a circuit of civil rights gatherings to make these arguments. Two weeks ago, Tanner defended Georgia's voter ID law at the state NAACP's annual meeting. “There, Tanner told the group that minorities were actually 'slightly more likely' than non-minorities to have a photo ID, according to the AP.”

Paul Kiel got a reaction to Tanner’s statements from Toby Moore, a former analyst for the section until the spring of 2006, who derided the basis by which voting rights decisions have been made on Tanner’s watch: “'This is the kind of analysis that the voting section has been doing: seat of the pants generalizations and suppositions instead of hard numbers and analysis,'” Moore said. “'It's false.'” Further, Kiel reports that Moore said Tanner “cherry picked” the data on Georgia ID. Moore knows this because he “analyzed the numbers for John” when he worked for the Voting Section.

Others piled on. “Tanner made a spectacle of himself,” Bob Bauer at the Soft Money Hard Law blog wrote on October 10th, “But he also squeezed out of his presentation a revealing glimpse of ID politics and “equal protection” policy in this Administration, and as would be seen in this line: “People who are poor are poor. They're not stupid. They're not helpless.”

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“Mr. Tanner put these propositions one alongside the other to get across a point that he is unwilling to state directly,” Bauer wrote.

“The government has acted to put the poor to this test: Tanner is speaking on behalf of requirements imposed, quite intentionally on 'people who are poor.' As the lower court pointed out in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, the poor have been singled out for a reason, which is that they have certain political preferences, and it is supposed that with a little additional pressure—more cost, more inconvenience, experienced keenly by those who are poor—their political impact can be blunted.”

“...This does not make the poor either “stupid” or “helpless.” It makes them a target. Hence Tanner is defending a proposition very different from the one that he expects to leave, in hazy and misleading outline, with this audience. This is the proposition: that the poor can be singled out on the front end, subjected to unequal treatment, but once the government has attacked, it can exploit the principle of equality to insist that they are up to the challenge. Stated another way: the poor are not equal enough to be protected from government discriminatory action, pursued for political purposes; but they are so equal in their capacities for clear thinking and self-help, that the government is off the hook. And its representatives can pronounce their respect for the very population that their principal is harassing.”

It is unacceptable that the top enforcer of the nation’s voting rights laws would condone policies that not only discriminate against the groups his Section is tasked with protecting, but were specifically intended to target those groups when they were developed and passed. At a minimum, voting regulations should disenfranchise no more voters than it protects. Strict voter ID laws, a policy solution in search of a problem, clearly fail this test.


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