Reconstructing Reconstruction

For over 230 years the genius of our founders' self-correcting democracy has expanded the original narrow voting franchise from white males to blacks to women and to eighteen year-olds. The Democratic Party has done some self correcting as well. Now once again we have to protect and defend voting rights Americans won with their blood, sweat and tears.

As early as tomorrow, North Carolina's new GOP-led General Assembly is preparing to introduce a bill requiring citizens to present a photo ID to vote. WRAL reported on Friday:

An analysis by the State Board of Elections obtained Friday by WRAL News shows that at least 700,000 registered voters in the state don't have a driver's license or photo ID issued by the Division of Motor Vehicles. Records for another 300,000 people need further checking to determine if they have a license, elections officials said.

That would mean the state would need to furnish photo IDs to about 1 million people so they could vote if the General Assembly approves voter identification legislation.

Facing South and the Institute for Southern Studies released a study last week which estimated the costs of implementing the proposal at about $20 million dollars. But cost is beside the point. It would be just as wrong if it were free.

Under the guise of protecting voting integrity, the Republicans' push for requiring photo IDs to vote is a return to vote supression practices like poll taxes Americans thought we put behind us along with "Whites Only" signs and slurs like "yellow peril." A hundred years ago Republicans howled when Democrats tried the same thing during Reconstruction. As the Institute for Southern Studies observes:

According to an 1881 dispatch in The New York Times, written when Democrats first pushed the voting restrictions:

In this way [Democrats] expect to disenfranchise 40,000 Republican voters and make North Carolina a Democratic State for many years.

The impact of the voting restrictions was dramatic: Voting participation by African-American males, largely Republicans, plummeted across the South from 98 percent in 1885 to 10 percent in 1905, according to historian J. Morgan Kousser.

One hundred years later, the GOP wants to reconstruct Reconstruction and turn back the clock to another period of exclusion. Even former president George W. Bush warned recently about America returning to another such period characterized by "isolationism, protectionism and nativism." Bush is not the first Republican to recognize the threat. Crooks and Liars dredged up a 1952 ABC radio interview with then-governor Earl Warren of California who was running for the Republican nomination for president. Warren saw the danger within his own party. [timestamp 9:37]

Martin Agronsky: At the National Press Club here Governor, you described the Republican party as having, and I’m quoting you ‘a withering right wing’. Were you referring to the wing which supports Senator Taft’s nomination?”

Gov. Earl Warren: “I wasn’t pointing that at anybody, I was stating it as a fact, that there is a group in our party that is extremely reactionary, that would like to turn the clock back to former days if it could do so. . . . ”

Warren: "You folks know exactly what I mean. You know the people who believe that anything that is done for them represents social progress but if it’s done for anybody else it represents socialism."

Sixty years later, little has changed. For all the talk of fiscal responsibility and smaller government, fighting the culture wars is always at the top of the agenda. As the Wilmington Journal reported this week:

The GOP-led NC General Assembly, convened a week ago amid a looming $3.7 billion budget gap they have to find ways to close, have made it clear that they have a 100-day laundry list of ''culture war'' priorities that are, in their opinion, equally as important.

Voter impersonation fraud is virtually nonexistent, as U.S. District Judge Harold Murphy observed in striking down Georgia's Voter ID bill in 2005. The state had not had a single report of voter impersonation fraud in the previous nine years. But as with invading Iraq, Republicans don't mind throwing piles of scarce tax dollars at problems that don't exist.

North Carolina Democrats should stand against Republican proposals to require voters to present photo IDs. Call your representatives tomorrow. They will.

Cross-posted from Scrutiny Hooligans.