TO: Megyn Kelly, Bret Bauer, and Chris Wallace
RE: Thursday's Republican Debate
Hey guys, I know you’re frantically preparing for Thursday night’s debate extravaganza, but I wanted to remind you that August 6 is also the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act becoming law. It provides a good hook to press the candidates to explain their views on voter IDs and other efforts which Democrats and also nonpartisan institutes claim suppress the votes of African Americans, the elderly, and students.
You could start the questioning with Scott Walker, since Wisconsin’s voter photo ID law was one of the first pieces of legislation that Governor Walker signed into law in 2011, and it became a model many other states followed. It required that potential voters show a current or expired driver’s license, or some form of military identification, or a U.S. passport, or a signed and dated student ID from an accredited state college or university, or a recent certificate of nationalization. If voters had none of these documents, they could present a birth certificate to receive a special photo ID issued by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Such requirements made voting extremely arduous for the very people who disproportionately supported Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, such as racial minorities, students, and the elderly.
For example, there was the case of Gladys Butterfield, who had voted in every local, state, and presidential election since 1932. She had stopped driving decades ago, so she had no license. Her birth certificate was also missing. Her baptismal record was not acceptable as proof of identity in Wisconsin. Therefore, under the new law, she had to obtain a special government ID available only at a Department of Transportation (DOT) office before she could vote in the next presidential election. She was wheelchair bound so was dependent on a family member to drive her. (She could not apply online because she lacked a current license.) A quarter of the offices were open only one day a month and closed on weekends. Sauk City’s office was perhaps the hardest to visit: in 2012 it was only open four days that entire year. Many other states’ DOT offices posed similar problems: odd schedules, distance from public transportation, and the like.
With her daughter Gail’s help, Butterfield applied for a state-certified birth certificate, costing $20, which she could show as proof of American citizenship. Next she had to visit the DOT. Transporting a wheelchair was difficult as was the inevitable wait in line to fill out the forms and have her picture taken. She was charged $28 because she did not know that it would not have cost her a cent if she had explicitly requested a free voter ID. DOT officials were instructed not to offer applicants a free ID unless applicants requested one. (When an outraged government employee emailed friends of the news and encouraged them to “TELL ANYONE YOU KNOW!! EVEN IF THEY DON’T NEED THE FREE ID, THEY MAY KNOW SOMEONE THAT DOES!!,” he was abruptly fired.)
“My mother is fortunate that she has someone to take her through this vote suppression procedure,” Gail Butterfield Bloom told a journalist in 2011. “How many elderly or disabled residents do not? Are Scott Walker and his followers making it difficult for the elderly, disabled, poor and young to vote? My mother thinks so.”
So too, perhaps, did the 178,000 other Wisconsin seniors who did not have a driver’s license or a state photo ID. They would have to go through similar efforts to exercise their constitutional rights. Sadly, Gladys Butterfield passed away before she could vote in 2012. Does Governor Walker still support voter IDs despite the fact that even George W. Bush’s Justice Department found almost no evidence of illegal voting which would have been prevented by voter IDs?
Like the elderly, students who wanted to vote in the next election would find new obstacles when they again tried to vote in Wisconsin and many other states. Under Wisconsin’s new law, student IDs would be accepted as proof of identity only if they contained a signature and an expiration date. But in 2011 the cards carried by Wisconsin’s 182,000 students were not signed or dated and, therefore, would not be accepted at the polls.
Last year, the legislature also cut back on early voting hours during the workweek and stopped them completely on weekends, thereby destroying opportunities to vote used predominately by African Americans.
And here’s a question for Senator Ted Cruz: Your state quickly enacted new laws soon after the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision, Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted the Voting Rights Act. The state’s strict voter ID law is now in the hands of a judge who will decide its fate. Does Senator Cruz side with the plaintiffs who want to expand the voting pool or the state’s attorney who wishes to limit it?
And finally you could quiz Governor Jeb Bush about the electoral mismanagement that put his brother in the White House in 2000. Reporter Ari Berman believes that the mix-up which led to the disenfranchisement of many qualified voters cost Al Gore the presidency.
Gary May is not employed by Fox News. He is a historian and author of Bending Toward Justice: The Voting Rights Act and the Transformation of American Democracy.