The Justice Department’s recent blocking of South Carolina’s controversial Voter ID law saves all the political best for last, setting up an electoral showdown as the New Year approaches for what could be the most exhausting Presidential election in recent American political history.
“It is outrageous, and we plan to look at every possible option to get this terrible, clearly political decision overturned so we can protect the integrity of our electoral process and our 10th Amendment rights,” said Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC), herself looking ahead to greater fortunes in the wake of her recent endorsement of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
But, Haley shouldn’t fake the funk on this. The fact that she’s butting into it is political. The South Carolina Voter ID law, courtesy of Palmetto State Republicans, is just as political as the Justice Department decision. There’s enough politics to go around for this election and, if the Supreme Court rules in favor of it, for years to come.
For certain, the law ends up in the hands of a divided, yet markedly conservative-leaning high court that may very well go the way of Republican legislators. Voter ID, as much as its opponents try, is not the sexiest or sensationalistic of headline-grabbing political issue that gets emotions boiling. Unless civil rights advocates find a way to frame the issue in such a way that makes it significant or critical to the impacted electorate of Black and Latino voters who are nearly 25% more likely to face problems at the polls with Voter ID laws implemented then it just won’t register until Election Day. While Voter ID has been the cause célèbre for everyone from activists to Democratic politicians, pundits and strategists, it hasn’t really struck that street chord, yet.
That’s problematic, because it should. But, there’s a lot of nuance in this debate that is either lost or ignored by both sides. Republicans can’t shed the understandable perception that their insistence on influencing 2012 with Voter ID laws is motivated by race; Democrats and aligned civil rights activists should tread lightly on alienating critical White working class support with the perception they are defending undocumented immigrants and protecting segments of the Black American population that some folks feel should already have their ID situation figured out.
In between that are fundamental questions: the process by which one secures a driver’s license typically depends on a fee. If you now need a driver’s license at the polls then you have essentially been forced to pay for your right to vote. Isn’t that a poll tax? And, while we’re at it, why are voting laws a patchwork of state-mandated political jigsaws rather than one simple, rigid and enforced national standard that passes Constitutional muster? If you ask the commonsense lot of us, American voting is rigged from the get.
Most minds are stuck in survival mode, many barely able to get by and too many others on a string of unemployment benefits that have either expired or are now just two months away from being hostage to another Congressional stalemate. As important as the Voter ID controversy is, can those grimacing at its mention really say that the average person is really paying attention to it? Lack of that may partly explain the reason why Republican legislators feel compelled to keep pressing it.
The Justice Department decision is as curious for its timing as it is for the firmness with which Holder’s agency put it down. Day before Christmas Eve, fam? Right at the time when folks are engaged in last minute gift-wrapping and holiday travel (if they can afford it)? What’s that all about? Obviously, it’s all in the messaging. End of the year chest thumping before the election. The White House is already in the locker room jumping to that war chant in the aftermath of perfecting a legislative beat down on House Republicans over the payroll tax cut. Blocking Voter ID is the scream across the battlefield. It puts the GOP on notice and signals, along with the Arizona immigration law, redistricting and healthcare reform, that Democrats are ready to lay it on before the Supreme Court just as thick as Republicans.
Which means 2012 election results could come a bit early.