Rev. Jesse Jackson used a personal reminder to let Governor Nikki Haley (R-SC) know just how he felt about the state’s divisive voter ID law.
In so many words, he told her to glance at her own skin color before she attempts to put barriers up for those seeking the fair right to vote.
The rift between Jackson and Haley stems from the South Carolina voter ID law passing in May and being signed into law by the governor. The statute says that residents now have to show one of five forms of official identification in order to vote. If they cannot produce identification, then they will be issued a provisional ballot that won’t count unless they return with a valid ID before the vote count is certified.
According to provisions in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the U.S. Department of Justice also has to approve any changes in South Carolina’s voting laws. They want to ensure that minorities in the state will still have their voices heard after changes are made. The Justice Department ruled in December that South Carolina’s law was discriminatory and, as of now, it cannot go into effect.
That’s when Jackson stepped in.
Playing the race card for some has become a strategic move to drum up support for a cause. But, Jackson believes he actually has a point by forcing Haley to consider her own heritage before she determines her position on the voting rights of her constituents.
Voting and civil rights were one of the defining issues of the 20th century that completely changed the social trajectory for African Americans and other groups of color. In a state like South Carolina, with its Jim Crow past, this piece of history is still fresh in the minds of many. The fight for equal rights allowed Haley to later rise as the first female governor of the state in 2011. She was the second Indian-American to hold that office in any state.
Just because Haley is Indian-American does not mean that she should only cater to minorities. Still, the paradox of her position on voter ID cannot be overlooked.
Requiring identification at the polls is not the most severe way to manage vote outcomes. However, Haley and the larger Republican establishment know that it puts enough barriers in front of constituents that do not support them – people of color, in particular — to sway the tallies.
Ahead of the 2012 election year, Republicans have puffed up voter fraud as the issue du jour. They believe extremely rare cases of voter fraud are a threat to democracy. Strangely enough, when they are winning offices and in control these issues never seem to be show up.
Looking at a state like South Carolina, it is hard to believe that the prevention of voter fraud could ever be a top priority for the governor. The state is solidly Republican and voted for John McCain over President Obama 54 to 45 percent in the last presidential election. Both U.S. Senators from the state are Republican. Five of the six U.S. representatives in the state are also Republican.
Getting the residents of South Carolina working and creating a thriving business climate should be paramount for Gov. Haley. The state’s unemployment rate stands at 9.5 percent for December 2011. That’s a full percentage point above the national average. Earlier in the year, the state topped out at 11.1 percent unemployment — one of the highest percentages in the nation. Haley won’t have to worry about voter fraud, but rather voter exodus, if rates like that persist.
Let’s call this what it is. The voter ID and fraud prevention push by Haley is her attempt to appease the Republican establishment that has crowned her one of their rising stars. To stay in their good graces, she has to be out front on their key issues — voter fraud and illegal immigration, for example — to be considered for even higher posts beyond South Carolina. In the end, it’s all part of a political game that’s much larger than Haley herself.