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Debunking the Right's Latest Voting Rights Claim: Tough ID Laws Do Not Empower Minorities

Right-wingers point to voter turnout statistics in Georgia and ignore larger demographic shifts.

Georgia is not a presidential swing-state in 2012, but it is a state where fierce opponents in the national fight over voter-suppressing voter ID laws have come out swinging. 

There is a right-wing cabal of public intellectuals and attorneys who have led the GOP’s charge in recent years to toughen statewide voter ID laws for millions of voters—which is needed to get a ballot—based on hyped claims that American elections were overrun with fraudulent voting. Everyone who has been paying attention to this fight knows that behind GOP claims of "election integrity" is the strategy of creating barriers for key Democratic cohorts that are more than likely to lack recently issued state photo IDs: urbanites who do not drive, students and poor people. 

But now there is an outrageous new twist—that tougher voter ID empowers minorities. The evidence cited is that minority turnout soared in Georgia after it adopted its tougher ID law.This claim is made in the new book by the former Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund and Hans von Spakovsky, who is infamously known for politicizing the Justice Department’s Voting Rights section under George W. Bush, leading to the firing of a half-dozen U.S. attorneys who didn’t sufficiently pursue voter fraud and voter impersonation cases.

Georgia became the center of attention in the voter ID wars when the Advancement Project, a progressive public interest law firm, released a study September 24 that concluded 10 million Hispanic voters across the U.S. are likely to be disenfranchised this fall because of numerous “discriminatory voting policies” enacted by states, including tougher voter ID laws. It said non-citizen voter purges and onerous proof of citizenship rules would hinder many Hispanics from voting, and it could even affect the outcome of the November election.

“We’re seeing a big wave of voter suppression this year, restricting voting rights that we haven’t seen since the era of poll taxes and literacy tests,” Katherine Culliton-Gonzalez, the Washington-based director of Voter Protection said. “We are very concerned about this trend.”

Within hours of that study’s release, the right wing responded. “Absurd,” said Von Spakovsky, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney General for Civil Rights, former member of the Federal Election Commission, and now a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Legal and Judicial Studies in Washington. He blogged there “is no evidence whatsoever” that Hispanics will be disenfranchised in large numbers, and he used Georgia as an example to prove it.

Von Spakovsky called the Advancement Project study “simply more propaganda by a radical organization that opposes all efforts to improve the integrity of the election process.” He said that the Justice Department agreed that Georgia’s voting law is not discriminatory under the federal Voting Rights Act, and has had “no effect on Hispanic voters.”

Von Spakovsky cited Georgia’s voting turnout numbers for the past two elections, claiming that 2008 certified election results indicate the turnout rate for Latino voters jumped “a startling 140 percent over 2004.” He also wrote that in the 2010 midterm election, “Hispanic turnout went up a dramatic 66.5 percent over the prior midterm election in 2006, when there was no photo ID law in effect.” His conclusion: the claim of voter suppression by the Advancement Project is “ridiculous.”

Let’s look at the facts and history. Georgia’s Hispanic population grew an astounding 96 percent from 2000 to 2010. The U.S. Census reports that group now makes up 8.8 percent of the Peach State’s nearly 10 million residents. They could pose a significant threat to the state’s Republican establishment, which currently controls the governor’s office and legislature. And they are far more likely to vote for Democrats.