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Mitt's Real Insult to the NAACP -- Pushing Voter Suppression

Deriding "Obamacare" was bad, but Romney's support for voter suppression laws disrespects the group's entire legacy.

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And it’s particularly awful that Romney gave his speech in Texas, which passed one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the nation, one that’s being challenged by Holder  (the issue is before a federal judge this week). The Justice Department says the law would disenfranchise 1.4 million Texas voters, almost a million of them Latino. The Nation’s Ari Berman, who’s doing some of the best reporting on voter suppression,  explains why:

There are DMV offices in only eighty-one of the state’s 254 counties. Not surprisingly, counties with a significant Hispanic population are less likely to have a DMV office, while Hispanic residents in such counties are twice as likely as whites to not have the right ID. Hispanics in Texas are also twice as likely as whites to not have a car.

And if voters can make their way to a government office that provides ID, they’ll need documentation of their eligibility, and the cheapest option is paying $22 for a birth certificate – which is what leads Holder to accurately call the law “a poll tax.” More than 20 million Americans, nationwide, don’t have the government-provided documentation required by these new laws, including a quarter of all African-Americans.

Make no mistake, these laws affect white people, too, particularly white college students. Holder noted that in Texas, “concealed handgun licenses would be accepted forms of identification, but student IDs would not.” That’s no accident. A New Hampshire Republican made his party’s agenda plain when he defended his state’s law invalidating student IDs as a form of voter documentation. “Voting liberal, that’s what kids do.” And in New Hampshire, they’re by and large white kids. So the GOP has a plan to stop them too.

If you’re noticing a trend, you’re right: Young people, African-Americans, Latinos – that’s the Obama coalition. Since those groups surged to the polls in 2008 to elect the president, Republicans have been almost as aggressive passing laws restricting voting as they have restricting women’s reproductive rights. (That may have the opposite effect politically.) Remember  Madam Range Rover at Romney’s Hamptons soiree, complaining “the common people” didn’t get it? The misinformed hoi polloi, she lamented, all had the right to vote, but she singled out “my college kid, the babysitters, the nail ladies” — all less likely to have voter ID than wealthy white people.

To be fair, the GOP has always complained about Democratic voter fraud – which essentially doesn’t exist: The Bush Justice Department conducted an exhaustive voter fraud investigation, but only prosecuted 86 cases in seven years, and most were felons who thought they had the right to vote but didn’t. MSNBC’s “The Cycle” co-host S.E. Cupp defended the GOP’s voter ID crusade as worth it to eliminate those 86 cases of voter fraud over seven years in a nation of 300 million, even if it risks disenfranchising 21 million people. (Have you noticed that conservatives are the radicals lately?) Rooting out nonexistent voter fraud only became a GOP jihad, however, after Obama’s election. Pennsylvania Republican Mike Tarzai was nice enough recently to explain why, bragging that his state’s new voter ID law “is going to allow Mitt Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”

That’s why voter suppression may be the nation’s top civil rights issue today (the drug war has to be a runner-up). A man who supports that movement can’t be considered a better president for African-Americans than Obama. That was Romney’s real insult to the NAACP; deriding “Obamacare,” however deliberate and offensive, can’t compete.


Joan Walsh is Salon's editor at large. Read more of her work at Salon.

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