Did You Hear The One About the Nuns Who Weren't Allowed to Vote?

The following is an excerpt from Greg Palast's brand new book Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps (Seven Stories Press, 2012), with a foreword by Robert F Kennedy Jr. and comics by Ted Rall.


Stop me if you heard this one. See, these ten nuns walk into a polling station in Indiana and the guy in charge says, “Whoa, Sisters! What do think you’re doing?”

“Voting,” says Sister Mary.

“Well, not here, ladies; not without your ID!” He demanded their driver’s licenses, but the ten quite elderly Sisters of the Holy Cross, including a 98 year-old, had long ago given up cruising.

“Scram, Sis!” said the man, and kicked their habits right out of the polling station.

I may not have gotten the dialogue exactly right, but I got the gist of it and the facts: the ten nuns who’d been voting at that station for decades were booted out in 2008, just after the state of Indiana’s Republican legislature imposed new voter ID laws.

The reason for nixing the nuns? To stop voter identity theft. There wasn’t exactly a voter identity crime wave. In fact, despite no photo ID requirement, there wasn’t a single known case of false identity voting in the state in over one hundred years.

About four hundred thousand voters (9 percent of Indiana’s electorate) are African American. Nearly one in five (18.1 percent) lack the ID needed to vote, according to Matt Barreto of the University of Washington.

That’s twice the number of whites lacking ID. Therefore, as many as 72,000 black voters will get the boot when they show up to vote this November. Coincidentally, that’s three times Barack Obama’s victory margin in that state in 2008. Coincidentally.

And who are the white folk lacking ID? The elderly, like the sisters, and students like Angela Hiss and Allyson Miller, whose official state IDs don’t list their dorm room addresses and so can’t be used to vote.

Black folk, the elderly, students, poor whites blocked from registering and voting—a federal judge didn’t think it was all that coincidental. Justice Terence Evans could see a pattern: “The Indiana voter photo ID law is a not-too- thinly veiled attempt to discourage election-day turnout by certain folks believed to skew Democratic.”

But Supreme Court Justice is blind. The Indiana law does provide a voter the chance to obtain an ID from government offices. The average voter’s distance to the office is seventeen miles. By definition, the folks that need the ID don’t drive. And the ninety-eight-year-old is pretty darn slow in her walker.


A lawyer for Indiana voters told me that the average bus trip back and forth, requiring two changes, takes an entire work day. They tested it. But Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia ruled that the law was fair and provided “equal protection” to all voters because “seventeen miles is seventeen miles for the rich and the poor.”

Our investigative team decided to check that assump- tion. Justice Scalia drives a black BMW. No kidding. What he meant to say is that whether a poor person or a rich person is driving a BMW, it takes the same time. And whether the BMW is black or white doesn’t matter either.

With Supreme Court blessings, voter ID laws are taking the nation by storm, or storm troops.

Apparently, the idea came to Karl Rove while buying his pampers. He told the Republican National Lawyers Association, “I go the grocery store and I want to cash a check to pay for my groceries, I have to show a little bit of ID. [So, why not when] it comes to the most sacred thing in our democracy?”

(Actually, Karl, you don’t have to show ID to swallow the Eucharist or matzo. But if by “most sacred thing” in our democracy you mean making donations to American Crossroads, you don’t need ID for that anymore either. If you mean voting is sacred, then it shouldn’t be dependent on taking a driving test, should it?

Anyway, I’d love to see Rove actually cashing a check at a grocery store, especially one written by the Ice Man. But I digress.)

Santiago Juarez sees some truth in Rove’s remarks. I met with Santiago in Espanola, New Mexico, where he was running a registration drive among low-riders, the young Mexican Americans who cruise the street in hopping, bopping, neon-lit Chevys. He says, “And who’s going to give these kids a credit card?” Of course, you can always get ID from a state office . . . if you already have ID.

Voting-rights lawyer John Boyd, who works for both parties, is alarmed by the “thousands and thousands” of poor people in each state that will lose their vote because of new ID laws. “I don’t have any doubt this could decide the election,” he told me. “People don’t understand the enormity of this.”

People don’t. But Karl does.

This excerpt first appeared in The Progressive

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