Pa. voter-ID law a modern version of Jim Crow

Posted: March 22, 2012

LAST YEAR, as president of the Philadelphia Young Democrats, I had the opportunity to engage our membership in a bipartisan event with Republican leaders on the heels of some of the most tragic partisan incidents in recent history. When my group sat down for the event, "Peace in Politics" with our Republican counterparts, I had no idea that the GOP was going to decide, for the most cynical of reasons, to reintroduce the poll tax. What a difference a year makes.

The state House and the governor of Pennsylvania have, by passing the voter-ID bill, set us forth on a course designed to disenfranchise millions of people across the commonwealth. While I remain confident that either we'll win this fight in the courts or that the federal Department of Justice will block this law - as it has in Texas and a host of other states that overreached - the Republicans have done this terrible thing in the cleverest of ways, and that requires an answer. For the Philadelphia Young Democrats, voter registration and turnout is essential. This includes unobstructed access to the polls.

By arguing that voter fraud must be stamped out, the Republicans mask their true intent to deny millions of people easy access to voting. They do this with a feigned appeal to the common good. The Republicans choose to align themselves, using this tactic, with the very worst of the race-baiting Jim Crow laws of the first half of the 20th century. Those laws were written to prevent fraud as well. What they did instead was prevent millions of African-Americans from voting. It wasn't until the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 that African-American voting rights were protected federally.

Let me be clear. No one wants voter fraud. Certainly, neither I, the board of my great organization, nor the thousands of young Democrats we represent want people voting illegally. We only want those entitled, by law, to vote. However, unlike the GOP, we want every individual entitled to these liberties to have access to that franchise - not just the ones who agree with our policies and positions.

In the last two years since the Republicans have taken some measure of control statewide and nationally, we all have wondered how they expected to move so far to the right and still win elections. Now we know: They plan to deny millions of people their right to vote. They have passed a draconian law that will cost millions of dollars to implement and has no actual benefit for the good of the commonwealth, just political leverage for the GOP.

Many of our beloved older Americans, the ones upon whose backs the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act became law, simply do not drive. Many live in urban areas with easily accessed public transportation, and, as a result, don't have a photo ID.

Minorities who live in cities around this state, who get to work on public transportation, and who disproportionately don't drive are disenfranchised by this law. Finally, our poor, who struggle every day, could be denied the ability to vote based on this new law.

With laws like this, providing barriers to civil rights, cuts to education and social services, maybe they should pass out ankle and neck chains too. After all, a system that stifles my voice, confines my options, but wants to tax my labor and force me to abide by its laws, sounds a lot like what my grandparents and great-grandparents faced in the Deep South. Rest assured, just as you would have an insurmountable challenge placing those cold, heavy chains around our necks today, this law will be met with one of the loudest cries for freedom that the collective voice of this nation has ever heard.


Malik Boyd is president of the Philadelphia Young Democrats.

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