Ordinary, everyday conservative voices ask: What’s so wrong about requiring a photo ID to vote? Photo IDs are required for all kinds of things, why not voting? It’s a reasonable question. Those asking it are often unaware of the extent to which non-white and impoverished citizens have been systematically excluded from the right to vote, and not only in the deep South. They’re unaware that, in 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a key element of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, making it possible for states to indirectly suppress voting by severely limiting the number of polling places, methods of collecting votes, time allowed for voting, ease of voting absentee, etc. They’re unaware that photo IDs are one way to suppress votes, not by requiring them, but by making them more difficult for targeted populations to get.
It would be easy to assign this collective unawareness to the white population, but I suspect it’s more widely spread among all of us. The point is, if one doesn’t know about the history of obstacles hindering the right of non-white citizens to vote, a simple thing like requiring an authorized photo ID seems trivial. Collective unawareness has created a passive receptivity to accusations of rampant voter fraud, and why not? Since the 1980s, the American public has constantly been fed a soft sell that election fraud is a serious problem whenever too many votes are cast by people of color and the poor. Dozens of investigations have proven that, among votes cast, there is no wide spread election fraud. Known instances have been sporadic and unintentional, with a couple of notable exceptions perpetrated by right wing operatives and quickly caught. Soft sell turned to hard sell after Obama’s election. Under Trump, white nationalism’s goal of keeping non-whites from voting was made blatantly clear. It was a goal fitting nicely into oligarchical libertarianism’s intention to keep control of government in the hands of the few who could be trusted to serve the needs of their business interests. Together they formed a monstrous alliance.
Taken by itself, the question of photo IDs is reasonable and solvable, but it can’t be taken by itself. It’s one strand of a sustained effort to make it more difficult for people of color to vote, especially in urban areas where they are the majority or a large plurality. What’s driving the determined opposition to greater voter turnout by people of color and the poor? There’s no simple answer. It certainly has to do with fear among portions of the white population that white America is losing it majority status, which it is. The myth that non-white persons are unintelligent, lazy, dependent, and incapable of self governance, convinces a portion of the white population that if they don’t keep control of government, the nation is lost. The myth that urban America cares nothing about the welfare of rural America, convinces a portion of the rural population that governments dominated by urban interests will destroy what’s left of small town America. The myth that national issues addressed by the federal government through public/private partnerships will lead to Russian style socialism, convinces some people that keeping government small and in the hands of only a few will preserve American individualism. The myth that taxation is theft, not investment, convinces some that too many people voting for liberal policies will bankrupt both them and the nation. It’s complicated.
The unrelenting chant of voter fraud that doesn’t exist triggers every race and class based fear and anxiety. It’s a chant that can seem convincing when it’s been drummed into one’s head, year after year. Perpetrators of voter suppression are violating a fundamental value of American democracy, and have a moral obligation to stop. But fear of losing ruling power is stronger than moral obligations for too many. They’ll praise Jesus with one hand, and suppress voters with the other, angrily justifying their actions by repeating lies about protecting the integrity of the electoral process.