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Thursday, August 29th,  2013

Baton Rouge, Louisiana


These guys at the Justice Department, led by top cop Eric Holder, just don’t know when to quit.  The U.S. Supreme Court knocks them down and they get right back up, snubbing their noses at a final court decision, and starting a new civil war with states nationwide.  It’s the voting rights challenge redux, with the same issues and the same fight that Holder and his team of lawyers have been undertaking for years. And in their quixotic efforts, once again, they are trying to paint the South as the bad guys.

It’s been less than two months since the Supremes issued their most recent voting rights decision that said the Justice Department could not continue to require special oversight mandated by The Voting Rights Act of 1965.  This law singled out a number of southern states requiring them to “pre-clear” any effort to change the voting laws in their respective states.  And I mean any changes.

If the state’s chief elections officer (a job I held as Secretary of State for Louisiana back in the 80s) wanted to change a voting precinct by a few yards, the state was required to go to the Justice Department to genuflect and ask for permission.  But that was then, and the high court finally said enough is enough.

Nevertheless, Holder and Company are trying to find other ways to skin the cat.  Right after high court’s statement, the Attorney General admonished: “We will not allow the Supreme Court’s recent decision to be interpreted as open season for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights.”Â  Right on, and most of us would agree.  But the proof is in the pudding.  Just what are discriminatory actions and new state laws the Justice Department interprets as needing their consent?

How about showing a photo ID when a registered voter goes to the polls?  Isn’t showing a government document with a photo a pretty basic requirement of daily life?  When you go to cash a check, “May I see a photo ID please.”Â  Getting ready to board a plane?  Photo ID required.  When I went to a video store recently to get a SpongeBob DVD for my a grandkid, what did they ask for?  A photo ID.

To fill a prescription my local pharmacist requires that I show an ID. An identification card with one’s picture has become a regular necessity.  So what’s the big deal about showing proof of who you are to participate in electing those who will control our lives in so many ways?

No way, say those protectors of our constitutional rights.  From the way Holder and the many who disagree with the Supreme Court decision frame it, we are reverting back to the Jim Crow days with Bull Conner and his German Shepherds forcing voters away from the polls.  Requiring a voter to present a photo ID card is an issue of racism, they say. We are setting back the voting rights of minorities by decades, and we’ll see a dramatic drop in voter participation, so say the Feds.

The Justice Department recently filed suit against Texas for the ID voting requirement, asserting that Hispanics and African-Americans are less likely to have required photo IDs.  Texas allows any type of government issued ID, including driver’s licenses, state issued ID cards, passports and handgun permits.  The Justice Department has threatened suits against North Carolina, Florida, and any other state that holds fast on an ID requirement.

In my home state of Louisiana, the Justice Department has demanded that the state hand over a host of confidential information that is required by state law to be kept secret, including a the social security numbers, date of birth and mother’s maiden name of some 3 million voters.  Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler calls it “data mining,” and labeled the effort “like Big Brother.”

So, are the thousands of voters who show up at the polls and fail to produce a photo ID being turned away or even being challenged?  No.  All these southern states allow “provisional ballots.”Â  In Louisiana, a voter who shows up at the polls with no picture ID merely has to sign an affidavit that states that the voter is, in fact, legally registered at that precinct.  That’s it.  When the voter first registers to vote, no photo ID is even required, and potential voters can register not only at the various clerk of court’s offices, but also at numerous other state offices including all social service locations.  A new voter can even register to vote online.  Could it be any easier for a new voter to register?

Let me share with you how difficult it used to be for me to vote in Louisiana when I served as Secretary of State, a job that included being the chief elections officer.  My hometown was Ferriday, Louisiana, which is about a 2-hour drive from the state capital in Baton Rouge.  The law at that time did not allow for absentee voting if the voter was in the state on Election Day.  But my job required that my office be open and that I be present to oversee the elections that were scheduled throughout the state. What was a conflicted public servant to do?

Each election day, I would rise at 3:30 am and head from my home in Baton Rouge to Ferriday.  My first stop was the local donut shop in Ferriday to pick up several boxes of hot donuts for the polling commissioners who were all old friends.  Then it was off to my polling location (ward 1, precinct 1) and I was waiting at the door at 6:00 am when the polls opened.  A quick visit, the casting of my vote, then hightailing it back to the state capitol to oversee the Election Day activities.  Now that, I think you will agree, is a major effort to cast a vote.

 It’s so much easier to participate in our democratic process today.  Merely showing a picture ID seems like a small price to pay and a small effort to make.  The South, like the nation, has made huge strides since the initial voting rights act of 1965.  A politicized Justice Department does a disservice to the citizenry by challenging any state that adopts something so basic as requiring a simple photo ID to maintain the integrity of the democratic process.


“Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

Albert Einstein

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

 Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownla.com.  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownla.com

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