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On Hypocrisy, Voter ID, the Right to Bear Arms, and ‘Jim Crow’



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Yesterday afternoon, ThinkProgress rather predictably added itself to the parade of outlets making offensive and fatuous comparisons between modern voter-ID laws and the era of systematic racial discrimination that stained the largest part of American history. This is from Nicole Flatow’s complaint about North Carolina’s new identification rules:

When Rosanell Eaton was 21 years old and living in segregated North Carolina, she became one of the first African Americans in her county registered to vote, after successfully completing a literacy test that required her to recite the preamble to the Constitution. But now, at 92 years old, she faces new obstacles under the voter suppression law signed by Gov. Pat McCrory (R) Monday. For one thing, she may not qualify for the voter ID card required under the new law, because the name on her birth certificate is different from the name on her driver’s license and voter registration card. Reconciling this difference will be a costly and time-consuming administrative endeavor. For another, she has participated in early voting since it was instituted in the state. Now, it’s been cut back a week.

She is one of several individuals who, along with civil rights groups, are already suing the state for what may be the most restrictive voting law in the nation.

I’m not quite sure why the genuinely sad fact that Eaton was subjected to outrageous and capricious rules during the Jim Crow era is relevant here. Those rules were designed specifically to be nigh on impossible to pass and to limit black Americans’ citizenship; the issue at hand in this case is that Eaton driver’s license and voter-registration card have the wrong name on them. As such, she will presumably be incapable of doing such various and quotidian things as buying nail polish in certain stores, riding some forms of local public transport, getting on an airplane, entering a government building, using credit cards in certain stores, using Medicare, applying for a firearms permit — and, now, voting. Perhaps I’m missing something, but the solution to this would seem to be to fix the name on her driver’s license and voter-registration card?

Apparently not. This, ThinkProgress notes, represents a “costly and time-consuming administrative endeavor.” As opposed to, say, bringing a lawsuit against the state government? Either way, I suppose the big question is: If her ID is invalid, how does she intend to get into the courtroom?

Eaton appears to share ThinkProgress’s view of her predicament.

“Here I am at 92 years old doing the same battling,” she told the crowd. “I have registered over 4,000 citizens in the state, and at it again, alongside Republicans’ efforts to eliminate and cut early voting. . . . We need more, not less, public access to the ballot.” She concluded, “At the age of 92, I am fed up and fired up.”

Again, that Eaton was subject to the indignities of segregation and voter supression is a disgrace. But, as with flippant Hitler comparisons or ugly conservative references to “the plantation,” progressives are in danger of cheapening this part of history by comparing it to measures that are, frankly, innocuous. “The same battling” this is not.

I am not especially bothered about voter ID one way or another, but the hypocrisy here is spectacular, the product of a combination of cynical and calculated base-manipulation and the ever-present attempt by contemporary left-wingers to make up for not having been born at the time of the civil-rights movement. In New York City, an ID costs $10 (or $6.50 if you are elderly or unemployed). Meanwhile, a permit to purchase a firearm — a constitutional right, remember — is around $420, and, of course, you need an ID just to apply. On the logic of the anti-voter-ID crowd, this means that those who have trouble getting IDs (for whatever reason) are effectively deprived of the right to bear arms and that, given how expensive and time-consuming the process is, the poor are shut out even if they have identification cards. This is not a trivial comparison. Black Americans have historically been systematically deprived of the right to bear arms, so the laws in New York City can, on critics’ own logic, be construed to be continuing this problem of access. Suffice it to say that I am yet to see a disparate-impact case launched by the Department of Justice. 

When I bring this up, it is usually met first with indignation and then with the well-rehearsed opinion that there is nothing inherently or constitutionally wrong with expecting people to prove that they are allowed to own a firearm. This is a legitimate point of view. But by that same token, there is also nothing wrong with expecting people to prove that they may vote. If you are worried about one and not the other, you are a hypocrite, and you are merely betraying that you care only about those principles that you like. Likewise, if you earnestly believe that it is so difficult to get hold of an ID that minorities and the poor are in danger of having their basic voting rights limited but you are not lobbying for the abolition of federal firearm background checks, licenses to purchase firearms and ammunition, and all concealed-carry permitting, then you are a hypocrite. On the other hand, if you consider that it is not beyond the pale to ask people to prove that they are who they say they are, then perhaps you might consider offering all necessary condolences to Rosanell Eaton for the way she was treated when she was aged 21, but also suggesting respectfully that she go and get her driver’s license fixed.



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