Sid Salter, Syndicated columnist
The Picayune Item
Given the opposition expressed both by President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder to the concept of voter identification laws, it was rather amusing when Obama himself was asked for identification by the poll worker when he went to his home polling place in Chicago to cast his ballot during the early voting period on Thursday.
Obama dutifully complied with the law in his home state of Illinois and cheerfully produced his photo ID driver’s license — even joking with the poll worker in the process. “I’m just glad I renewed my driver’s license,” Obama said.
Despite President Obama’s past stated opposition to voter ID and despite the fact that he knew the cameras of every major television network were rolling to capture the image of him casting his vote, he uttered not a word of opposition to the practice of voter ID under law in his home state.
To be clear, Illinois does not have a comprehensive voter ID law but does have a voter ID requirement for voters who choose to cast their vote using early voting provisions. Apparently, in Illinois they worry about possible voter fraud in early voting but it’s just not a problem on Election Day.
But it’s curious that Obama did get caught on national television cheerfully complying with a voter ID provision in his home state when he and his administration have been so forceful in trying to stop people in other states from enacting and enforcing voter ID laws.
The Obama administration Justice Department has opposed voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina, but signed off on them in Virginia and New Hampshire. Indiana has voter ID laws cleared by the U.S. Supreme Court.
But the Obama administration strictly opposes voter ID laws in the South. Mississippi is one of nine states declared “covered jurisdictions” under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. “Covered jurisdiction” states, counties and municipalities cannot implement voting law changes without federal “preclearance” by the Justice Department.
States included in the “covered jurisdiction” by the Voting Rights Act include: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. There are also counties in California, Florida, New York, North Carolina, and South Dakota as well as some cities in Michigan and New Hampshire that are included.
The Voting Rights Act provided extensive federal oversight of elections administration in states with “a history of discriminatory voting practices” (which the act specified as the ‘covered jurisdictions’) and despite the passage of five decades, the highest percentage black voters in the country, and the largest number of black elected officials of any state in the union, Mississippi election law changes are still subject to federal preclearance.
During a recent speech at Ole Miss, Holder made clear his belief that Mississippi and other “covered jurisdictions” should continue to have to ask the Justice Department’s permission to change voting or election law in matters like voter ID.
It’s apparently fine for Illinois and the people at Barack Obama’s polling place to make their own election laws without federal oversight. It’s fine for Barack Obama to nod and smile and cheerfully comply when he’s asked for a photo ID at the polling place.
But if and when African American or Hispanic voters in Mississippi are asked for an ID just as Mr. Obama was this week, they would somehow be intimidated and their votes “suppressed” by confronting the same simple question in Mississippi. As Joe Biden likes to say: “Malarkey.”
(Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at 601-507-8004 or firstname.lastname@example.org)