Before San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro walked onstage at the Democratic National Convention, the crowd was already pumped. They'd laughed and cheered as Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland lambasted Mitt Romney—the former with righteous indignation, the latter with humor at full volume. After Castro exited, Michelle Obama, now unquestionably the most popular woman on planet Earth, took the stage with a speech that left both crowd and pundits—left and right—spellbound. Consequently, despite weeks of attention on the young Latino mayor, Castro's perfectly serviceable keynote speech isn't likely to be the one that everybody remembers. But that hardly means he failed. In fact, "perfectly serviceable" may have been the desired result.
In a unanimous decision on Thursday, a panel of three federal judges knocked down the Texas voter-ID law, which would have required voters to show a form of government-issued photo identification. The state will undoubtedly appeal the decision, but the news is yet another blow to the law, which the Justice Department already determined would disproportionately affect nonwhite voters. The Department of Justice estimated that between 600,000 and 800,000 registered voters would be affected. Those with Hispanic surnames were far more likely than whites to not have the requisite identification.
Watching the Republican and Democratic conventions, with the stark visual contrast in the kinds of people on those different floors, always gets me thinking about how we vote, in part, by tribe. Those people just don’t look like my people, I can’t help thinking, and I’m sure those people think the same thing about my people. Large swaths of the country trust and identify with the convention of those who are overwhelmingly white, blond, neatly suited, perfectly coiffed, and highly shaved. Others find those faces terrifying, and trust the multicolored, untucked, multi-patterned hordes, many of whom appear never to have met a razor or a hairbrush, who will gather next week.
Today, The New York Times's David Brooks offers up his semi-annual column that is supposed to clinch his reputation as a "reasonable" conservative—the one who can see both sides. It's a laugh-out-loud doozy, a putative biographical sketch of Mitt Romney that made him sound temporarily as if he were inhabited by Gail Collins, complete with the snort-your-coffee where's-Waldo reference to Seamus on the roof. Some excerpts:
For voting rights activists, the news coming out of Ohio hasn't been promising—the secretary of state has limited early voting hours and a state law stopped all voting the three days before Election Day. Both decisions have a disproportionate impact on poor and nonwhite voters, who vote in particularly heavy numbers during the early period.
But Monday brought some good news for vote defenders in the Buckeye State. In 2008, around 14,000 voters had their ballots thrown out because they cast provisional ballots in the wrong precinct. Often, it was a poll worker who had made the error, but it was the voter who was punished. But thanks to an injunction granted by a U.S. district judge Monday, that measure will not be in effect in the 2012 elections.
We may be months away from Election Day, but in states fighting legal battles over newly minted voter-ID laws, time is short. These laws, which require residents to show government-issued identification to vote, have been shown to disenfranchise poor and minority voters in the first place. But as I've written before, the timeframe for implementing them poses another major problem; just look at Pennsylvania, where volunteers and activists are rushing to inform residents about a voter-ID law passed in March. The fact is, comprehensive voter-education efforts can hardly be conducted in two months. It is this basic issue—whether there is enough time to properly implement voter-ID laws before November 6—that has kept voter-ID from going into effect in many states.
If you haven’t read it, Ta-Nehisi Coates has a fantastic essay on Barack Obama’s relationship to race and racism in the latest issue of The Atlantic. There’s too much to quote, but this paragraph captures the thesis:
Consider the Detroit area, including suburbs like Sterling Heights, Grosse Pointe, and Warren, whose segregation presented such challenges to George when he was governor and then housing and urban development secretary.
Thirty percent of students in the Detroit area are now African American and 39 percent are “economically disadvantaged”—that is, eligible for free or subsidized lunches. In Detroit, 88 percent are African American and 85 percent lunch-eligible. Virtually all are from households with income of less than $22,000 a year for a family of four.
"There's a woman in Chicago," Ronald Reagan told an audience in New Hampshire while campaigning in 1976. "She has 80 names, 30 addresses, 12 Social Security cards and is collecting veterans benefits on four nonexisting deceased husbands. And she's collecting Social Security on her cards. She's got Medicaid, getting food stamps and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income alone is over $150,000." The story—an exaggerated account of a 47-year-old black woman on the South Side of Chicago—played on racial stereotypes that struck a chord with white, suburban voters. The specter of the “welfare queen” has been with us ever since.
Let's imagine a world in which Pennsylvania's voter-ID law did not disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters. The law, which requires voters show government-issued identification in order to vote, has created significant burdens for voters without IDs, a population disproportionately made up of poor people and minorities. In our imaginary world, the state would do a stellar job of educating voters, reaching out to African Americans—who disproportionately lack state IDs—and Spanish-language media. They would send postcards as early as possible to tell every voter in the state about the change. A "card of last resort" would be available to any voter who could not easily access the required documents for a standard ID, which include a birth certificate and a Social Security card.
Voter ID laws create an unnecessary barrier to voting that disproportionately affects poor and nonwhite voters. If you’re going to have them, you should at least tell people that they're going into effect. But given the impetus of these laws—to disenfranchise Democratic-leaning voters—it's no surprise that few of the states that have passed them have made any effort to educate voters.
The Murfreesboro Muslim community has been through hell. After the so-called "Ground Zero" mosque controversy in New York—a fight over a building that was neither a mosque nor at Ground Zero—Tennessee experienced its own wave of anti-Islamic fervor. While Muslim families have worshiped at a mosque in Murfreesboro for over 30 years, news that the county had granted permission for a new, bigger Islamic Center incurred the unexpected wrath of the community. The construction site was vandalized, then set on fire. Residents sued to halt its construction, claiming that Islam wasn't a real religion but rather a cult. In May, a local judge granted an injunction against the center on the grounds that the county failed to give sufficient public notice of the meeting in which the plans were approved. While the county had used the same practices and advertisements for all meetings, the judge decided this one need to have more notice because so many people had strong opinions.