Lena Mitchell

LENA MITCHELL

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Fifteenth Amendment, which gave African American men the right to vote.

When the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified 100 years ago, all women in America gained the right to vote.

My columns this month have focused on different aspects of African Americans and voting to honor the 2020 African American History Month theme, “African Americans and the Vote.”

My column last week about voter ID laws and how they discriminate against minorities garnered intense reaction from readers – even African Americans – questioning how voter ID laws discriminate.

Voting is a basic right of U.S. citizenship, and efforts should be to make it easier instead of more difficult.

• Not everyone drives, so many do not have one commonly used form of photo ID. Millions of people live in urban areas and use public transportation.

• Every employer does not issue identification, so a work ID may not be available.

• Free voter ID issued by states may not actually be free. If a birth certificate is required and one has not seen one’s birth certificate in years, it may require extensive time and money to acquire a new one.

• In states that may accept a utility bill with a local address, many people live with others or in rental housing where they do not receive a utility bill in their own name.

• Only a couple of states accept public assistance ID as valid for voting. Until challenged in court, North Carolina would not even accept a state employee ID as valid voter ID.

• In Texas, a hunting or gun license is acceptable voter ID, but a student ID issued by a state college or university is not.

• In Wisconsin, a person may present an active duty military ID to vote, but may not use a Veterans Affairs ID to vote.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in 2013, 37 states have passed voter ID laws, supposedly to prevent voter fraud. However, in elections from 2000-2014, only 31 cases of voter fraud were found out of more than 1 billion ballots cast, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

Make no mistake, voter ID is not about voter fraud. It is about political power.

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. is best known for his “I Have A Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. at the 1963 March on Washington.

However, six years before then – and eight years before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed – King made another speech at the Lincoln Memorial during the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom on May 17, 1957, called “Give Us the Ballot.”

“Give us the ballot, and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights. ...

“Give us the ballot, and we will transform the salient misdeeds of bloodthirsty mobs into the calculated good deeds of orderly citizens.” ...

There was much more, but you get the idea.

The ballot is a powerful tool for justice, but it is also a powerful weapon when wielded by those who would perpetrate injustice.

LENA MITCHELL is a retired Daily Journal reporter who continues to write a regular column. Readers can contact her at lena.mitchell.dj@gmail.com.

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