On photo ID law, voter suppression – and Tommy Tuberville’s fumble

Greg Markley

By Greg Markley

In 1979 one of my fellow summer interns was the niece of the Democratic secretary of state in Rhode Island. Once, she said that if she ever went into the voting booth on Election Day and pulled the lever by accident for a Republican, “I will chop my hand off!” This exemplifies pure partisanship.

Two weeks ago, two right-wing provocateurs were charged with four felonies by Michigan’s attorney general. They allegedly tried to intimidate minority voters from casting mail-in ballots. The men robo-called 12,000 residents and said personal information from ballots could trace them for outstanding arrest warrants, said the AG. That is voter suppression in overdrive.

Closer to home, the U.S. Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit, ruled to block a district court order lifting Alabama’s photo ID and witness requirements for absentee voters. This is very good news, according to Alabama’s secretary of state.

“It’s a win for the people of Alabama!,” said John Merrill. “The stay that has been granted maintains the integrity and security of elections in our state—thus proving that our current election laws are not an obstacle to voters in Alabama.”

Merrill noted that photo ID and witness requirements impede potential fraudsters. He also plans an appeal to the Supreme Court to assure curbside voting is banned in Alabama, as it is not currently allowed by state law. (He notes that no county has indicated it plans to provide curbside voting on Nov. 3, 2020).

When I was in a pre-law class in my undergrad college, we used to joke about the famous quote, “I know it when I see it,” regarding obscenity. It was said in 1964 by Associate Justice Potter Stewart of the U.S. Supreme Court. We students envisioned a bunch of elderly men watching a few X-rated movies, and telling their wives it was simply research for a court case. In 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor, ironically, succeeded Stewart and became the first female Supreme Court justice.

“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of materials I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description (“hard-core pornography”), and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so,” said Justice Stewart said. “But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”

Likewise, although we think we, “know it (voter fraud) when we see it,” it is not always so obvious. Solution: Pay attention at the polls and alert authorities.

Between 2000 and 2019, according to The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank, Alabama had 19 election fraud cases. Sixteen of those resulted in Criminal Convictions; most were for Fraudulent Use of Absentee Ballots. In the Wetumpka City Council District 2 case, a judge invalidated the preliminary election results and declared Lewis Washington the winner in a contested election.

Not just state officials seek to track down electoral fraud. Shortly after he was inaugurated, President Donald Trump set up a commission to look into voter fraud in the 2016 presidential race. Trump couldn’t believe he lost the popular vote by three million votes. Kris Kobach, secretary of state in Kansas, the commission’s co-chair along with Vice President Mike Pence, closed down the project without proving one case of voter fraud.

The landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 enabled African Americans to shed the chains of Jim Crow and the many methods of voter suppression. All who seek federal or state office in Alabama must make sure they know it well. Somehow, Republican U.S. Senate nominee Tommy Tuberville did not read that playbook.

He embarrassed himself Sept. 1 in a phone call with the Birmingham Sunrise Rotary Club. Excerpt: “The thing about the Voting Rights Act it’s, you know ― there’s a lot of different things you can look at it as, you know, who’s it going to help? What direction do we need to go with it? It’s important that everything we do we keep secure. We keep an eye on it. It’s run by our government.” What the hell is he talking about?

Tuberville got good marks, especially before the primary, for visiting the nooks and crannies of his adopted state, seeking votes. With a large media buy, he has run a very strong campaign. He leads U.S. Sen. Doug Jones by 12 points, in polls. But he avoids complex issues in Alabama by refusing to debate.

The Voting Rights Act is an item he must study in case he finds himself in Washington, DC in January. After all, 26% of Alabamians are African American. They have come a long way in a trip cushioned by that Act. If someday the former Auburn football coach represents us, he should not fumble when he speaks.

 Greg Markley has lived in Lee County for 20 of the past 24 years. An award-winning journalist, he has master’s degrees in education and history. He taught political science as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama.


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