For some time, this writer has been warning about the dangers to the fairness of this November's election, and to America's democracy itself, arising from the voter suppression laws which have been enacted by Republican legislatures in at least a dozen states (including Wisconsin, whose law was struck down by a state court). True, in some solidly red states, strict voter ID laws keeping normally Democratic voters - minorities, the young and the less well off - away from the polls are not likely to make much difference.
But in normally Democratic states such as Pennsylvania and Michigan, and in a critical swing state such as Florida, these laws may well make a big difference by disenfranchising huge numbers of normally Democratic voters. For example, Pennsylvania's Department of State estimates that as many as 759,000 of that state's residents, or 9 per cent of its registered voters, lack the required form of ID. However, in heavily Democratic and African-American Philadelphia, the number goes up to 18 per cent.
Moreover, many student photo ID's do not have expiration dates, which are required by that state's new law.Since Pennsylvania's officials have just conceded in a recent lawsuit seeking to block this law that there is no genuine issue of voter fraud, it is all too obvious that the only reason for the voter ID law is political. This is why the legislative leader in Pennsylvania's House of Representatives, Mike Turzai, has been quoted as saying: "voter ID...is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania".
In Florida, Republican Governor Rick Scott is actively trying to purge the voter rolls of Latinos. At one point, his list reportedly had over 100,000 names, but due to a lawsuit and other vigorous action by the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security, the list was later reduced to a couple of thousand names and may now be on its way toward the vanishing point. But in Florida, even a few hundred votes can determine who occupies the White House, as we learned from the Supreme Court in 2000. Florida also has a voter ID law and many other voter suppression tactics in place.
While I have focused mainly on two states (I happen to have a voting age child - with required ID - living in each one), the same tactic of voter suppression for purely political reasons is at work in all the other states with voter ID laws enacted by Republican legislatures. In Texas, for example, 8 percent of whites lack the kind of photo ID required by its voter suppression law. Among African-Americans, the percentage is three times as high. There can be little doubt that the figures for Latino US citizens lacking the required voter ID are much closer to African-Americans than to whites.
This raises a frightening specter that Harold Meyerson writes about in an article in washingtonpost.com dated July 24. What would happen, he asks, if Romney wins a narrow victory this fall by a margin smaller than the number of young and minority voters who couldn't cast ballots because of the Republican voter ID laws that kept them away from the polls? The answer, he writes, is that the legitimacy of a Romney presidency obtained on the basis of racially suppressed votes would be called into question:
"If voter suppression goes forward and Romney narrowly prevails, consider the consequences. An overwhelmingly and increasingly white Republican party, based in the South, will owe its power to discrimination against black and Latino voters, much like the old segregationist Dixiecrats... More ominous still, by further estranging minority voters, even as minorities constitute a steadily larger share of the electorate, Republicans will be putting themselves in a position where they increasingly rely on only white voters and where there only path to victory will be the continued suppression of minority votes. A cycle more vicious is hard to imagine."
"And what should Democrats do if Romney comes to power on the strength of racially suppressed votes? Such an outcome and such a presidency, I'd hope they contend, would be illegitimate - a betrayal of our laws and traditions, of our very essence as a democratic republic."
It does not take much imagination to figure out what the consequences for immigration would be in a nation governed by a whites only party which, as in Apartheid South Africa, owed its power only to preventing brown people from voting. How eager would such a party, and its president, be to allow more Latino and other non-white immigrants into this country, to grant those who are already here without legal status any form of relief from deportation, or to recognize birthright citizenship rights for their American-born children? How easy would such a party be willing to make it for minority permanent residents to become US citizens?
Would such a racist party be more likely to support efforts by the states to criminalize the immigration laws, or to do so through a federal law similar to the draconian HR 3447 passed by the Republican House of Representatives in 2005? Would there be a moratorium on virtually all immigration, on one pretext or another? Just asking.
Roger Algase is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He has been practicing business immigration law in New York City for more than 20 years.