Over the weekend, David Goodman, brother of the Freedom Summer civil rights activist Andrew Goodman who was killed by the Ku Klux Klan in 1964 for trying to help register African Americans to vote, wrote an op-ed in the Mississippi *Clarion-Ledger * equating new photo voter ID laws to the Jim Crow laws of last century. Lamenting the voter ID law that Mississippi voter residents voted into existence through ballot referendum — though African Americans voted against it in droves — Goodman recalled the wretched history of violence visited upon black Southerners who were merely trying to exercise their rights. Wrote Goodman:
These new Jim Crow photo ID laws are being promoted in states controlled by Republicans, the Party of Lincoln. Any party can carry out voter suppression – but it’s always wrong. It was wrong in 1964 and it is wrong today.
As much as I appreciate Goodman’s opinion, and his courage to continue the work of his slain brother in championing the rights of African Americans to vote, I have to beg to differ with his framing of the issue. Photo voter ID laws are bad policies, and they have serious potential to suppress voter turnout for millions of people, mostly people of color, low-income citizens, elderly populations and college students. But this is not the equivalent of Jim Crow.
With all due respect to Goodman and dozens of other pundits who’ve tagged photo voter ID laws with Jim Crow’s name, the situation is terrible enough on its own merits and doesn’t need extra special effects for legitimacy. Jim Crow laws permanently disenfranchised citizens by placing insurmountable barriers that were mostly impossible to overcome to keep African Americans from voting and living freely with equal protection under the law — barriers that were mostly reinforced violently through the terror of groups like the Ku Klux Klan. We should never trivialize that fact.
Current photo voter ID laws that are sweeping across the nation, or at least any legislature with a Republican stronghold, are no trivial matter, either. But it’s hard to make the case that they rise to the level of Jim Crow violence, and even given certain similarities, it doesn’t really help the cause of those fighting to protect voting rights to hyperbolize the movement. Sticking to the facts are enough.
Political science professor Richard L. Hasen, author of the upcoming book The Voting Wars: From Florida 2000 to the Next Election Meltdown, wrote recently on his Election Law Blog that “Democrats err and overreach with the Jim Crow analogies.” I agree. Hasen was commenting on statements made by Philadelphia Young Democrats president Malik Boyd. The same analogy was made recently by Rev. Al Sharpton during this month’s Selma-to-Montgomery march against voter ID laws.