Artur Davis, a former congressperson from Alabama who ran for governor last fall, is raising eyebrows for an editorial he wrote supporting the voter I.D. laws recently passed by the Republican-led legislature there.
Davis, who ran for the governorship of the Yellowhammer State last year, had previously been opposed to such laws, which requires voters to submit certain forms of identification before they can cast their ballots. "When I was a congressman, I took the path of least resistance on this subject for an African American politician," he wrote in the Montgomery Advertiser. "Without any evidence to back it up, I lapsed into the rhetoric of various partisans and activists who contend that requiring photo identification to vote is a suppression tactic aimed at thwarting black voter participation."
Davis wrote that there has been widespread voter fraud in some of Alabama's predominantly black districts. "The truth is that the most aggressive contemporary voter suppression in the African American community, at least in Alabama, is the wholesale manufacture of ballots, at the polls and absentee, in parts of the Black Belt."
"Voting the names of the dead, and the nonexistent, and the too-mentally-impaired to function, cancels out the votes of citizens who are exercising their rights -- that's suppression by any light. If you doubt it exists, I don't; I've heard the peddlers of these ballots brag about it, I've been asked to provide the funds for it, and I am confident it has changed at least a few close local election results."
When asked by Talking Points Memo and Slate to specify instances of voter fraud to which he alleged, Davis declined to do so.
Voter ID laws have come under scrutiny from many civil rights groups and politicians who argue that the laws suppress voter turnout among groups where many people don't have IDs or have barriers to getting IDs. The groups most likely to be affected -- like college students, poor people and African Americans -- are more likely to vote for Democrats. The laws have been compared by many (including Bill Clinton) to the poll taxes and literacy tests that were common in the South during the Jim Crow period. Proponents of those laws said they were meant to prevent fraud, but they were used as a means to deny voting rights to blacks.
Emmanuel Cleaver, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, said that he was surprised by Davis' op-ed. "I saw it and was frustrated by it," Cleaver told Roll Call. "I don't know what that's all about. There are some people [who] believe he’s getting ready to switch parties. I have no idea. Needless to say, he doesn't confide in the CBC."
According to the Brennan Center for Justice at NYT, at least 34 states have enacted ID laws, and a flurry of those followed Republican gains in statewide elections last November. (Bills were passed but vetoed in five other states.) The center said that the bills passed this year have been more restrictive, with fewer exemptions, fewer forms of acceptable ID and fewer alternative ways for people without the required IDs to cast a ballot.
The Bush administration tried to crack down on voter fraud, but between 2002 and 2006, there were only 120 federal prosecutions (and 86 convictions) for that charge; almost four hundred million votes were cast during that period.
A study of the effects of a new voter ID law in South Carolina found that black precincts there were the most seriously impacted.