Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and City of Memphis Attorney Herman Morris pulled a proverbial rabbit out of the hat this week with a legal opinion that the newly established city of Memphis photo library cards would meet the standard for the new voter identification law established by the Tennessee General Assembly.
The luster and magic of the act had short-term appeal as State Election Coordinator Mark Goins quickly issued a statement of clarification, stating that the library cards were NOT acceptable as identification for Memphis, Shelby County or State of Tennessee voters.
"The legislature clearly intended that only state or federal photo IDs can be used, which prevents us from accepting county or city IDs," said Goins in his written statement. "Our office remains ready to assist any voter with questions about how they may obtain a free photo ID for voting from the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security."
According to Goins, "Examples of acceptable forms of ID, whether current or expired, include driver licenses, U.S. passports, Department of Safety photo ID cards, U.S. military photo IDs and other state or federal government photo ID cards. College student IDs are not acceptable. Nowhere in the photo ID law is a city or county ID listed as an example of an acceptable ID."
Mayor Wharton indicates that the fight is not over. In fact, he suggests that it is just beginning, with many voters, particularly elderly and African-American voters in Shelby County, facing the possibility of being disenfranchised by the new voter identification law.
At the root of this battle stand the constitutionality and legality of the law itself and similar laws like it that have been enacted by Republican-dominated state legislatures around the country. The claim is that these laws were put in place to reduce voter fraud and ensure fair elections. However, much research shows that these laws do little to reduce fraud, serving instead to negatively impact elderly and minority voters.
It would be naïve to not relate these new laws to an obsession by the Republican Party to derail President Barack Obama's quest for a second term. The opportunity to discourage or otherwise disenfranchise a substantial portion of the president's base is obviously a part of the formula for Republican success in November.
Some questioned the timing of the announcement by Mayor Wharton basically one week before early voting for the Aug. 2nd election begins. It seems, however, that it may have been just the boost needed to bring to light greater clarification on what can be used as proper identification for voters, and that we are upon a very important election here in Memphis and Shelby County.
It also appears to be smart timing in that the state legislature was out of session. Given the recent propensity of Republican legislators to abuse their super-majority bully pulpit to change, overturn or block moves like the one made by the Wharton administration, the timing couldn't be better to allow this fight to begin and see its way into a court (where it is ultimately going) for a judge's ruling.
Following the euphoria of 2008 and the incredible voter turnout by Democrats, it seems many felt like the goal line was reached and mission accomplished. Subsequent elections would see Republicans make extreme gains in state legislatures, governors' seats and among other positions around the country. This largely was due to substantial Republican turnouts, the Obama backlash and Democratic voter apathy.
Wasting no time going to work on legislation attacking unions and creating voter identification laws, the Republicans certainly put their strategies in to action. And that is what it takes to change any situation, ACTION.
So I ask, what does it take to motivate voters to ACTION who stand to be most negatively impacted by these laws and an agenda that excludes almost everyone except the financially wealthy?
What would it take to get voters out to the polls in droves again, not just for the Presidential election, but also for every election, every time the polls are open?
It seems that thus far it has not been the economy; it has not been the constant and unprecedented disrespect of President Obama by those in Congress and the far right media; and it has not even been the escalating cost of health care and the ongoing threat to health care reform in favor of pharmaceutical and insurance companies.
So I look to the issue of voter disenfranchisement, the threat to the right of every eligible voter being able to FREELY exercise the foundational right that makes a democracy a democracy. Is this the issue?
When will voters in Memphis, Shelby County, surrounding counties and voters all over the country stand up and say, "Hell no, you will not threaten my constitutional rights! You will not strip me of the rights that many fought, bled and died for! In your expression to 'take back our country,' you will not take us back in time to a place where 'all men are created equal' and 'the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' were relegated only for some and not for others."
Maybe the realization will set in that this is a real fight for a better life and a better future for the masses of people versus greater gain for only a few. The one great equalizer – whether rich or poor, black, white, Hispanic or Asian, Christian, Muslim or Jewish – is the vote. The right of the individual to exercise his or her voice in this democracy is substantial and fundamental to what makes us free. When that is threatened the very notion of freedom is at jeopardy.
For those who truly value freedom and democracy, it is your time. And even if you don't, it is your time. It is time to wake up, time to take ACTION, and VOTE! VOTE! VOTE!
AT A GLANCE
• Early voting begins July 13 and runs through July 28.
• Election Day is Aug. 2, 2012.
• Positions on the Aug. 2nd Ballot are: Assessor of Property; County Commission – District 1, Position 3; District Attorney General; General Sessions Court Clerk; Shelby County Board of Education – District 1 through District 7; State Senate – District 30 and District 32; State Representative – District 83 through District 99; U.S. Congress – District 9.
For more information, visit http://www.shelbyvote.com.