BY ARNOLD HAMILTON
While Oklahoma burns, the Legislature fiddles.
Did lawmakers produce an education budget by April 1 as required by state law? No. Have they produced serious, comprehensive solutions to … [a] The state’s crumbling highways and bridges? [B] Antiquated and overcrowded prisons? [C] Six-hundred thousand without health insurance? No, no and hell no.
The fact is, the Republican-dominated Legislature is too busy consolidating power, focusing its time and energy on solutions for problems that don’t exist.
Today’s Exhibit A: Voter ID.
No sooner did Gov. Brad Henry show some moxie by vetoing the mean-spirited, unnecessary Senate Bill 4, House Republicans rammed through a similar measure, SB 692, that bypasses governor and puts the issue to a vote of the people.
Ain’t direct democracy grand? If we [GOP leaders] can’t get our way in the Legislature, let’s punt to the voters and hope we can bamboozle enough of them into creating what is tantamount to a 21st Century poll tax.
My response: Since Republican lawmakers are so desperate to outmaneuver the governor’s veto pen that they’re willing to crowd Oklahoma’s ballot with ill-considered initiatives [Next up: English as official language], let’s disband the Legislature altogether.
After all, why should we pay these faux lawmakers an average $54,000 [with benefits] annually if they’re simply going to pass the contentious decisions along to us anyway?
Rep. Sue Tibbs, R-Tulsa, can blather on about Voter ID preventing voter fraud and protecting the sanctity of the ballot. But there is no evidence of widespread voting irregularities, much less any serious, organized conspiracy to monkey with the election process.
The facts are the facts – and they’re worth repeating:
1. In last November’s general election, Oklahoma officials uncovered only six instances of irregularities – out of 1.4 million votes cast. In all six cases, voters arrived at their precincts to find signatures already next to their names. In all six cases, it turned out the first voter simply signed on the wrong line.
Simple, clerical errors – not a criminal conspiracy.
2. During George W. Bush’s presidency, the ultra-politicized U.S. Justice Department unleashed a special three-year task force known as the Ballot Access and Voting Integrity Initiative to study what Republicans warn is a growing threat to American democracy.
It turned up a whopping 38 cases of voter fraud nationwide – resulting in only 13 convictions and 11 guilty pleas.
God help us! The end must be near!
Tibbs insists that a county-generated voter registration card – mailed to everyone who registers to vote – would be accepted as identification at the polling place, if the measure becomes law. If so, this doesn’t seem like a big deal, right?
Here’s the problem: Election officials up-and-down the process could end up interpreting the law differently. It wouldn’t be the first time this has happened. Some could end up demanding a government-issued photo ID be presented before allowing registered voters to cast ballots in their precincts. No ID and the best you could do is submit a provisional ballot – 80% of which were rejected, and never, counted in the last general election in Oklahoma.
In a nation and state where we literally beg people to vote, praying to boost the turnout above 50%, why are Republican lawmakers so intent on adding more hurdles for would-be voters?
The answer is simple: Imposing additional ID requirements disproportionately affects the poor, the elderly and minorities – all important Democratic constituencies. Studies, for example, show Voter ID requirements will reduce minority turnout on average 3% – more than enough votes to swing some elections.
Maybe it’s all just a ploy. Perhaps the GOP leaders have so few solutions to the state’s most important problems – and they are so desperate to hang onto political power – they’re employing Houdini-esque diversionary tactics in an attempt to fool rank-and-file Oklahomans into thinking they’re hard at work, magically managing the Ship of State.
Beware: There are more than a few icebergs ahead. And the Voter ID shenanigans aren’t going to buffer the legislative powers-that-be any better than the Titanic’s supposedly impenetrable hull.
– Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer