Voting rights activists have been saying it all along: voter ID laws carry the taint of racial discrimination. Now, according to the findings of a recent poll conducted by the University of Delaware, support for voter ID laws prevails among those who harbor negative feelings toward African Americans.

In the study, done by the university’s Center for Political Communication, participants were asked a number of questions about African Americans, and those responses used to develop a matrix of “racial resentment.” Those who scored higher along that spectrum tended to show more support for voter ID laws.

“It’s not surprising,” said Hillary Shelton, the NAACP’s Washington bureau director and senior vice president for policy and advocacy, about the results.

The NAACP has been one of the chief opponents of the wave of new voter ID laws that has swept the nation. He added, “All data indicates that minority voters are disproportionately impacted. For example, 25 percent of all voting age African Americans do not have an ID to vote under these new stringent voter ID laws.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 32 out of 50 states now have some form of voter ID law, at least 11 of them statutes that were enacted after Republicans won control of several state governments in 2010. The laws have varying degrees of strictness, with Texas’ regarded as one of the most restrictive. Attorney General Eric Holder labeled provisions of the Lone Star State’s revised election law a “poll tax.”

Shelton agreed with Holder’s characterization of voter ID laws as a legacy of Jim Crow-era weapons against Black voters.

“Realizing African Americans were disproportionately poor they (racist Whites) realized it (the tax levied against Blacks at the ballot box) was a good tool to include in the disenfranchisement arsenal,” Shelton said. Voter ID laws do the same, he continued, since people have to pay both for a birth documents, then for an ID. “Those that want to find ways to discount the issues, concerns and interests of African Americans would support these laws that threaten to disenfranchise millions of voters.”

Just as GOP lawmakers and officials tend to champion these laws, Republicans are more likely to demonstrate “racial resentment” and to support voter ID measures, according to the study. And Democrats and Independents scored lower on the racial resentment matrix and are less likely to support the laws.
David. C. Wilson, the center’s coordinator of public opinion initiatives and supervisor of the study said, “Who votes in America has always been controversial; so much so that the U.S. Constitution has been amended a number of times to protect voting eligibility and rights. It comes as no surprise that Republicans support these laws more than Democrats; but, what is surprising is the level at which Democrats and liberals also support the laws.”

The University of Delaware’s study was based on a national telephone survey of 906 Americans from May 20-June 6, 2012. Research faculty David C. Wilson and Paul Brewer supervised the study.

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO