Blacks, Hispanics, And Now Alaska Natives Targeted By Voter ID Laws

Voting in the rugged state of Alaska, particularly for Natives who live in the "Bush" regions, is not always easy. Making it harder by demanding photo IDs stands to disenfranchise many voters who… you guessed it, typically vote Democrat.  Image @AlaskaCommons

Voting in the rugged state of Alaska, particularly for Natives who live in the “Bush” regions, is not always easy. Making it harder by demanding photo IDs stands to disenfranchise many voters who… you guessed it, typically vote Democrat. Image @AlaskaCommons

I’m from Alaska. Living in Alaska is very different from living in what we Alaskans refer to as the “Lower 48.” Nothing works quite the same way. While we have urban centers (Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau), much of Alaska is what we call “The Bush” or, essentially, small village wilderness. The Bush cannot be accessed by road and has to be accessed by small planes. Because of this, many Bush communities don’t even require a photo driver’s license. Getting to the nearest DMV would be difficult if not impossible, depending on weather conditions.

So when Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State and author of the controversial Arizona and Alabama immigration laws (SB 1070 and HB 56, respectively), heard that Alaska was considering a photo ID voter law, he was only too happy to get involved. A photo ID voter law in Alaska would disenfranchise thousands of voters in the Bush, many of them Alaska Natives living in their ancestral villages, who tend to vote Democrat. How could Kobach, who loves to discourage and disenfranchise minorities, resist such an easy target?

The Anchorage Daily News reports:

The Kansan, an adviser to Mitt Romney last year on immigration policies and a national figure in the Republican party’s conservative wing, testified before the Alaska Legislature in support of a voter photo ID bill. He also recommended that Alaska join the “Kansas Project,” a multi-state effort to look for duplicate voter registrations.

Kobach even ran his 2010 campaign for Kansas Secretary of State on the premise of “Stop[ping] Voter Fraud,” the slogan that could be found on signs all over Kansas. So just how common is voter fraud? To anyone not paying very close attention, the signs alone would make them believe that it was rampant. However, when asked, Kobach gave numbers that don’t even come close to classifying voter fraud as a problem in Kansas: 235. That’s it. Two hundred and thirty-five cases of alleged voter fraud in Kansas over a 14-year span, 1997 to 2011. How many were actually prosecuted? Not even a dozen.

Now consider the 838 people who were forced to cast a provisional ballot because of the new voter ID law in 2012. Of those provisional ballots, over half – 532 – were not counted because the voter didn’t come back with their photo ID. But it wasn’t for lack of a photo ID. Most of them were found to have valid driver’s licenses. It was enough of a hassle that they simply didn’t get their vote counted. Maybe they didn’t know how long they had to bring in their ID. Maybe they didn’t know where to go. Maybe they simply couldn’t find the time, had to work, had to go to school, got sick, etc. Whatever the case, these are people who wanted to vote and couldn’t because of a photo ID. That’s more than twice as many disenfranchised voters in one election than the alleged cases of voter fraud over 14 years.

But none of this stops Kobach. It’s all about protecting “legitimate voters,” he says. But at least one Alaska legislator disagrees. After hearing testimony from various witnesses, including a retired poll worker, State Rep. Charisse Millett, the bill’s co-sponsor, decided against continuing her support. The bill’s primary sponsor, State Rep. Bob Lynn, says the complaints of Alaska Natives being disenfranchised are invalid. In a remarkably insensitive comment, he says that if people in Iraq are being killed for voting, asking for ID is nothing. Lynn seems to forget that we do not live in Iraq.

The thought of Kobach getting involved in Alaska state affairs is revolting to me. The Alaska Natives who would be affected by this law face enough hardship, as anyone who has ever experienced a winter in the Alaskan Bush can tell you. A city boy like Kobach, who has likely never faced a hardship in his privileged life, wouldn’t understand.