Melissa Harris-Perry | August 18, 2012
>>> welcome back. i'm melissa harris-perry here in new york. if you're a regular visitor to nerdland. we like to indmulg the occasional pop quiz . this morning i'm not putting my panel on the spot. this one is for you at home. ready? first question. if there were a proposal to join alabama and mississippi and form one state , what groups would have to vote their approval in order for this to be done? the answer, congress and the legislatures of both states . maybe that was hard, next, how many states were required to approve the original constitution in order for it to be in effect? that's right, nine states were required to approve the constitution. finally, name two things which the states are forbidden to do by the u.s. constitution ? the answer? coin money or make treaties. so how did you do? as a professor, i would like to give my students every opportunity for success. so i'm going to give you a bit of a make huff up exam in case you didn't get them all correct. i'll give yo a crack at a few more questions, these shouldn't be quite so hard. take a look at this jelly bean jar, these are a regular guest on the mhp show. how many jelly beans are in that jar? not sure? take this one. this is a bar of soap. if i were to wash my hands with the soap, how many bubbles would be in the bar? both of those are pretty impossible questions to answer, right? now imagine if your right to vote depended on answering them correctly. because that was the case in many states throughout the south throughout the first six decades of the 20th century . you had to answer questions like these or pay the equivalent today of a nearly $11 poll tax to even be allowed to register to vote. the result was that between 1892 and 1916 states with both a poll tax and a literacy test had a presidential voter turnout of just 24% according to research by historians francis fox pivan and richard cloward . those numbers were not just collate ral damage. the laws were designed to disenfranchise those without money to pay poll taxes or without the advanced education to pass a complicated test o. of the 147,000 african voting of age in mississippi, fewer than 9,000 were registered to vote after 1890 according to the national museum of history records. and in louisiana, 130,000 black voters registered in 1896 dropped down 1,342 by 1904 . after discriminatory voting laws were enacted. thank goodness those days are over, right? today, 71% of voting age americans are registered voters and more than 17 million of them are african-american. all that in no smart part thanks to our constitution, which was amended and expanded to extend the vote to all americans , but you see the evolution of our laws around voting has historically moved to making the vote more, not less acceptable to citizens. and it is why as americans we should be concerned about the state of our democracy when we heard the news this week that a pennsylvania judge ruled to uphold the state 's new voter id law. pennsylvania 's law and the newly minted photo i.d. laws in nine other states are a far cry from the jelly bean literacy test , but the consequences of the pennsylvania law whose requirements to vote are among the nation's strictest are the same. discriminatory disenfranchisement of american people . and testimony in the case brought against the law revealed that more than 1 million registered pennsylvania voters don't have the required identification. it's not just pennsylvania , more than 21 million american citizens do not possess a government issued photo i.d. they are overwhelmingly more likely to be people of color , the poor or young people , all of whom tend to vote democratic and all of whom turned out in big numbers to vote for the man who is now president of the united states back in 2008 . joining me now, nicole austin hillary, director and counselor of the brennan center for justice in washington, d.c. and victoria bassetty, a consulting producer on a documentary of the same name. thank you for joining me.
>> thank you.
>> so i really wanted to pause and take a little time to talk about that history, but tell me, what happened in pennsylvania just this week?
>> what happened in pennsylvania this week, unfortunately, melissa , is that the court made a decision that's going to make it difficult for thousands of voters in pennsylvania to cast their ballot. the court was able to see by the evidence that was presented that there are numerous pennsylvanians who are not going to be able to add here to the requirements that the legislator has set up. unfortunately the court said it believed that the steps that pennsylvania is taking to ensure that the voters in the state have the reck questionrequisite i.d., that everyone in pennsylvania would have the requisite i.d. and be able to therefore vote. we don't think that's true. we know that in any instance when a state institutes new procedures, particularly in a crucial voting year, that it is often filled with errors, inefficiencies, and so to think that everyone in pennsylvania who does not have the reck question sit i.d., to think they will get in time for the november election, i think the -- it is not realistic.
>> we are 80 days out from the election. this is not a year out, six months out, we are less than three months from the election. victoria, as you can see from the state of your book here, i have spent a lot of time with it. and i got to say, it feels to me like this law, a rule like this is not -- it certainly is not maybe as egregious as can you interpret the constitution or tell me how many bubbles are in a bar of soap, but it does feel like the effect of reducing the number of people eligible and able to cast their fundamental vote for the president of the united states is similarly restricted.
>> yeah, there have been more than a few studies which have attempted to study the extent of the burden that the laws place upon voters. for example, in indiana, in 2008 , was one of the first states to implement the laws. more than 1,000 people were effectively turned away at the polls in the 2008 election. they were offered provisional ballots . of them, only 15% ultimately managed to cast their ballot. in another instance in philadelphia there was a local church that was trying to help people get their voter identification so that they could ultimately go to vote. 150 came into the doors. only 75 of them ultimately succeeded in getting their voter i.d. state after state shows that trying to actually get your i.d. and suck constituently trying to cast a ballot really does put a burdenen in the way of people casting their ballots. for example, in texas, which currently has a voter i.d. requirement which is suspended, it is not in implementation right now, there are more than 25% of the counties in texas don't have an operational dmv office. in one county it takes 127 miles round-trip to get a driver's license or license.
>> we were looking at the numbers just around how far people are from a state i.d. office. and we've got more than 10 million eligible voters overall who are quite far for them, 1.2 million eligible voters whose income falls below the poverty line, 1.2 million african-american voters that are quite a distance from their state office . it is a real burden. talk to me about why. why is it that -- people ask me all the time, why don't you just have an i.d.? what sort of person doesn't have the kind of i.d. you need to vote?
>> melissa , first of all, i hope the stayistics came from our brennan report which we just released a few goes into detail to talk about how difficult it is to get the reckry sit i.d. to vote in these states . when we are asked the question, i want to remind people of this. voting in a country is a right. it is not a privilege. as is getting on a plane or going to an r-rated movie or going to do anything in this country where you have to show an i.d. it is a fundamental right. and as you stated at the start of the show of this segment rather, the history of this country has been about the right to expand the vote. it has not been about decreasing that right for americans . so to put any kind of barrier in place that's going to make it more difficult, particularly when there's really no valid reason to do so, it's nonsenseical and goes against the grain of democracy.
>> the ugly history is full of this, though. so i'm reading this and am thinking one of my favorite moments in this text is that thomas payne , who is the -- truly in my ways, the founder of the american democratic system was at one point kept from voting in part because he had gone over to hang out with the french and became a little too common foaling. and this idea of restricting ordinary people 's ability to be part of the governing decisions.
>> yeah, it's -- the history of american democracy is the expansion of the franchise. and it is actually one of the histories we should be proudest of and embrace. we started off with a restricted franchise with only white property owning males able to vote. and slowly by surely over time as a result of social, profound social movements as a result of americans coming together and valuing democracy, we got to the point where everyone can vote. and to begin the process of pulling some of those, some of that progress back is really a profound shame for american democracy. we have one of the lowest participation rates of any industrialized nation in the world where approximately we are 170th out of 180 democracies. that's something we need to fix. that should be the thing we are trying to fix, not imposing voter i.d. laws, which are a solution in search of a problem.
>> right. where there isn't even yet a problem. so what's key to understand here is that these laws are not random. there is a very clear reason why this is happening and we are going to get into that next.