WASHINGTON -- In America's tiny towns, isolated hamlets and rural enclaves, lots of poor folks manage to get by without an automobile or the driver's license that goes along with it. They pay their utility bills in cash at local outposts. They ride to church, to the doctor's office and to the grocery store with neighbors or nephews.
They never travel by airplane. Indeed, many never leave the county in which they were born and will almost certainly be buried. Having grown up in a small place in Alabama, I've known many of those folks and transported more than a few.
Yet, despite the limits of their lives, lots of those Americans are regular voters, taking pride in their active participation in a rite of citizenship. That's especially true for the elderly black Southerners who lived through the stark repression of Jim Crow and the triumphant civil rights movement that, finally, laid him low. They show up at the polls on Election Day to cast their votes for Democratic candidates on the ballot, as they have tended to do since Roosevelt and Kennedy married them to the Democratic Party.
It's no accident, then, that Republican governors and lawmakers in more than a dozen states are following the lead of Georgia -- an early adopter of modern methods of voter suppression -- by setting in place strict voting requirements that insist on a driver's license (or some other state-sponsored form of photo identification). They want to make it inconvenient -- preferably impossible -- for some of those faithful Democratic voters to cast their ballots, giving the GOP an edge in close elections.
They're going after young folk, too -- especially college students. While Reagan-era college kids tended to be faithful Republicans, the current generation heavily favored Obama in 2008. That has led some Republicans to look skeptically at the 26th Amendment.
In New Hampshire, for example, state House Speaker Bill O'Brien told a group of tea partiers in March that "foolish" college students don't have the "life experience" to be allowed to vote. Happily, New Hampshire's Democratic governor, John Lynch, disagrees. He vetoed a highly restrictive voter ID bill there, partly because it would not even have allowed college-issued photo IDs.
But several of those bills have made it into law and will likely be permitted by a U.S. Supreme Court that has fallen for the argument that photographic IDs prevent fraud. The high court has upheld a similar statute in Indiana.
Indeed, Republican activists have been quite successful in their campaign to persuade Americans that pervasive voter fraud requires laws that restrict the franchise. But that's just not so.
Voter impersonation is virtually non-existent. A driver's license might prevent me from casting a ballot as Halle Berry, but I'm not tempted to try. I'm pretty sure I couldn't get away with it -- even without ID.
I know what you're thinking: What about ACORN and its massive fraud? Well, quiet as it's kept, neither ACORN nor its hired hands engaged in voter fraud.
Because of its sloppy management practices, ACORN ended up with a few cheating workers who registered children or ex-felons or others who were not eligible (Mickey Mouse showed up on a list in Florida). But, contrary to the propaganda you've heard, not a single vote was affected by those illegitimate practices. Mickey Mouse never showed up at the polls. Nor did any 7-year-olds.
If lawmakers wanted to rein in fraud, they'd target absentee ballots, which are easy to misuse. But Republican lawmakers have made few efforts to restrict them because they believe that absentee ballots favor their constituents -- middle-aged, middle-class voters with orderly schedules. They don't want to inconvenience conservative voters.
But they have no compunctions about narrowing the franchise if they believe they can reap a partisan advantage. That's un-American, an abuse of the democratic values that we tout to other countries. Don't conservatives believe in the Constitution?