Eric Kennie is a Texan. He is as Texan as the yucca plants growing outside his house. So Texan that he has never, in his 45 years, travelled outside the state. In fact, he has never even left his native city of Austin. “No sir, not one day. I was born and raised here, only place I know is Austin.”
You might think that more than qualifies Kennie as a citizen of the Lone Star state, entitling him to its most basic rights such as the ability to vote. Not so, according to the state of Texas and its Republican political leadership. On 4 November, when America goes to the polls in the midterm elections, for the first time in his adult life Eric Kennie will not be allowed to participate.
Ever since he turned 18 he has made a point of voting in general elections, having been brought up by his African American parents to think that it is important, part of what he calls “doing the right thing”. He remembers the excitement of voting for Barack Obama in 2008 to help elect the country’s first black president, his grandmother crying tears of joy on election night. “My grandfather and uncle, they used to tell me all the time there will be a black president. I never believed it, never in a million years.”
He voted again for Obama in his re-election bid in 2012, and turned out for the 2010 midterm elections in between. But this year is different. Kennie is one of an estimated 600,000 Texans who, though registered to vote, will be unable to do so because they cannot meet photo-identification requirements set out in the state’s new voter-ID law, SB14.
The law, which has been deemed by the courts to be the strictest of its kind in the US, forces any would-be voter to produce photographic proof of identity at polling stations. It was justified by Governor Rick Perry and the Republican chiefs in the state legislature as a means of combatting electoral fraud – in a state where in the past 10 years some 20m votes have been cast yet only two cases of voter impersonation have been prosecuted to conviction.
Earlier this month a federal district judge, Nelva Gonzales Ramos, struck down the law, slamming it as a cynical ploy on the part of Republicans to fend off the growing strength of the minority electorate in Texas by “suppressing the overwhelmingly Democratic votes of African Americans and Latinos”. She linked SB 14 to a long history of racial discrimination in state elections spanning back generations, and declared the new law to be an unconstitutional poll tax.
Source: The Guardian | Ed Pilkington in Austin