Rich, a Republican state legislator from Albertville, was the sponsor of a bill to toughen Alabama’s voter-ID law. His plan succeeded, and Alabama voters in 2014 will be required to produce a photo ID at the polls.
Knox, an Anniston attorney, was in his prime a century ago. In 1901, he, too, was concerned with making sure the right people voted and the wrong ones did not.
On the second day of Alabama’s 1901 constitutional convention, Knox was elected president over the proceedings. His first order of business was, in his words, to “protect the sanctity of the ballot.”
“Our aim should be for a correction of all evils which threaten the purity of the ballot and the morals of the people,” he said on May 22, 1901.
Inspiration came from Alabama’s neighbors, with their poll taxes and literacy requirements. For Knox and his constitutional conventioneers, the target were black voters who, in his view, supported a government that “wasted money, created debts, increased taxes until it threatened to amount to confiscation of our property.”
In practice, the 1901 Constitution denied more than black Alabamians access to the ballot. Poor and uneducated whites often found themselves without a political voice thanks to the system established by Knox and the other wealthy white men who wrote the state Constitution.
Rep. Rich’s stated objective in toughening Alabama’s voter-ID law is to prevent voter fraud. There is no evidence to hint that Rich’s goal is racially motivated, and this page isn’t suggesting such.
However, based on the evidence from other states that have passed similar laws, unintended consequences will land hard in 2014. Many of the poorest eligible voters will find it difficult to acquire a valid picture ID. Despite the promise of a “free” ID, Alabamians in need will have to cough up money to purchase supporting documents — a birth certificate, for example — required by the state.
In Rich’s view, the price is worth it. For a rationale, he leaned on the clichéd saying, “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.”
The fear is the prevention Rep. Rich measures in ounces will feel like a crushing weight on the poorest and most voiceless Alabamians seeking to vote.