We are living through what I have described as the third stage of ownership in American politics, as I've written a time or two before.
At the start of the American experiment, the instruments of social control and the way the ruling class kept political power in the hands of a very few were slavery and disenfranchisement. You had to be a white, male property owner to have a vote and thus a voice. At the time that whittled the electorate down to about 10% of the nation's population. That was the first stage of ownership.
It took a civil war, but eventually the abolitionists won and slavery was ended. The suffragettes won too after decades of struggle, and the right to vote was extended to nearly all of the adult population. That did not mean the ruling class was about to surrender control and relinquish power. In slavery's place they put Jim Crow. When women and former slaves got the vote, they moved on to voter suppression. Poll taxes. Literacy tests. The second stage of ownership.
The women's rights, voting rights and civil rights movements brought to an end legal segregation and the second-stage voter suppression tactics. Prompting the ruling class to embark on the design and construction of a third stage of ownership. One of the first telltale signs of what was emerging was the U.S. Supreme Court's 1976 ruling in Buckley v. Valeo radically reinterpreting the First Amendment (which was 185 years old at the time) to equate money and speech. Goodbye "free speech," hello "fee speech." What has been designed and built is a political marketplace where meaningful participation is prohibitively expensive for all but a very few in our society. This is the new instrument of social and political control. The wicked genius of this design is that the primary weapon of the third stage is called a donation. A gift. Makes social and political control sound downright philanthropic.
This is not to say there are not remnants of the earlier stages that remain with us. The current push to require a photo ID in order to vote is a throwback to the second stage. Requiring voters to show photo identification to cast a ballot would be a very modest inconvenience for most of us. It creates another hoop to jump through on election day and might make some lines at polling places a bit longer. But it will make voting much more difficult for three classes of people – the poor, the elderly and students.
More than a few poor people can't afford a car and don't drive, and as a result many haven't bothered to get a driver's license. Poor people also tend to be more mobile than the general population. This is particularly true of course for the homeless. Even if they do drive, the chances are far greater that their current address is not on their driver's license. Having a driver's license would do them no good when it comes to voting.
A photo ID law for voting would have a similarly discriminatory impact on many seniors. As their eyesight and reflexes have deteriorated, they've given up driving and stopped renewing their driver's permits.
Same story for students, another highly mobile population. I was speaking in a class on the UW-Platteville campus and asked how many students have a driver's license with their current address on it. Fewer than half raised their hands.
If the current version of the Wisconsin photo ID bill passes, those without a valid photo ID with their current address on it would have a problem when it comes to voting. They would have to go to a Division of Motor Vehicles office and get an updated driver's license or go to some other government agency to get a different state-issued ID card.
It should be noted that not every county in Wisconsin has a DMV office. So for some, securing a right to vote will mean paying to travel to another county. And if you need your birth certificate to prove you are who you say you are for the purposes of getting that state-issued ID and don't happen to have a copy handy, you'll have to go to yet another government office and pay for one. These are poll taxes, folks.
It should be further noted that the way the bill is written, students wouldn't be able to use their student IDs. Never mind these are photo IDs issued by a state government agency. Nope, if they don't have a driver's license with their current address on it, they'll have to go to the trouble to get yet another form of photo identification.
The political motivations behind the discriminatory treatment of poor people, seniors and students are obvious. So is the fact that this bill effectively calls for poll taxation, one of the second stage of ownership's crudest and most vile instruments of political control.