During the Apartheid days of legalized racism after the end of Reconstruction, which lasted into the 1960s, restricting the right to vote was an important pillar of white supremacy. The Reconstruction era was the post-Civil War period of 1865-1877 when the South was under martial law and an attempt was made by the federal government (led by the "Radical Republicans" in Congress, who were champions of equality...hard to believe now, right?) to enforce equal rights for the freed slaves. During this period blacks were elected to local state and federal offices, including the US Senate.
After the withdrawal of Union troops from the South and the end of Reconstruction, the Southern states that had comprised the former Confederacy enacted laws to prevent blacks from voting (among many other things). It would have been too flagrant and would have openly violated the Constitution and Federal law to simply say that only white men could vote.
The method used was the poll tax and the literacy test. Making registering to vote cost money eliminated most potential black voters. For those who actually could pay the tax there was the literacy test. Illiterate whites always passed, while college educated blacks always failed. Eliminating these bars to voting in the South was one of the accomplishments of the 60s civil rights movement.
Since Nixon's presidency the Republican Party, opting for the "Southern Strategy," has become a Southern based, white supremacist organization (with a few prominent Uncle Toms like Clarence Thomas Colin Powell or Condi Rice for cover). But demographics are tipping against them as their reliable white, older stalwarts shrink in number. What to do?
True, the barring of convicted felons from voting helped out, since it works out that most convicted felons are black. But it's not enough.
Figuring they can't get away with poll taxes or literacy tests (not yet anyway) the latest way to whiten and conservatize the vote is the voter ID scam. For years rightists have yelled about stopping "voter fraud." This obviously does exist here and there, but in fact the serious fraud has been from the right. Consider the previous two stolen Presidential elections and the flagrant partisan manipulation of the vote count and the use of security-free electronic voting machines by Republican state governments in Florida and Ohio.
"Voter Fraud" is a synonym for the offense of "voting while being non-white." An obvious flaw in our great whiteocracy...err, I mean, democracy. One solution to stem the surging horde of darker skin voters is the ID law.
The fired-up white reactionary base will show up at the polls, acceptable ID in hand. But others will forget, or not have a driver's license, or not quite meet the standards being enforced by some racist election official. Poor whites are less likely to have up-to-date, designated IDs as well. Since poor white voter might even not vote for Republicans, they can qualify as non-whites who shouldn't be voting.
State voter ID laws have been gaining ground over the years in Republican run Southern states over the last few years. Now, with the new 2010 crop of Republican governors and state legislators across the country, the trend is going national. Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and other states have enacted or are inacting laws that try to prevent the "wrong" people from voting. Democracy is a great thing, huh?
Of course restricting the franchise has been a time honored tradition in our fair land. From the start only white, male property owners could vote. It took decades of popular struggle to expand the franchise to get to a place where there could possible be a reasonable approximation of fairness and democracy.
Now that "somewhat" democratic system just won't do. Sigh, it's such a struggle to "maintain election security" these days. But some white man...I mean somebody's got to do it.