While searching for information about voting activity by race & ethnicity in california (an activity itself spurred on by hearing a radio discussion about ethnic groups being underrepresented at the polls–yeah, i know, not exactly the biggest surprise ever, but i was wondering exactly what the disparity looked like on paper), I came upon the home page of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which announced that AALDEF had just (yesterday) filed an amicus “friend of the court” brief in the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of twenty-five Asian American groups. The groups were challenging the constitutionality of a law in Indiana that requires voters to show government-issued photo ID at the polls. The Supreme Court will be considering the case in January 2008, or somewhere around there; but, you know, soonish.
According to AALDEF and other studies cited in the amicus brief (full text here), this kind of photo ID requirement not only poses problems for Asian Americans at the polls on election day, but also acts as a disincentive for people to leave their homes to vote at all. One study (from Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers) found that Asian Americans were 8.5% less likely to vote in states requiring photo ID than in states without that requirement (Latinos were found 10% less likely to vote, and Blacks 6% less likely; general population overall 2.5% less likely to vote in states with photo id requirement).
Anyway, I wanted to see who else was covering this story recently, and found an AP article about this particular case reaching the Supreme Court, “Indiana Voter ID Law Unfair, Foes Press,” from 11/13/2007. In the article, there’s not a single mention of how laws like Indiana’s impact Asian Americans or any other group aside from “poor,” “black,” and “elderly” (it also discusses republican v democrat). There’s a kind of sweeping “minority voters” classification, as well, but in failing to mention specifically the other groups impacted, the article demonstrates the continued tendency to reduce all ethnic and racial groups to simply “African American and other minority,” and remove Asians, Latinos, and other groups from the explicit debate. Whether or not it’s intentional—and I think most of the time it’s out of laziness or ignorance, which in many ways makes it even more difficult to deal with—it has a real impact when writers and/or editors for the AP continue to neglect to mention salient points. Yeah, I know they’re talking about an Indiana law, and the studies cited by AALDEF talk about several other, non-Indiana states, but come ON. It’s the SUPREME COURT of the US we’re talking about—any case that reaches the Supreme Court is going to have some serious national implications. And if that study I very briefly cited up above—about the impact of photo id requirements on the voting activity of racial groups—is correct, then a law like Indiana’s would actually have a disproportionately greater impact on Latino and Asian communities (10% and 8.5% less likely to vote in states with photo-ID reqs, respectively), than it would on African Americans (6% less likely to vote). I’m not saying that the impact on black communities doesn’t matter, of course it does; my point is that it’s careless and inaccurate reporting to STILL act as if this country can be reduced to black and white.