Official Regrets Remarks on Black Voters

Laurie Kellman, AP, October 30, 2007

The chief of the Justice Department’s voting rights division apologized Tuesday for saying that aging is not a problem with black voters because they die before they become elderly, unlike whites.

Still, some Democrats said they want him fired.

“I want to apologize for the comments I made at the recent meeting of the National Latino Congreso about the impact of voter identification laws on elderly and minority voters,” said John Tanner, voting section chief of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.

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Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala., said that in the 2004 presidential race, for example, the same percentage of eligible black voters as whites cast ballots in his state. But of those groups, more blacks over age 60 voted than whites in the same age group.

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It is well documented that black Americans—particularly black males—have shorter life expectancies than whites. A black person born in 2004 had an average life expectancy of 73.1 years, about five years less than for whites, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

At issue are Tanner’s remarks Oct. 5 before the National Latino Congreso in Los Angeles. Tanner addressed state laws that require photo identification for voting, saying that elderly voters disproportionately don’t have the proper IDs.

“That’s a shame, you know, creating problems for elderly persons just is not good under any circumstance,” Tanner said, according to video posted on YouTube. “Of course, that also ties in to the racial aspect because our society is such that minorities don’t become elderly the way white people do. They die first.

“There are inequities in health care. There are a variety of inequities in this country, and so anything that disproportionately impacts the elderly has the opposite impact on minorities. Just the math is such as that,” Tanner added.

Rep. John Conyers, chairman of the full House Judiciary Committee, said the comment demonstrates “a severe lack of appreciation of what the section’s mission should be: that minority voters should not be disenfranchised.”

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