John Oliver’s brilliant HBO show, Last Week Tonight, is back, and in his first episode, Oliver is going after Voter ID laws like those in my current home state of North Carolina that require voters to obtain a state-issued ID. Oliver points out many of the standard arguments about these laws: they disproportionately affect the poor, African Americans, and Latinos, and they have been engineered by Republicans who admit they are trying to suppress the vote from these groups. He also illustrates that many states have made it nearly impossible for people to obtain this ID.
He then shows that voter impersonation during elections is incredibly rare, showing that in South Carolina, there were only five cases that could potentially be considered possible voter impersonation cases out of millions of legitimate votes. This observation sets up his brilliant conclusion, which I won’t spoil here, but it brilliantly illustrates the hypocrisy of many of these voter ID proponents.
Oliver is one of my favorite political comedians, in part because he often “covers” issues that are not in the daily headlines and in part because his position on HBO allows him to create monologues that can run 10-15 minutes long, much longer than any segments on commercial television. This allows him much greater flexibility in building an argument that can make a political point. There are plenty of examples where Oliver has used this power for positive effect, as when he did a powerful segment on net neutrality that led to the FCC website crashing because so many of his fans (and other activists) went to leave comments. At any rate,John Oliver is back, and that alone is worth celebrating.