Our view: Republican ID laws smack of vote suppression
By J. Tyler Klassen, AP
Except, that is, when Republicans want to impose tighter rules for their political benefit. A case in point is the flurry of states —six so far this year— rushing to pass laws requiring voters to bring government-issued photo IDs to polling places. All have Republican governors and GOP-controlled legislatures.
Supporters say this is necessary to prevent voter fraud. But the operative question is: Why, at a time of economic distress and state budget shortfalls, is this such a priority? The answer has less to do with prevention than with suppression.
In theory, there isn't anything wrong with requiring photo IDs to vote, just as they are required to drive, board a plane or cash a check. The Constitution gives states broad latitude to run their elections. And a 2008 Supreme Court ruling upheld an ID law in Indiana, giving other states a green light for their own laws.
So states clearly can impose these requirements. The question is whether they should.
Scratch just gently beneath the surface, and these new measures appear unnecessary at best. Voter fraud is rare and consists largely of the types of actions that IDs would not correct, such as vote-buying and voter intimidation. Fraud is already kept in check by elections officials, poll watchers from both parties, and acceptance of alternatives to photo IDs, such as utility bills.
One study in Minnesota, done after an extraordinarily close Senate race in 2008, found a grand total of seven suspicious votes, out of nearly 3 million cast. No charges were filed that year. Those seven cases were exceeded by the dozen or so elderly nuns in nearby Indiana who were turned away from the polls for lack of picture IDs.
The nuns were exercising a surprisingly common choice. An estimated one in 11— do not have government-issued photo IDs. This, of course, is an option they should be free to exercise. They also have every right to participate in elections, and the government has an obligation to allow them reasonable access to the polls.
So does it make sense to place roadblocks in front of them in the name of policing a crime that barely exists? And does it make sense to try to issue IDs to millions of people who apparently don't want or otherwise need them? Many libertarians see this as a route to a national ID card system, which they deeply oppose.
There is also ample reason to doubt the sincerity of states that say they will provide IDs. When Georgia imposed an ID law in 2005, courts barred the state from charging for them, calling such fees a poll tax — an unconstitutional tactic once used by segregationists to keep blacks from voting. But given the true motive behind such laws, it's likely that states will find other ways to make the IDs hard to get.
Just as Democrats try to help their cause by making it easier to vote through expedited registration and early voting, Republicans see a benefit in lowering the turnout among certain voters. The people most likely to be dissuaded by the hassle of obtaining an ID card — the old and infirm, the young and the poor — tend to vote Democratic. Shouldn't Republicans be looking for ways to expand their appeal to these groups, rather than throwing obstacles in their way?
While both parties are guilty of self-interested behavior, the national interest of addressing the USA's deplorably low election participation rates clearly falls on the side of making it easier, not harder, to vote.