On Voter ID laws in a “post-racial” America

Voter ID laws are controversial — bizarrely — so controversial in fact that our first post-racial presidency (as promised and aborted) steps in yet again to attack a state on ridiculous racial grounds. South Carolina enacted a voter ID law, and the Department of Justice invalidated it because the Attorney General claimed — against the facts and several Democrats — it would discriminate against minorities.

What is a voter ID law? It says when you show up to vote, you have to produce some identification that shows you are who you say you are so that you’re actually eligible to vote. Like they do in Canada. As opposed to showing up to vote and pretending you’re eligible when you’re not. Much like you produce an ID to get on a airplane, or you produce an ID when you’re driving and the police pull you over, or you produce an ID when you want to cash a check, or you produce an ID when you apply for a Social Security card, or you produce an ID when you use a credit card and there’s a question about whether you’re the actual owner of the credit card (to prevent credit card fraud).

This should be obvious. This should be a basic requirement around which everyone rallies because it contributes to the integrity of elections. And the integrity of elections matters enormously because democracy is fragile and turns precisely on the integrity of elections. We respect democracy only because we elect the people for whom we actually vote. We respect democracy only because we have good reason to believe that eligible voters choose our elected representatives.

South Carolina passed a voter ID law that requires a voter to present a South Carolina driver’s license or other photo ID — a passport, military ID, or a voter registration card with a photo issued by South Carolina election officials (issued for free). Even if a voter shows up at a polling place without an acceptable ID, he can still vote a provisional ballot that will be counted if he brings an ID to election officials before the results are certified. If a voter has a religious objection or a “reasonable impediment” that prevents him from getting a free photo ID, then the voter can simply fill out an affidavit in which he outlines his objection or impediment and swears that he is who he says he is. His provisional ballot will then be automatically counted unless local election officials have evidence that “the affidavit is false.”

In other words, the South Carolina law makes it as easy as possible to vote — whether or not you have a valid ID — but simply tries to ensure a threshold requirement that you are who you say you are. To which the Department of Justice objects. Using Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the Department of Justice squashed the South Carolina law as “discriminatory,” even though the Department of Justice approved a virtually identical Georgia law in 2005, and the Supreme Court approved a virtually identical Indiana law in 2008.

Why? In Austin, Texas, Attorney General Eric Holder said, “Are we willing to allow this era – our era – to be remembered as the age when our nation’s proud tradition of expanding the franchise ended?” Then the NAACP’s Ben Jealous made it plain: “You saw it after the Civil War. You see it now after the election of the first black president.” The race card, the very cynical very-not-post-racial race card. And the race card in contempt of the facts.

Voter ID laws do not suppress minority turnout — quite the opposite. University of Missouri professor Jeffrey Milyo discovered that after voter ID, turnout increased in Democrat-majority districts. University of Delaware professor Jason Mycoff found that voter ID did not decrease turnout.

Rhode Island enacted a voter ID law, which is to say, Democrats did it. Rhode Island Democratic Representative Jon Brien said, “those who are opposed to voter ID never let the facts get in the way of a really good emotional argument.”

African-American Democrat Artur Davis in Alabama apologized for opposing voter ID laws: by claiming that voter fraud wasn’t an issue, and that anti-fraud laws were racist, “I took the path of least resistance on this subject for an African American politician.” And then he said:

Voting the names of the dead, and the nonexistent, and the too-mentally-impaired to function, cancels out the votes of citizens who are exercising their rights — that’s suppression by any light. If you doubt it exists, I don’t; I’ve heard the peddlers of these ballots brag about it, I’ve been asked to provide the funds for it, and I am confident it has changed at least a few close local election results.

We should be beyond this. We should be beyond this as a polity even without Barack Obama and Eric Holder’s Justice Department, who promised a post-racial America and who could have delivered that promise but failed miserably and cynically.

Voter ID laws make simple sense. Opposition favors election fraud and race-baiting. And that is our post-racial presidency.

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17 Responses to On Voter ID laws in a “post-racial” America

  1. Terrance H. says:

    As you know, I support such laws. If the ID’s status is known to be free and available to all, I cannot conceive of the discrimination factor.

  2. lbwoodgate says:

    Yes Kendrick, there is about as much evidence that voter ID laws discriminate as there is that voter fraud has ever thrown an election for either Party. It’s a red-herring issue that the GOP has created ever since Jim Crow laws in the South were banned.

    A study by the Brennan Center for Justice back in 2007 exposed this straw man argument that was raised each election cycle and showed that a person is more likely to get struck by lightening than they are to fraudulently cast a public election ballot.

    The reason there is cause for concern that ID voter requirements discriminate is because people like right-wing “investigative journalist” Matthew Vadum had “explicitly endorsed disenfranchising poor people for the sole reason that they’re poor and will vote for people who will do things to alleviate their poverty.”

    And then there’s the case of Hans A. von Spakovsky, a former Bush administration Civil Rights division lawyer “who hated enforcing civil rights laws and an FEC advisor who hated election laws.”

    Does anyone think that if someone is willing to take the risk of going to prison for voter fraud that they’re going to let a little thing like a picture ID stop them? Crooks make fake picture IDs routinely.

    And to address your argument that pictured IDs are required to get on an airplane or cash a check, consumer fraud is verifiably more fraudulent than voter fraud. To require someone to produce some ID that validates the claim they have the funds to pay for merchandise they will walk out of a store with from writing a check or using a credit card IS reasonable.

    Voting is a Constitutional right. Making it anymore difficult than is necessary does seem like we should be concerned when the issue is raised almost solely by conservatives. Your few examples by Democrats (are they conservatives?) hardly serves as credible evidence that voter fraud is out of control.

    • Terrance H. says:

      Larry,

      If the ID’s are free and available to all, and their status as such known to all, in what way do these laws disenfranchise poor people? I’m not trying to be difficult; I’m trying to understand the argument.

      I do understand that homeless people may be disenfranchised because in order to obtain an ID, you must have a permanent address. Other than that, I don’t see the problem. I honestly don’t think it’s too much to ask of a citizen for him or her to obtain their free identification – which is required for many things, including the purchase of some items – in order to ensure the credibility of our democratic system.

      If the ID’s were not free, or if their status as free was being somewhat withheld (as is the case in Wisconsin), then I’d be with you.

    • “More difficult”?! Seriously Larry? Producing an ID is a “difficulty” that smacks of racism?? Why then did turnout of black voters in Georgia and Indiana significantly increase after those states enacted voter ID laws? Why were those laws approved by the Justice Department and by the courts as non-discriminatory? And why is the Department of Justice just now playing politics with voter ID laws in an election year? Which side is being massively cynical? And why would that cynicism erupt just now unless one side is worried about voter fraud being needed in an election year?

      Doesn’t it raise a bit of a flag for you that that the liberal talking points about voter ID laws focus on insisting that vote fraud doesn’t really happen? Even in the teeth of Democrats and African-Americans saying that it does? Election fraud is notoriously difficult to expose — especially if you don’t even have to produce an ID to vote! You basically have to have someone admitting that it happens — which Democrats and African-Americans have admitted! How much longer are we going to do the wink-wink because everybody knows what’s happening and has for decades (see Kennedy election) but for “lack of proof” we stay in denial? Why is this a difficult issue for liberals? This is something we should agree about. Election integrity matters, doesn’t it?

      Think of it this way. A voter ID law (like the Canadians do, and chuckle at our angst about the issue) is a tiny expectation — indeed, the laws make it pathetically easy to obtain an ID. So as a cost-benefit proposition, the burden is slight, and the benefit potentially significant. Yes, fake IDs are easy, but if you ratchet up the cost of fraud, two things probably happen: (1) fraud decreases; and (2) exposing the fraud is easier (and therefore fraud is riskier, costlier, and less likely). Why is that controversial? Why do some Democrats keep insisting on a regime that makes election fraud easy? That is cynical, and that drives the (mistaken) notion that liberals and Democrats lack any moral compass save winning elections. It’s not true — so why contribute to the perception with stubborn opposition to voter ID laws?

      • lbwoodgate says:

        Kendrick,

        I have put together a piece that addresses you questions and concerns in quite some detail. Look for it posted on my blog by tomorrow

  3. Jeff says:

    I appreciate the argument but oppose these laws on several grounds.

    1. Fake ID’s are routinely available and well crafted for those who seek to do some fraud.
    2. Even though the only voter fraud conviction I am aware of is against a Republican, and I believe their candidates are so weak we might need to spot them a few votes just to give them a sporting chance.
    3. Seriously, the argument for voter ID laws castes a shadow over ever previous election because those elections lacked integrity. Photo ID’s are not some high tech breakthrough that will dramatically eliminate any chance of fraud.
    4. The voter ID’s will still be checked by human beings, some who may want everyone to vote, some who may have an agenda.
    5. Jim Crow laws, poll taxes, gerrymandering, hanging chads and court stiffled recounts, etc., were all mechanisms of manipulation and incompetence within the electoral system. Not one of them involved voter fraud.
    6. and many more reasons…:)

    You darn tootin’ people get fired up over voter ID laws. The Nanny state has no evidence that there is a problem other than the election of African American President. I’m white and these laws are the slippery slope to your loss of real freedom under the Constitution.

    • Terrance H. says:

      Jeff,

      1). I don’t understand the objection to Voter ID laws on the basis that people will find a way around them. This is something Larry alluded to as well. I don’t see the logic. People find ways around many laws, but that doesn’t mean we should get rid of those laws. We should simply find a better way to enforce the laws.

      2). An election in 1982 resulted in 65 people being indicted for voter fraud and 63 were convicted.

      <a href="http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?navby=search&case=/data2/circs/8th/964141pv2.html&quot;U.S. v. Howard, 774 F.2d 838 (7th Cir. 1985); U.S. v. Olinger, 759 F.2d 1293 (7th Cir. 1985)

      3). This is a rehash of your first objection.

      4). Another rehash of your first objection.

      5). I don’t understand in what possible way you can liken the racist Jim Crow laws to a requirement that all people, regardless of ethnicity, sex, income or social status, furnish proper identification in order to vote. I don’t see the logic.

      There is evidence of voter fraud in past elections. Whether or not Voter ID laws would have counteracted the fraud is debatable. But I don’t think a law necessarily has to be enacted in order to address a current problem; I think laws can be put on the books to address a future problem – and that’s why I support these laws, with some exceptions (free, made known as free, etc…)

      • lbwoodgate says:

        Terrance,

        look for a response tomorrow on my blog that will address yours and Kendricks questions and concerns on this.

        • Terrance H. says:

          O.K. Thanks, Larry.

    • Jeff my friend, you are the most serious white person I know about racism. You hate it and you see it everywhere. I respect the hatred — so much so that I lamented my candidate’s loss in 2008, but applauded America and applauded Barack Obama for being a game-changer, a paradigm shift in race relations. That was the promise — and if he had delivered, I’d probably vote for him in 2012. He didn’t. His administration has been nothing whatever about being post-racial, nothing whatever about being the leader and promoter of the race conversations we need to have — and everything, cynically, about old-school racial politics and race-baiting. It’s probably the most profound disappointment I’ve experienced in presidential politics. Eric Holder’s DOJ slam of South Carolina is cynical politics as usual, and the race conversations we need to have as a nation aren’t coming from this administration. When the history is written, 50 years hence, about squandered opportunities, the failure of this administration to deliver on what could and should have been its easiest achievement will be a tremendous sadness.

      • Jeff says:

        Ken- I don’t know that I see it everywhere… It has always bothered me that white people have this tendency to grow impatient with black people being a little slow to get over it. It always feels like we are collectively saying…” Slavery, violence, discrimination for over two hundred years and now we get to decide when you are going to get over it.”
        So if Holder is playing cynical politics in South Carolina, tell me what is happening in Georgia where the Birthers are challenging the President’s eligibility to be on the ballot?

        Terrence- The right to vote is a fundamental right. As I recall from a 1989 Con Law class, the state, if challenged, must show a compelling state interest in enacting a law that places restrictions on voting. 60 some fraudulent votes in 1982 doesn’t show me a compelling state interest without the attorney for the plaintiff’s asking, ” so why didn’t you bring this law up in in 1983,84,85…?” I didn’t compare voter ID’s to Jim Crow, I was pointing out the real insidious problems within the electoral system that have occured throughout our history. I see those as far bigger than a few cases of voter fraud. BUT, you are either the fisherman or have taken the bait. This isn’t about race. This is one small tactic in an arsenal of tactics for suppressing the vote of all poor people.See, if you are rich and you forget your ID you get back in your Cadillac and go home and get it and come back. If you are poor and you forgot your ID, and you have to take the #67 bus home, because you have to pick up your grandkids because your daughter is working two jobs, you don’t get back home and grab your ID and climb back on the bus… Well, eventually everyone will catch on to the law and conform. But generally, educated people find out about laws before the poor do, So this rush of laws will most impact the next election or two. Interesting that these laws come up at this point in our history.

        • Terrance H. says:

          Jeff,

          The Supreme Court has already ruled on this issue. In Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, the United States Supreme Court held – 6 – 3 – that the law did not violate the Constitution.

          Justice Stevens offered the majority opinion and said:

          The relevant burdens here are those imposed on eligible voters who lack photo identification cards that comply with SEA 483. Because Indiana’s cards are free, the inconvenience of going to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, gathering required documents, and posing for a photograph does not qualify as a substantial burden on most voters’ right to vote, or represent a significant increase over the usual burdens of voting. The severity of the somewhat heavier burden that may be placed on a limited number of persons—e.g., elderly persons born out-of-state, who may have difficulty obtaining a birth certificate—is mitigated by the fact that eligible voters without photo identification may cast provisional ballots that will be counted if they execute the required affidavit at the circuit court clerk’s office. Even assuming that the burden may not be justified as to a few voters, that conclusion is by no means sufficient to establish petitioners’ right to the relief they seek.

          HERE

          The right to vote is a fundamental right.

          I’m not quite sure what you mean by this. It’s a fundamental right for citizens, with some exceptions (e.g., felons). So, given that, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the State to ensure that only citizens are exercising this fundamental right that is granted, according to the Constitution, to citizens only.

          60 some fraudulent votes in 1982 doesn’t show me a compelling state interest without the attorney for the plaintiff’s asking, ” so why didn’t you bring this law up in in 1983,84,85…?

          That was simply one example I offered in response to your statement: Even though the only voter fraud conviction I am aware of is against a Republican, and I believe their candidates are so weak we might need to spot them a few votes just to give them a sporting chance.

          I was making you aware of at least 60 other examples. However, I don’t feel the need to show that election fraud is rampant in order to justify my position that voter ID laws are just common sense. I think the fraud is a bit more prevalent than what you or Larry seem to believe, but I don’t view these laws as a mechanism for which to deal with a current problem; I view these laws as a common sense approach to ensuring the integrity of our democratic system. And as citizens, maintaing a transparent, healthy, and functioning democracy is something we should all support.

          But Justice Stevens also said:

          That flagrant examples of [voter] fraud…have been documented throughout this Nation’s history by respected historians and journalists…demonstrate[s] that not only is the risk of voter fraud real but that it could affect the outcome of a close election.

          If you thoroughly peruse the case file I linked you to, as well as conduct a bit of independent research, you’ll discover that voter fraud is, as Justice Stevens said, documented. I plan to have a post on my blog within the week that regurgitates what any Google search containing the words “voting” and “fraud” will clearly show.

          I didn’t compare voter ID’s to Jim Crow,

          You likened the two, I believe. You mentioned Jim Crow in your opposition to Voter ID laws and I can’t figure out why, unless you were trying to indicate that Voter ID laws are just another abuse of the electoral system, which is ironic considering that Voter ID laws are specifically aimed at preventing abuse of the electoral system.

          This is one small tactic in an arsenal of tactics for suppressing the vote of all poor people. See, if you are rich and you forget your ID you get back in your Cadillac and go home and get it and come back. If you are poor and you forgot your ID, and you have to take the #67 bus home, because you have to pick up your grandkids because your daughter is working two jobs, you don’t get back home and grab your ID and climb back on the bus.

          I’m very happy to see you didn’t pepper your argument with any emotion….

          The very small burden it puts on people is not nearly compelling enough to reject these laws when you consider the benefit of such laws, even if the only benefit is that of a failsafe.

          But generally, educated people find out about laws before the poor do, So this rush of laws will most impact the next election or two. Interesting that these laws come up at this point in our history.

          Larry alluded to something similar in his post. But if voters, poor or not, have the information necessary to know who they are voting for and why on election day, I find it hard to believe that we can’t get out the message that you must bring with you a valid photo ID.

          • Jeff says:

            Terrence-

            I truly enjoyed your reply and found it helpful in my understanding of the nuances of the issue. The Court has ruled one way, the Court has been known to overall lines of cases. I look forward to the day when the Court decides otherwise. But that’s not likely.

            Call it an emotional argument if you like. That’s just my reality. I’ve seen poor people stumble over bureaucracy for housing, health care, and food, for years. So the idea that any extra layer of effort whatsoever is added to the process, to me, assures fewer voters. Clearly though, my reaction is more from the gut, as it seems some of these laws are user friendly. (If only we didn’t have long and nasty history of voter suppression, which may even surpass our record of voter fraud). The denial of voter fraud is certainly a losing argument and I should know that. The famous Box 13 here in Texas may have provided Landslide Lyndon with enough dead people’s votes to win the Senate. Again, Voter ID’s wouldn’t have stopped that kind of fraud. Nothing could stop Lyndon.

            I just love Justice Stevens comment about the DMV. He obviously has not been to the DMV in a very long time. Inconvenience? I am a frequent visitor to the DMV, having 3 driving age sons. First, people have to travel miles to these places and they are not user friendly. I read the 8th Circle of Hell of Dante’s Inferno in the DMV and then looked around unsure if I was living it. Time ceases to exist there.

            I am a reasonable liberal. If you want voter ID laws, fine. But the process and convenience of obtaining any document from the government has yet to be proven to me to be simple quick and efficient. People complain mightily about the ineffective, cumbersome and obtrusive nature of the government. Yet, they unquestioningly believe this is nothing more than a simple step in the election process. Government can do this! I think Florida can show us how simple, well run, and mistake free elections can be.

            Cheers-

          • Terrance H. says:

            Jeff,

            I can understand that you think these laws will burden poor people unnecessarily, but I would argue that not having a photo ID is far more burdensome than the process of obtaining one. There are so many things you do not qualify for without one, including employment.

            I don’t think being required to have this ID on you when you vote qualifies as a significant hindrance anymore than remembering to grab your drivers license before you get behind the wheel. It’s a non-issue, in my mind. Making sure people don’t have to think is not an objective of government.

            I do think that government needs to make the process of obtaining an ID far more efficient than what we have today. I would much rather put my head in a vise than go to the DMV.

  4. Steve says:

    It seems Acorn was in the tank for fraudulant voting practices not long ago. I have to agree with Kendrick on this one. Even though ID’s can be forged, it still brings a higher level of integrity to the process. Good blog Kendrick.

  5. lobotero says:

    I understand both sides of this debate and I wish I could add something substantial but you guys have done an excellent job….well done!

  6. Pingback: Are Picture ID Requirements Restrictive for Some Voters? « Woodgate's View

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