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.