Think of this as an update on “Voter ID Laws: The Real Truth” published at this site on 9-18-14. What seems to have happened since that date is that the mainstream media have finally started to tell the truth; i.e. that all available evidence has demonstrated that, contrary to conservatives’ claim, widespread and systematic voter fraud does not exist on a level that has or could skew a national or even state-wide election. Such being the case, GOP-generated voter ID laws are a solution aimed at a non-existent problem.
This turn of events has caused the conservative noise machine to change its tune; i.e. the new claim is that recently passed voter ID laws were not meant to curtail a repeat of existing voter fraud, but to protect the electoral process from such a possible assault in the future. In other words, it hasn’t happened in the past, but it might happen “tomorrow”; and if not “tomorrow”, then the “day after”. (1)
In a perverse way, you have to hand it to the people who shape conservative “messaging”: So long as the rationale for any behavior is cast as a solution to a potential future problem, how do you prove that gambit invalid? You can’t because the “future problem” is…well… in he future, assuming it develops at all. The best one can do is refer to the past and the evidence that the problem hasn’t existed to date. If you take that tack, be prepared for the rebuttal “But it might, tomorrow”. You can’t win that argument, but you can’t lose it, either. The result is a stalemate that still leaves conservatives in the position of being the defenders of the ballot box. That the ballot box doesn’t need defending based on past history has to compete with the right’s faux piousness in mounting the defense.
What may come of all this after the impending November election is a cost : benefit analysis of the impact of the voter ID laws on voter participation, especially among certain demographic groups (e.g. younger and elderly voters and minorities). Follow the logic: Let’s assume that as in the past, voter fraud did not, for all practical purposes, actually happen. That would mean that no benefit was reaped from the ID legislation. But, in contrast, suppose the same laws have the effect of suppressing voter turn-out. There is the cost and it’s our democracy that ends up paying the price because the voices of fewer people get heard.
Think about the foregoing in a far broader context: recent polls have repeatedly shown that people have little faith in the federal government. We also know that voter participation has tended to trend downward. Such being the case, it is in the country’s best interest to have both political parties striving to making voting easier. That can be done without relaxing reasonable voter ID requirements. As examples, reinstate same-day registration, extend early voting periods, and allow college students to vote on the campuses where they are enrolled rather than forcing them to return to their family home and precinct.
Unfortunately, the reality is that the GOP-controlled legislatures in over two dozen states have actively worked against these straightforward approaches to enhancing voter turn-out. This has now begun to enter the realm of common knowledge. Organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People are fighting back with law suits claiming that the Republican voter ID laws are discriminatory. Some of these actions have already prevailed in court (2) but remain open to appeal. What has to be hoped is that the groups most severely affected by the ID legislation will turn against the party that sought to impede their voting and instead, sweep into office a sufficient number of Democrats to at least hold the Senate.
1. Thom Tillis, GOP candidate for the US Senate in North Carolina, is a recent promoter of this new “tune”.
2. Judge Ramos in Texas just handed down such a ruling, referring to the state’s imposition of a fee for a voter ID certificate as the equivalent of discriminatory a “poll tax”.