Opinion

Voter ID laws are inherently reasonable, not racist or Republican

Analogies between voter ID laws and Jim Crow poll taxes are absurd. That pockets of citizens lack ID is a compelling argument for active voter registration drives, not damning attempts to curb fraud. Ensuring the integrity of our electoral process ought not to be a partisan issue.

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    A voter presents a photo identification card to election officials in Cimarron, Kan. January 10. On voter ID laws, op-ed contributor Jonathan Tobin argues: 'All citizens must be allowed to vote, but it is eminently reasonable as well as constitutional and feasible for all qualified voters to be able to prove their identity.'
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Asking someone to show their "papers" may be an old movie cliché, but while such a request might have struck most Americans as sinister a couple of generations ago, they now understand that you can’t get on a plane or conduct some of the simplest transactions without showing a government-issued card with your photo on it. Yet in spite of that fact, there is now a growing chorus of complaints that requests for such identification at polling booths is a throwback to the days of Jim Crow segregation and discrimination in the South.

Analogies between voter ID legislation and Jim Crow poll taxes are absurd. While segregationist laws sought to create fraudulent results, voter integrity laws have the opposite goal. The specious attempt to cloak voter ID opponents in the mantle of Rosa Parks and to paint the requirement as racist is not only without foundation since it applies to all citizens, it betrays a curious willingness to countenance the possibility of fraud.

Opponents need to resort to inflammatory arguments because voter ID laws are inherently reasonable. The overwhelming majority of potential voters have government-issued identification. And those states that have passed these laws have created mechanisms for those who don’t have drivers’ licenses to obtain a free ID. This bears no resemblance to a poll tax or any other segregationist tactic.

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While any interaction with a state bureaucracy may well be unpleasant, it is not likely to be much more of a bother than registering to vote in the first place. Unless the desired outcome here is that anyone ought to be able to show up at the polls without proof of identity, their place of residence, or even citizenship, at some point election officials have a right to ask who they are.

It is true that minorities are in some areas disproportionately represented among those who have no such ID. That is troubling. But as liberal New York Times blogger Nate Silver recently pointed out in a piece that sought to probe the effect of voter ID on the outcome of the election, “Many people who do not have identification are not registered to vote – or if they are registered, they are unlikely to turn out.”

The existence of pockets of citizens who lack ID is a more compelling argument for active voter registration drives than it is for damning all attempts to curb fraud. Once you realize that everyone is being asked to perform the same minimal task before voting, the race argument falls apart since minorities are no less capable of being able to fill out a form and getting a free ID than anyone else.

It is disheartening to see liberals waving the bloody flag of Jim Crow without cause. But their claim that there is no such thing as voter fraud in the United States is transparently disingenuous.

To argue, as they do, that cheating in American elections is practically unheard of, contradicts everything we know not only about politicians but human nature. Voter fraud is, to paraphrase Stokley Carmichael, as American as cherry pie and has been practiced with gusto in rural regions as well as urban areas for as long as there have been elections in this country.

Joking references to voting early and often or voting the graveyards is not confined to the bad old days of machine politics. Given the stakes, the only thing stopping parties from stealing elections are laws to prevent such hijinks. The debacle in Florida with the 2000 presidential election is not only proof that our systems are not foolproof but that both Republicans and Democrats don’t trust each other to play fair.

The best example of why voter ID laws are necessary can be found in Pennsylvania, where Republicans are accused of trying to suppress the African-American vote by enacting legislation requiring proof of identity when voting. A statement by the GOP leader of the state House of Representatives, in which he claimed the voter ID law would guarantee that the state will go to Mitt Romney in November, is often cited as evidence of the law’s discriminatory or political intent. But the statement is often referenced without citing the context of the political reality in the state.

As Gov. Tom Corbett repeatedly cited that context during the debate over the voter ID law, stating that a number of election precincts in Philadelphia that are reliably Democratic have produced results which showed that more than 100 percent of registered voters cast ballots in some years in districts where turnout is normally low. It is true that these areas are also largely African-American, but that does not make such results more explicable or less suspicious.

Does anyone really believe Philadelphia is the only place in America where there is a reasonable suspicion of fraud? The Supreme Court doesn’t. In 2008, it upheld an Indiana law requiring voter ID saying that it posed no undue burden on voters. And in his majority opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that “not only is the risk of voter fraud real but...it could affect the outcome of a close election.”

As New York Democrats recently learned, race is no barrier to questionable election tactics. Rep. Charles Rangel, the veteran member of the Congressional Black Caucus who has been censured by Congress on ethics charges, was widely accused by opponents and media of gaming the system to win re-nomination against Hispanic opponent Adriano Espaillat.

Ensuring the integrity of our electoral process ought not to be a partisan issue. While states can do a better job promoting voter registration or the process by which non-drivers get IDs, the Jim Crow canard is a bogus argument that demeans the cause of civil rights. All citizens must be allowed to vote, but it is eminently reasonable as well as constitutional and feasible for all qualified voters to be able to prove their identity.

Jonathan S. Tobin is senior online editor and chief political blogger of Commentary magazine. He can be reached via email at: jtobin@commentarymagazine.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TobinCommentary.

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