Honesty, bias, and voter ID laws

The issue of voter ID laws may seem like just another partisan rift in an increasingly divided America. But on this issue, untruths have clouded ideological debate.

People wait in line on the first day of advance voting for Georgia’s Senate runoff election in Augusta, Dec. 14, 2020.

Why can’t American citizens just get a government identification card? Isn’t voting important enough for that? The questions sound so logical and simple, and for many advocates of voter ID laws, they are. To them, the controversies over such laws, now being passed in droves by Republican state lawmakers, amount to Democratic sour grapes at best or a threat to election integrity at worst.  

So then why would The Christian Science Monitor – with its long commitment to fairness – appear to take Democrats’ side? In the April 19 cover story, which first ran online on March 29, Peter Grier minces no words: Republicans have been aggressive and anti-democratic in using voting laws for political gain. Isn’t that bias?

Undoubtedly, some will say, yes. But to me, it points to something else. First, it shows that the U.S. electorate has not yet rid itself of the lies that President Donald Trump spread in trying to discredit the 2020 election results and reverse the outcome. And second, it shows a perspective gap that, in many ways, allows those untruths to stand.

The fact is, the Monitor has frequently made statements like the one Peter makes in his cover story. We’ve just made them about other countries. Nelson Mandela himself came to our offices to thank the Monitor for its cleareyed reporting of the situation in South Africa. Can we report with such clarity about the United States itself?

The United States is not apartheid-era South Africa. But it is important to note that many of the laws being passed by Republicans since Mr. Trump’s loss are solutions in search of a problem. One of the reasons Mr. Trump’s falsities were so outrageous was that researchers have again and again found no evidence of significant patterns of voting fraud in the U.S. Election security is a vital area of national interest to both parties, and can be a point of collaboration. But laws based on untruths are not only a flimsy foundation for progress, but also unnecessarily inflame tensions.

Especially when those laws essentially target Black and Hispanic voters, who are less likely to have a government ID. That’s where the perspective gap comes in. For example, I graduated from a high school in Richmond, Virginia, with two Black students among a class of 115. I then attended a university that was overwhelmingly white and from wealthy communities. In my world, I can say getting an ID is relatively easy.

But that perspective is worlds away from the reality of tens of millions of other Americans – who don’t have a car, or enough money, or permission to take off work. When Alabama shut dozens of DMVs in 2015, the large majority were in predominantly Black areas. Getting a government ID is hard for many Americans, and that is disproportionately true for Black and Hispanic Americans.

The new laws put impediments in front of specific groups of voters. In general, those voters lean toward the other party. And there is no evidence of any systematic problem that needs solving. Being clear about that is not bias. It is an attempt to be honest, even when that means sharing hard truths.

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