Feature

The battle over voter ID laws

The Obama administration is challenging the right of Texas to enforce rigorous new voting restrictions.

What happened The Obama administration is challenging the right of Texas to enforce rigorous new voting restrictions, in the first stage of a major political struggle between the Democratic White House and Republican-controlled states. The Justice Department filed a request last week to reinstate its authority over Texas’s voting laws, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in June. That ruling, striking down a portion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, ended a requirement for Southern states with a history of racial discrimination to get “pre-clearance” from the government to change their voting laws. Immediately after that ruling, Texas reinstated a voter ID law and a redistricting plan which had earlier been ruled discriminatory. But the Justice Department is challenging those changes under a remaining provision of the Voting Rights Act, which enables it to block new voter laws if it can prove they reduce minority voting. Texas Gov. Rick Perry called the Justice Department’s lawsuit “an end run around the Supreme Court.”

Republicans say that tightening up voting regulations, including requiring voters to have photo ID and reducing early voting, will prevent fraud. Democrats contend that the laws are meant to discourage minorities, the poor, and college students from voting, since many lack driver’s licenses and find it difficult to travel to the polls. North Carolina’s Senate approved measures last week requiring government-issued photo ID at the polls, shortening early voting, and ending same-day voter registration. With other states expected to enact similar legislation, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Texas lawsuit “will not be the last.” “We cannot allow the slow unraveling of the progress that so many, throughout history, have sacrificed so much to achieve,” he said.

What the editorials said Holder is right to take on Texas, said Bloomberg.com. The state’s new voting laws have a “desperate quality” to them, allowing a concealed-carry gun permit as ID but not student identification cards, and redistricting the state to water down the growing power of Hispanic voters. There and in other states, “the incidence of actual voter fraud hovers near zero.”

There’s nothing wrong with voter ID laws, said The Washington Times. Asking a voter for proof of identity is a world away from poll taxes and other Jim Crow–era laws, and is intended only to ensure that all ballots are cast lawfully, by U.S. citizens. Sadly, “Holder wants to keep the back door of the polling station unlocked” and “dilute the integrity of the ballot.”

What the columnists said A new era of voter suppression has begun, said E.J. Dionne Jr. in The Washington Post. North Carolina’s voter law, also passed hastily after the court’s edict, “reads like a parody” of conservative proposals, from ending registration drives in colleges, churches, and schools, to barring the use of photo IDs issued by public-assistance agencies. The Texas laws are just as pernicious, said Eric Lewis in NewYorker.com.They are very obviously a reactionto “the tide of demographics” that may turn the Lone Star State purple by 2016. “Jim Crow with a smile and a request for ID is still Jim Crow.”

How is it racially discriminatory to ask for photo ID? said Jonathan S. Tobin in CommentaryMagazine.com. Most Americans believe it’s a “commonsense measure” to request the same type of ID to vote that is required to cash a check or to pass through airport security. Only race-baiting liberals believe it’s a discriminatory conspiracy.

The hysteria over voter suppression is overblown, said Ross Douthat in NYTimes.com, since voter ID laws would only make a difference in “whisker-tight elections.” Data from North Carolina’s secretary of state suggests that its proposed law would have reduced Obama’s share of the vote in 2012 from 48.3 percent to 48 percent—hardly enough to swing the state. So why are Republicans picking this fight? Voter ID laws further alienate black and Latino voters and hand Democrats a “powerful symbolic issue” to mobilize their base, while giving the GOP little, if any, reward. This kind of “self-defeating” behavior will only make it tougher, not easier, for Republicans to win national elections.

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