The fight over voter ID

With Nov. 6 just weeks away, courts in several states were weighing challenges to new voter ID laws.

What happened

A legal battle over voter identification laws raged this week in several states, as Democrats tried to block a Republican-led effort to require people to show state-issued photo ID at the polls for this election. With Nov. 6 just weeks away, courts in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Wisconsin were weighing challenges to new voter ID laws, which Democrats contend were passed to restrict voting by young people and minorities, who are less likely to hold state-issued IDs. State courts have temporarily blocked implementation of the laws in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, until they rule on the challenges, and federal judges this week heard arguments on South Carolina’s ID law. At least 10 Republican-governed states, including Florida and Ohio, have introduced voter ID laws since 2010.

Democrats argue that voter fraud is almost nonexistent in the U.S. The Advancement Project, a civil rights advocacy group, claimed this week that restrictive new voting policies could prevent 10 million Hispanics from casting ballots this year. But Republicans contend that thousands of dead voters, out-of-state residents, and illegal immigrants can be found on every state’s voter rolls, and that even a little fraud could tip close elections. “Implementing common-sense reforms at the ballot box ensures the fairness of our elections,” said Alexandra Franceschi, a spokesperson for the Republican National Committee.

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What the editorials said

The voter-suppression campaigns of the Jim Crow South are back in a big way, said The New York Times. Voter ID laws are one form of that campaign; another is “True the Vote”—a Tea Party group that plans to send white “poll watchers” to black and Hispanic districts in 30 states, to aggressively challenge any “suspicious” voters. There’s no moral or legal justification for this harassment, said the Louisville Courier-Journal. The Brennan Center for Justice, in fact, recently concluded after an intensive study that in-person voter fraud “simply does not exist.”

That’s just not true, said A Republican city commissioner recently uncovered 23 cases of unregistered voters casting a ballot in Philadelphia. And he examined just 15 of the city’s 1,687 election districts. “The integrity of the election process” demands better protection.

What the columnists said

Voter ID laws are no obstacle to voting, said Hans A. von Spakovsky, also in Every state that has one has also made free IDs available to those who don’t have them—and many, including Georgia and Indiana, actually saw turnout go “up, not down” after passing them. Little wonder 74 percent of the public supports voter ID laws, said Jonathan Tobin in Most people can see they’re “inherently reasonable.” Americans need to show picture ID to board an airplane, conduct a bank transaction, even “buy a beer.” Why shouldn’t they need one to vote?

Buying a beer isn’t a “constitutionally protected right,” said Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post, and to infringe such rights “is a crime against democracy.” Minorities, poor people, college students, and seniors are less likely to have driver’s licenses than other Americans, often live miles from the nearest DMV or post office, and may lack transportation. Presented with this challenge, many will simply stay home on Election Day—which is exactly why Republicans passed these laws. Consider the data from Philadelphia, said Andrew Rosenthal in About 18 percent of voters in that heavily African-American city have no ID. Undoubtedly, GOP state Rep. Mike Turzai had that fact in mind when he predicted in June that the state’s ID law would “allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”

Remember the 2000 election? said Stephen Ohlemacher in the Associated Press. Thanks to voter ID laws, we might be seeing a repeat. ID laws allow voters who show up to the polls without required identification to cast provisional ballots, and in some states, including Florida, there may be hundreds of thousands of such ballots—all of which may be challenged. The challenges can take days or weeks to resolve. If the results of this presidential election are as close as Bush versus Gore in 2000, provisional ballots could be the next “hanging chads.”

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