But really, given modern technology, voting doesn't require a photo-ID to avoid the rare case of fraud. Voting can and should be as easy and secure as using an ATM. Polling stations, while they should always probably exist in some quantity to serve poor areas, are as outdated as tricorn hats.
If the true goal was to prevent voter fraud (even though there is none to begin with) while preserving citizens' most sacred democratic right -- the right to vote -- then we would certainly go about it otherwise, not making people who are lifelong eligible voters suddenly ineligible, as Republican state legislatures have.
Voter-ID laws are a cynical and desperate ploy coordinated by the national GOP; and they a prime example of systemic racism that conservatives deny even exists.
By Ana Marie Cox
July 16, 2014 | Guardian
This week, the US Department of Justice and the state of Texas started arguments in the first of what will be a summer-long dance between the two authorities over voting rights. There are three suits being tried in two districts over gerrymandering and Texas's voter identification law – both of which are said to be racially motivated. In its filing, the DoJ describes the law as "exceed[ing] the requirements imposed by any other state" at the time that it passed. If the DoJ can prove the arguments in its filing, it won't just defeat an unjust law: it could put the fiction of "voter fraud" to rest once and for all.
These battles, plus parallel cases proceeding in North Carolina, hinge on proving that the states acted with explicitly exclusionary intent toward minority voters – a higher standard was necessary prior to the Supreme Court's gutting of Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) back in January. Under Section 3, the DoJ had wide latitude to look at possible consequences of voting regulation before they were even passed – the "preclearance" provision. Ironically, because the states held to preclearance had histories of racial discrimination, some of the messier aspects of the laws' current intentions escaped comment.
But meeting that higher standard of explicit exclusionary intent comes with the opportunity to show some of the many skeptical Americans the ugly racism behind Republican appeals to "fairness" and warnings about fraud. Progressives have tried, and mostly failed, to show the institutional racism underpinning the sordid history behind voter ID laws; that may have been too subtle. In courts in Texas and North Carolina, the DoJ will make the jump from accusations that laws have a racial impact to straight-up calling voter ID laws racist.
This ought to be interesting.
The DoJ filing in Texas lays it all out pretty clearly, putting the voter ID law in context of a concerted legislative strategy to deny representation to the state's growing Hispanic population, including Republicans advancing more and more aggressive voter ID bills over the years. The filing points to the anti-immigrant rhetoric that laced the floor debates over the law, and to the measures taken by the Republican-controlled state house to limit the participation of Democratic minority lawmakers in considering or amending the legislation (the bill was heard in front of a special committee selected by the governor, on an expedited schedule). And, the DoJ notes, lawmakers produced "virtually no evidence during or after enactment of SB 14 that in-person voter impersonation – the only form of election fraud addressed by the identification requirements of SB 14 – was a serious problem."
Perhaps the most significant piece of context in the voter ID suit is how Texas's voter ID law came on the heels of the redistricting that the DoJ claims was also racially motivated. In the redistricting cases, DoJ's allegations of malicious intent have been helped along by the admission of the state that it had malicious political intent. The Texas attorney general, Greg Abbott, chose as his defense in that case what only can be called the Lesser Evil Strategy – stating up front that the state's GOP legislators had ulterior motives, but not the ones that the VRA outlaws:
[R]edistricting decisions were designed to increase the Republican Party's electoral prospects at the expense of the Democrats ... [They] were motivated by partisan rather than racial considerations and the plaintiffs and DOJ have zero evidence to prove the contrary.
Abbott's smugness – and his apparent faith in partisanship as a permissible and distinct form of discrimination – will take center stage as the DoJ presses on with both suits. In court, Abbott will be asked to prove his ignorance of demographics for the very state in which he is currently running for governor. Out of court, other GOP defenders of the law will have to do more or less the same. And they will need to defend the outrageous details of the law – such has how a concealed carry permit is a permissible form of voter ID but a federally-issued Medicare card carried by an elderly woman is not.
Some people of Texas may support the kind of bullying Abbott has prepared to defend, and most progressive activists are hardened to it, but I think average Americans hate it. Putting malice under a national spotlight might be the best way to turn people against voter ID laws in general.
Right now, Americans support the idea of voter ID laws by huge margins: polls show favorable attitudes toward a generic "ID requirement" to be between 70 and 80%. Approval exists across all demographic groups – even among black voters (51%), one of the groups that is, of course, disproportionately disenfranchised by these laws.
But the reasons that the public supports such laws aren't the same as the GOP's reasons for pursuing them: Republicans want to prevent specific types of people from voting; the American public wants voting to be fair. That's why conservatives have had to hammer so hard on the false narrative of "voter fraud" – to convince everyone that it's what the laws are really about.
Add context to the "ID requirement" poll question that Americans get behind, though, and public support changes dramatically. Asurvey in North Carolina (taken as the state was considering taking up an amendment on the issue) found initial support for voter ID to be 71%. Pollsters then drilled further down and came up with numbers that speak to a truly democratic impulse:
- 72% say it's wrong to pass laws that make it harder for certain people to vote.
- 62% say they oppose a law that makes it harder for people of one party to vote.
- 74% say there should be demonstrated problems before legislators apply a fix.
If nothing else, these results suggests that Abbott's argument that supposedly party-based redistricting isn't the free pass – at least, from the public's standpoint, if not the court's – that he thinks it is.
In North Carolina, pollsters found that support for the law decreased as the 2012 election neared and voters started to pay attention and become educated on the issue. Voting rights advocates filled yet another suit based on disenfranchising young voters, which could make a further difference. (Way to keep pissing off millennials, GOP!)
That context effect is true nationwide. A different survey found that informing respondents that "Opponents of voters ID laws argue they can actually prevent people who are eligible to vote from voting" brought support for voter ID down by 12 points.
Pollsters have not publicly investigated whether Texan voters would show a similar shift, though it could be significant that support in the state for voter ID has remained at around 66% for the past two years, less than its support nationwide. Of course, 77% of Texasbelieve "voter ID laws are mainly used to prevent fraud," an alternate-reality bubble that attention to these cases may just yet pop.
It's the Department of Justice that'll have to bring this to pass. The GOP has always easily waved away "systemic" racism charges, like those made under the non-gutted VRA, as either outright inventions or the result of looking for equal outcomes rather than equal opportunities. Making clear the racist intent of voter ID laws will bring the discussion back to where it belongs: on equal opportunities, in the voting booth.