The federal government doesn’t think you should have to prove you’re who you say you are. Well, actually that depends. If you’re getting on an airplane, you not only have to show your ID, you have to let them look through your bag and let them take a picture of you with their special X-ray vision.
But when you show up to vote, that’s another story. Texas is the latest state to find itself in the cross-hairs of the feds because it passed a law requiring citizens to show picture ID before they show up to vote.
The movement to require photo ID when voting has gained steam in recent years as we’ve heard more stories of voter fraud. To demonstrate how easy it is to commit voter fraud, conservative activist James O’Keefe showed up at various polling places on the night of the New Hampshire primary, identifying himself each time as a person who had recently died but was still on the voter rolls. The poll workers did not ask him for an ID, and even told him it wasn’t necessary when he offered to go back to his car and get one.
So why would anyone be against this requirement? You have to show ID to pick up a package from FedEx, but you don’t have to prove you’re who you say you are to vote?
Every state that has passed voter ID laws has been met with a challenge from the Obama administration, which argues that these laws disproportionately disenfranchise minorities because they are more likely than the population as a whole to lack photo ID.
Now let’s be honest here. We’ve all heard the stories of dead people in Chicago helping to catapult John F. Kennedy to the White House in 1960. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Republicans tend to favor voter ID laws and Democrats tend to oppose them. Republicans suspect that voter fraud tends to have a pro-Democratic bias, probably for good reason.
But there is another side to this story that’s worth remembering. I am a black man from the South, and I came of age to vote in the 1960s. Attempts to disenfranchise black voters were real in those days, and they made it necessary to pass laws like the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. I happen to think that most Democrats who object to voter ID laws are insincere, and are concerned about little else besides their own electoral advantage.
But Republicans who favor these laws should go the extra mile to make sure voter ID laws do not have the effect of making it harder for anyone to vote.
The simple way to do that is to match the stringent nature of your photo ID requirement with a concerted outreach to let people know what is necessary to get the required ID. My home state of Georgia instituted a voter ID requirement in 2008. In response to concerns that many voters would be disenfranchised by not having the required ID, Republican Secretary of State Karen Handel initiated a widespread, grassroots voter-education program to make sure people knew what they needed and how to get it.
That seems like the right mix. Photo ID requirements should make it hard to cheat, but they should not make it harder to vote – and that goes for anyone who wants to vote.
If there are some Republicans out there who wouldn’t mind if voter ID requirements drive down the voting turnout from Democratic constituencies, I say this: Instead of discouraging these people from voting, why don’t you make the case to them for why they should vote Republican? It can be done.
Photo ID requirements are basic common sense to prevent voter fraud. When people object to this, it’s hard to believe they really care about voting rights as opposed to cheating rights. And the states who pass these laws should undertake aggressive outreach, as Georgia did, to make sure all voters have the ID they need. It’s simply the right thing to do in a society where we value the right to vote and vote honestly.