Voter ID Laws: Reasonable, Not Racist

photo illustration by: Todd Wiseman

Kansas and Arizona are suing the federal government over the feds’ refusal to allow those two states to institute voter ID laws that conflict with federal law. The lawsuit asks the federal government to modify its voter registration form in those states to allow for proof of citizenship. Currently, the federal voter registration form only requires prospective voters to verbally declare that they are citizens.

Kansas and Arizona will probably lose their case- the supremacy of federal law over state law is a deeply entrenched facet of our Constitution and is buttressed by miles of case law and legal precedent.

Still, it’s worth considering the merit of Kansas and Arizona’s larger point: should proof of citizenship be required to vote?

Since the founding of our Nation, voting has ranked among our most cherished rights, and requiring voters to demonstrate who they are safeguards, rather than assaults that right.

The status quo, with its laughably lax requirement of a mere verbal “pledge” that an individual is a citizen, doesn’t cut it.

But America has a dark history of denying voting rights to women and minorities. As Americans, we can and should have a good faith conversation about the appropriate means of determining eligibility to vote.

So why can’t Democrats do so without demagoguing the issue to death? In discussing voting ID laws, Democratic politicians see an opportunity to cast Republicans as racists (their favorite straw man) and themselves as latter-day civil rights crusaders.

With this Wednesday marking the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Democrats’ natural urge to play racial politics is all the more tantalizing.

But to compare contemporary conflicts over voter ID laws with the deplorable discriminatory policies of Martin Luther King’s day devalues the man and his legacy.

Put another way, voter ID laws are Jim Crow laws like Oasis is the Beatles.

And the idea that voter ID laws exist so that racist southern governors can prevent minorities from voting is absurd on its face: Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware and Washington State all require some form of identification to vote.

The record amongst other nations is even more telling. Our friendly neighbor to the north, Canada, requires citizens to show proof of address to vote.

Sweden, Switzerland and Ireland all require some proof of identification to vote.

In the Netherlands, where practically everything is legal, voters need to show both a government issued polling notification and a photo ID in order to vote.

That’s Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Ireland and the Netherlands – hardly a roll call of institutionally racist countries.

Indeed, most other countries in the civilized world look at the United States in disbelief that we don’t require proof of identification to vote.

Even our own bipartisan Commission on Federal Election Reform recommended a voter ID requirement when they issued their comprehensive recommendations in 2005. Their report called voter identification one of “five pillars” that would “build confidence” in the integrity of federal elections. Only three of the 21 commission members voted against requiring photo identification of voters. Of course, that Commission was co-chaired by notorious right-wing hack Jimmy Carter.

America’s history of institutional racism at the ballot box is very real. But it’s also history. National opinion polls continually show about 70% support for voter ID laws. Does anyone really believe that 70% of Americans want to suppress minority voting rights?

But the first instinct of too many on the left is to brand those who would protect the time-honored tenet of “one citizen, one vote” as “racists” is a sad commentary on the state of our discourse.

As Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal recently put it, “there is no more shallow, hollow, or soulless way to think about human beings than in terms of their skin color.”

But many Democrats can’t seem to talk about voter ID laws without doing just that.


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