Dec 27, 2011 11:35 PM GMT
Democrats insist that photo IDs are an unnecessary impediment to voting. So why is it they are ok with photo ID requirements for travelling and gun licenses? Are those racist requirements of the state as well?
IF we can stop everyone's knee from jerking a moment, we need a rational discussion of the growing number of proposals to require picture ID for voting.
Some of the ideas stink. They include the version of the photo ID requirement enacted this year by the Republican majority in the Georgia Legislature and cleared under the Voting Rights Act late last month by the Bush administration's Justice Department.
Among the problems with the Georgia approach is the possible fee for acquiring an approved form of identification. If it looks like a poll tax and walks like a poll tax, it's a poll tax.
The Georgia procedure was challenged last week in federal court, and modest good luck to the plaintiffs on some narrow grounds.
But there is nothing inherently undemocratic about the idea of being required to show a piece of government-issued identification with a picture in order to cast a ballot.
Now and then, (OK, rarely) I get the urge to give the American Civil Liberties Union a good shaking. This is one of the issues that puts me in that mood. I wasn't feeling lonely, even though I'm stuck on this issue with some weird folks. Quietly some open-minded political scientists had assured me that they agreed there was no congenital problem with requiring voters to show a picture ID, although the issue should not be viewed alone. I concur — and will flesh out that point in a moment.
Then, the same day that opponents were hitting the courthouse in Atlanta, the Commission on Federal Election Reform, a pretty distinguished group led by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, issued its report.
Among its recommendations was that prospective voters be required to present a form of photo ID when they arrive at the polls.
The commission, apparently seeking to work out all the kinks in what it knew would be a controversial proposal as well as to build in safeguards, may have overrefined the point. It specifies use of the REAL ID, a card that flows from a new federal requirement for state-issued drivers licenses. Among the issues that the REAL ID would answer is that of whether a prospective voter is, as required by law, a citizen. There could be other solutions as well.
Three of the commission's 20 members dissented from the photo ID proposal.
Former Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, of South Dakota, in a statement joined by Raul Yzaguirre, an Arizona State University professor and former president of the National Council of La Raza, and Spencer Overton of the George Washington University School of Law, made this overall point: "For voters who have traditionally faced barriers to voting — racial and ethnic minorities, Native Americans, the disabled and language minorities, the indigent and the elderly — these recommendations appear to be more about ballot security than access to the ballot."
Both sides of the coin are important. And both sides need to be emphasized — not only in law but in local, state and national efforts to get people registered (including with a photo ID if that's the consensus) and to the polls.
Keep in mind that the photo ID requirement meets the race-sensitive standards of Carter — as well as commission witness Andrew Young, the former U.S. House member and diplomat who got his start in the civil rights movement with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
As with so many campaign and electoral issues, this boils down to a question of whose ox is being gored. Democrats want low thresholds, with what they believe will be more of their voters enfranchised; Republicans want tough security and the concomitant smaller turnout.
And why does each group want its view to prevail? Because each believes it advantages its own preferred outcome.
"There is bad faith on both sides," noted Andrew Gumbel, a Los Angeles-based correspondent for The (London) Independent who is just out with Steal This Vote: Dirty Elections and the Rotten History of Democracy in America (Nation Books, 2005). "Just as Republicans are overkeen (in ballot security), people on the other side are excessively lackadaisical."
Gumbel, in a telephone interview last week, declared himself "agnostic" on the issue of picture ID for voters. "It's a real knotty problem" as America faces a necessary clean up of voter rolls without encouraging voter suppression.
What's the big problem?
"Both parties have spent 100 years designing the (election) system to suit them" Gumbel said.
That's why the recommendation of the bipartisan Carter-Baker commission, at least on the issue of requiring photo ID for voting, seems a reasonable step on a long road to reform.