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The Logic of Voter ID

The voter ID law recently enacted in Pennsylvania and which already operates in other states has occasioned considerable controversy. Although a majority of Americans polled favor the idea that would-be voters should be required to identify themselves with a license or with some other persuasive document, opposition persists. Allow me to express my considered view, which was also the position taken by the Supreme Court in 2002, that there is nothing constitutionally wrong with recent measures taken against voter fraud. They do not single out minorities; and the attempts being made by Attorney General Eric Holder, at the bidding of President Obama, to get the laws rescinded as an extension of the poll tax once used in the South to depress black turnout, are groundless. All that voters are being asked to do is provide evidence that they have a legal right to vote.

One counter-argument is that although Republicans may gain in the short run by enacting voter ID laws, they will permanently lose the good will of certain groups. But this is entirely unconvincing.  Those who may be excluded by the laws would never likely vote Republican; and those who have complained the most loudly against the laws are black advocates and Democratic operatives, neither of which group seems to be a promising target for Republican persuasion. Despite recent attempts by Mitt Romney to court the black vote, he will not likely obtain more of it than McCain, who picked up only five percent. Would it pay for Pennsylvania Governor Corbett and other Republican politicians to reject voter ID measures on the grounds that they may alienate those who already decidedly against them?

This is like imagining a situation in which Obama and Holder would refrain from challenging known Christian traditionalists and NRA lobbyists who are improperly registered to vote. The Dems would be fools if they did this. And let me hazard the assumption that those who are criticizing Republican support of the ID measures would not object in the least if the present administration found some legal means of preventing their opponents from voting.

In the end, however, Obama may be facing a serious problem. In Pennsylvania the need for a license ID or some other valid voting identification may result in the loss of over 700,000 votes for the Democratic presidential candidate. This is not only the view of Democratic county chairmen across the state but also the stated opinion of Allegheny County state representative (and House Majority Leader) Mike Turzai. According to Turzai, a Republican, the enforcement of the photo ID law that Corbett recently signed will help Romney overcome the deficit he’d otherwise encounter running against Obama in Pennsylvania. This may permit the Republican candidate to win a state that has voted consistently Democratic in presidential elections for several decades. And the law seems to enjoy bipartisan backing, with up to 52% of Democrats expressing agreement, according to a Rasmussen poll taken last year. The public believes that voter fraud is rife; and Holder’s inattentiveness to such charges from Republicans, including empirical evidence of Black Panthers bullying Philadelphia voters in 2008, has generated a backlash.

Further, the Democratic response has been inadequate. It consists mostly of calling one’s opponents racists or accusing them of marginalizing those who have not bothered to register. There is of course a more constructive response. It is relatively easy to register neglectful or otherwise preoccupied voters, who are known to be in one’s camp. This was done in the case of black Democrats in Georgia in 20l0, after an ID measure was passed there and then upheld in court. Holder’s comparison of the ID requirement to Southern poll taxes is not likely to make new converts. It speaks exclusively to those who are already on his side. Moreover, the Attorney General’s appeal to the 1965 Voting Rights Act (passed ironically with overwhelming Republican support) to challenge the right of Southern states to amend voting requirements, is a stalling tactic. It is intended to keep voting requirements from being applied until after the presidential election. Unfortunately for Holder and his boss, the measures will have their strongest effect in battleground states like Pennsylvania and Ohio, which were never subject to the Voting Rights Act.

Obama may believe that a purely practical response to his opponents’ strategic move may not fit his ideologically driven style. Better to scream insensitive or racist and then drag out the civil rights apparatus left from the 1960s. That’s the way he and Holder operate; and with a cooperative media, what the hell. Why not go for it? But this method will not enable Obama to counter the Republicans’ tactical move. Turzai is crowing because he thinks he has the other side cornered. Sensibly he has not accused his opponents of being anti-Christian or anti-patriotic–or whatever else GOP publicists like to call Democrats.

Paul Gottfried is a professor at Elizabethtown College and the author, most recently, of Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America: A Critical Appraisal [1].

13 Comments (Open | Close)

13 Comments To "The Logic of Voter ID"

#1 Comment By Mike Ehling On July 18, 2012 @ 6:18 am

Are Corbett, Turzai, and company “racists”? No, just opportunists. One group that will be disproportionately affected is [2], and to the extent that African-Americans have a higher poverty rate and greater difficulty accessing photo ID, then there’s going to be a disproportionate impact on African-American voters. Note here that I said “to the extent that,” because I can’t cite any specific analysis on this point as to African-Americans, unlike the analysis presented in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer regarding voters over eighty years old.

Take issues of poverty, elderliness, and the like, show that voter ID has a disproportionate impact on such groups, and consider that electoral rights are of constitutional significance — and then apply “over-inclusive/under-inclusive” analysis — and I think voter ID has some a really serious constitutional problem.

By “over-inclusive” analysis I mean that these laws have an “over-inclusive” dragnet effect on a very large segment of the population who are in no way fraudulent voters. Simultaneously, by “under-inclusive” analysis I mean that these laws fail to address the vast majority of cases in which real voter fraud in fact occurs.

Voter ID laws only address the problem of voters who appear at the polling places and misrepresent their identities, but this is a minuscule number of the entire group of voters who will have difficulty in obtaining photo ID and will thus be deprived of their electoral franchise. Conversely, voter ID laws in no way address the vastly larger number of cases in which fraud occurs as a result of illegal assistance at the polls or in the [3], or in which fraud occurs in [4].

Voter ID laws have a disproportionate impact on certain groups within the overall population, and they in no way address the real issue of how voting fraud occurs — not through a voter’s misidentification at the polls but through illegal assistance at the polls, absentee ballot fraud, and fraudulent circulation of nominating petitions. In fact, to the extent that voter ID laws make it more difficult for the elderly to vote in person, they may actually encourage the greater use of absentee ballots, which is an area much more vulnerable to fraud through illegal assistance that interferes with the secrecy of the ballot.

And I’m not writing this as a brief for either Barack da Bomber or Etch-a-Sketch Mitt, neither of whom I have any intention of voting for. Depending on the ability of either the Libertarian or the Green Party to satisfy Pennsylvania’s very difficult requirements for ballot access, I’ll vote Libertarian or Green or else I just won’t vote for president at all. But the objective reality is that Pennsylvania’s voter ID law is a constitutional monstrosity.

And note that I’m only addressing Pennsylvania law since that’s what I have personal familiarity with. In Pennsylvania, a voter must register to vote thirty days before the election, and if there’s any issue of citizenship or the like, that’s up to professionals in the county voter registration departments to handle, and twice-a-year local election boards are poorly qualified to decide those kind of issues of voter eligibility (though there is a limited procedure for “challenge” by party-appointed poll watchers). On the other hand, I think some states do allow voter registration right at the polls on election day, and in such instances of on-the-spot registration there could be a real legitimacy to requiring some photo ID. No such considerations, though, apply in Pennsylvania.

#2 Comment By scrantonius On July 18, 2012 @ 11:29 am

I will confine my comments to one statement — “And let me hazard the assumption that those who are criticizing Republican support of the ID measures would not object in the least if the present administration found some legal means of preventing their opponents from voting.”

I actually disagree strongly, both in the abstract and as one of those criticizing the ID measures. Disenfranchisement is a serious wrong, no matter who the victim is. My general feeling is that greater overall turnout should be encouraged at all levels, and that the legitimacy of decisions and elections derives primarily from this factor — all else being equal (i.e. “free and fair elections”), higher turnout yields a greater approximation to majority positions, which is what we should be trying to achieve in a democracy.

It’s commonly thought that Democrats benefit from high turnout, and perhaps this is true, as things stand now. But what greater participation by the citizenry in the political system should do is cause the parties to shift in their positions and approach the fabled “median voter.” If the parties don’t want to do that, it’s then their elections to lose.

#3 Comment By paul gottfried On July 18, 2012 @ 1:13 pm

I see no reason to applaud high voter turnout, unless we are dealing with informed citizens, who take the time to register.As for older people who don’t register, speaking as a senior citizen, I should not be allowed to vote unless I did register. In any case the Dems wouldn’t be making such a stink about senior citizens (who usually do register and are mostly Republicans),unless they were concerned about losing a large chunk of the black vote, which they will in Pennsylvania in November. Yes there has been voter fraud around here not only with Black Panthers bullying voters in Philadelphia but with busloads of minority voters taken from Philadelphia to Camden in 2006 to cast illegal votes for Jon Corzine. By the way, Canada, which is well to the left of the US politically, has a voter ID law in effect.

#4 Comment By reflectionephemeral On July 18, 2012 @ 1:59 pm

The public believes that voter fraud is rife; and Holder’s inattentiveness to such charges from Republicans, including empirical evidence of Black Panthers bullying Philadelphia voters in 2008, has generated a backlash.

So, you’re admitting that there is zero evidence of voter fraud.

The “empirical evidence” you cite is a video of a few guys outside a polling place being all scary-looking and black. There are no allegations of fraud, and, as they were marching around outside a polling place in a predominantly black neighborhood, an investigation turned up ZERO (0) people who felt intimidated.

The sole reason for the effort to purge voter rolls is because the Republican Party gains from disenfranchisement.

Republicans aren’t not targeting people because of their race; they’re simply engaging in a power grab, reflecting their complete indifference to the interests and voting rights of the less well-off. Reasonable people can disagree as to whether or not that constitutes racism.

#5 Comment By Simon On July 19, 2012 @ 3:23 pm

Remind me again why I should be listening to someone who explicitly opposes mass democracy in his books on the subject on voter fraud. Editors?

#6 Comment By Tom On July 19, 2012 @ 4:41 pm

The only people that will be discriminated
against by voter ID are those who vote
illegally.

#7 Comment By Thomas O. Meehan On July 19, 2012 @ 8:04 pm

It’s a pity that Dr. Gottfied’s perfectly natural antipathy to mass Democracy should come as a surprise to so many here. It is that mass Democracy, with its ever widening franchise representing the least engaged or responsible elements of society that is the problem driving our decline. Yet many so called conservatives are simple enough to see it as the answer.

#8 Comment By paul gottfried On July 19, 2012 @ 10:18 pm

I thank Mr. Meehan for defending my stated reservations about mass democracy, a term that I carefully define in my books. But even those who reject these reservations and my writing about them should understand thatmy non-acceptance of the implications of mass democracy does not disqualify me from writing on voter-ID laws. I see no connection between my critical comments about late modern forms of democracy and my capacity to address voter fraud and current attempts to deal with it. Must one swear alliegance to mass democracy in order to be taken seriously as a commentator on voter-ID laws?

#9 Comment By criolle johnny On July 19, 2012 @ 11:33 pm

Mr Meehan:
The writers of the Constitution intended to preclude the effects of mass “democracy”.
The president is elected by the electoral college. THAT is not via “democracy”.
The justices and federal judges are appointed by the president and approved by the senate. I fail to see any sign of “democracy” in that process.
The senate itself was originally voted into office by the state legislatures and even today, every state has two senators, regardless of population. There is a glaring lack of “democracy” in that representation.
The entire executive branch, the entire judicial branch and one half of the legislative branch of our government are NOT elected via any pretense of “democratic” process.
The founding fathers INTENDED to prevent the least engaged and least responsible members from having too much influence on government. If not for the short-circuit of the 17th Amendment, those unfortunates would have even less influence than they have today.
“A republic, madam, if you can keep it.” Ben Franklin

#10 Comment By Thomas O. Meehan On July 19, 2012 @ 11:40 pm

My last comment was poorly worded so I’ll give it another try. People calling themselves conservatives who confuse voting with a sacrament open to all, are idiots. The charm of voting is among other things, to spread the decision making power to stakeholders, thus freeing the natural aristocracy from the randomness inherent in monarchy. The tragedy of the franchise is that once expanded, it developes a life of it’s own.

Granting the franchise to millions of ignoramuses, felons, and the poor was a disaster. Such people will always vote on an emotional basis. They will never resist the temptation to vote themselves money out of their fellow citizens pockets. Reforming
a system that amounts to nothing more than a rigged popularity contest for fools is an impossibility.

#11 Comment By Joe On July 20, 2012 @ 7:24 pm

“…including empirical evidence of Black Panthers bullying Philadelphia voters in 2008, has generated a backlash.”

I’m sorry, but making the people trying to vote show their ID would solve this how?

#12 Comment By Gen Xer On July 21, 2012 @ 8:34 am

While I agree with Mr. Meehan’s comments, I must observe that his last paragraph is true of many middle-class, white GOP voters. If we have learned anything, it is that the so-called “salt of the earth” American is just as emotional and self-interested in his voting habits as any Black Panther. The tendency of many Evangelicals to support Messianic US idiocy is proof enough. If anything, one could argue the [white] middle and working class are less realistic in their voting habits than the lumpenprols, a fact that TAC writers bemoan constantly.

Comments from a gen X tax-payer who resents shelling out for medicare for middle-aged and elderly chain-smokers and/or gluttons who were in favor of debt-financed fighting “Islamofascists” “over there” so we didn’t fight them “over here”, oh and when we weren’t killin’ em, we were democratizing them.

My problem with the far right is that it will decry mass democracy vis-a-vis lumpenprols and identity politics, rightly pointing out the corruption and decadence in those political circles, but then romanticize what Bill O’Reilly calls “the folks.” It’s the classic Jeffersonian romantic view of a non-existent, virtuous, moderate yeoman class. The actual and spiritual descendants of those yeoman have shown themselves quite happy to splurge on wars and medicine, selling their grandchildren into debt slavery to do it and in the last ten years ignoring the extremely pessimistic message of the Bible and Christianity about a hopelessly flawed world. Maybe Iraq is brought up too much, but it is going to take generations for the GOP to live that crap down.

The franchise should have never been extended to large sections of the middle class and working class simultaneously with the lionization of the parvenu. The last part is a major part of what ails the US. By lionizing said yeoman, as Jefferson did, he opened the door for all the other crap that followed.

But then again, our elites are not so great.

#13 Comment By Karen On August 12, 2012 @ 2:27 pm

All I know is that I am sick and tired of showing “my papers” everywhere I go, including hotels (that I have already paid for), airplanes, amusement parks, fund raisers. Unions make their members show ID before voting. Some hotels in NYC won’t call a guest’s room until you give them your ID and they Xerox it and keep it on file. So, what’s one more mandatory “show me your ID” rule? How about getting rid of all them? How about bringing back freedom of movement and freedom of association?