Paul Gottfried’s column on the Pennsylvania voter ID controversy focuses on its political expediency, airing a counter-argument that isn’t actually a counter-argument but what might be the GOP’s second thoughts about ID legislation if they had them (the Republican Party can’t afford to alienate the affected demographics more than it already has – should this be reassuring?). To this he adds his inability to imagine a “situation in which Obama and Holder would refrain from challenging known Christian traditionalists and NRA lobbyists who are improperly registered to vote,” which sheds little light on the issue.
The counter-argument — focused on the fairness issue and the question of its impact — is that voter impersonation is not a systemic problem. But requiring millions of Americans to produce documentation that they do not have could be (for many of these voters, an ID can be costly to attain because of misplaced documents, misspellings, name changes, etc.). Regardless, the effect of ID requirements on turnout might not be as significant as Gottfried — and many Democrats — insist. As Samuel Goldman recently noted in his analysis on this blog:
The practical impact of these laws, then, is likely to be more limited than either advocates or critics believe. Very little fraud is going to be prevented because there isn’t much fraud, especially of the kinds the laws target, in the first place. On the other hand, there’s not much risk of mass disenfranchisement. ID requirements apparently have a minimal effect on turnout. And even Florida’s statewide review of the electoral rolls could find only 96 ineligible voters. Rather than an epidemic of stolen votes or a legal coup d’etat, then, election fraud is a red herring that both parties invoke both to energize their bases and to prepare them for the possibility of failure.
Goldman’s proposed solution is also helpful if tentative:
The whole controversy could be likely be defused with a simple compromise, such as combining ID laws with funding to provide free proofs of identity to citizens who don’t have them. But it’s in neither party’s interest to make the issue disappear.
Video above: “The most Orwellian voter ID ad you’ve ever seen,” produced by one of Romney’s campaign bundlers in Pennsylvania. Weigel captions:
A law that builds a new hurdle for 9.2 percent of Pennsylvania voters is just like the Voting Rights Act that allowed disenfranchised blacks to go to the polls. It makes so much sense now!
Jordan Bloom addressed the voter ID question a few months ago here.