Tag Archives: Voter ID

Circular Politics

We took our grandchildren to the Newseum today, and I would recommend it to anyone contemplating a trip to DC. It is a fabulous museum–not at all a dusty repository of newsprint, but an interactive, living testament to the practice of journalism. For our 8 and 10 year olds, there were numerous “games” and short films that buried instruction in entertainment–snapshots of the past as seen through the eyes of those who covered the events.

One of the short films focused on the Freedom Riders, the Birmingham boycott and Selma. Our grandchildren were shocked and uncomprehending, and we had a long talk about the treatment of African-Americans, segregation and the Ku Klux Klan.

The film clip also showed President Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act. The voice-over explained that in many Southern states, ways had been found to keep black people from voting, necessitating a federal law securing their right to cast their ballots.

All I could think of was how contemporary this sounded.

Indiana passed one of the first so-called “Voter ID” laws, justified by a need to reduce a non-existent “voter fraud,” but actually intended to suppress the vote of the poor and minority citizens who vote disproportionately for Democrats. Other states have followed suit. Most recently–and most brazenly–Governor Rick Scott of Florida ordered a draconian “purge” of that swing state’s voter rolls–so draconian, and so indiscriminate (hundreds of eligible voters found themselves summarily removed from the rolls), that the state’s county election officials–Republican and Democrat alike–refused to implement it, and the U.S. Justice Department has sued to halt it.

States may not be able to employ the Poll Tax any more, but these measures have proved to be very serviceable substitutes.

I thought about that while I was assuring my grandchildren that the law signed by President Johnson secured the right to vote for all our citizens. What I didn’t have the heart to tell them was that when you close a door that is being used by dishonorable people, they’re likely to find an open window to wriggle through.

Jefferson was sure right about one thing: eternal vigilance really is the price of liberty.

Vote–If You Can

Voter ID laws, as we all know, are a method to prevent voter fraud– in advance, apparently, since there is little or no evidence that in-person vote fraud has ever been a problem. Actually, as any sentient being knows, it is a way to keep “those people” from voting–“those people” being folks more likely to vote for the other party’s candidates.

Wisconsin has a voter ID law, which (like that in Indiana)requires their BMV to issue free ID’s to those who would otherwise be unconstitutionally disenfranchised. A minor scandal erupted when an email from a state official emerged, instructing BMV workers not to issue ID’s unless specifically asked, and not to inform customers that they were available. When an outraged emloyee urged his coworkers to “spread the word” among their acquaintances that people who needed them should ask, he was fired.

This was all about preventing fraud, of course. And I have some bargain beachfront property to sell you…

Of course, these efforts to make voting more inconvenient or difficult–and thus less likely–aren’t limited to Voter ID laws. Here in Marion County, where the incumbent Mayor needs all the help he can get to stay in office, Republicans have adamantly refused to approve satellite voting sites. They cite the expense, an excuse that rings pretty hollow from the party whose Mayor wants us to reelect him because, among other things, he has given money to private developers. (His words, not mine.)

Oh well. That “self rule” thing wasn’t working out so well anyway. Right?

Playing Politics

Last week, the Indiana Court of Appeals struck down the state’s controversial “Voter ID” law.

 For those of you who somehow missed the intensely political arguments about the motives for and effects of that measure—the most restrictive in the nation—let me briefly recap its somewhat checkered history.

 The measure was originally championed by Secretary of State Todd Rokita, and passed by Republican majorities in the Statehouse. Democrats sued, supported by a number of organizations, including the AARP, Rock the Vote and the NAACP.  They argued that the law violated the federal constitution by effectively disenfranchising many poor and elderly voters who, not so incidentally, tend to vote disproportionately Democratic. They also pointed out that Indiana had been unable to identify any instances of in-person voter fraud. (Where fraud had been confirmed, it was within the absentee ballot process, but the Voter ID law doesn’t apply to absentee voting.)  

 The Democrats lost in a split opinion in the U.S. Supreme Court, although the Court left the door open for a future challenge. The Supreme Court based its opinion largely on the absence of concrete evidence that the law had prevented people from casting ballots. The Democrats had been unable to identify real people who had been adversely affected by the law.

 The recent Indiana Court of Appeals case was brought by the League of Women Voters, and was based on a different theory and a different constitution. This time, the argument was that Indiana’s Constitution requires all voters to be treated uniformly, and that the Voter ID law treats absentee voters and in-person voters differently. The Court unanimously agreed.  

 If the legislature wants to keep the law, in other words, they’ll have to apply it to all voters, not just those who show up in person.

 This seems eminently reasonable, but Governor Daniels was quick to accuse all three judges who issued the opinion of “playing politics.” This rhetoric is unfortunate on a number of levels. It betrays unfamiliarity with the arguments involved, and—worse—paints judges as no more than partisans in robes. Such attacks, as the Indiana Bar Association pointed out, undermine the legitimacy of the judicial system.

Daniel’s intemperate reaction also appears to confirm suspicions that the Voter ID law was itself a partisan effort. As Doug Masson of Masson’s Blog observed in the wake of Daniel’s outburst, “The facts fit together better if you discard the premise that voter fraud was the purpose of the Voter ID law, and replace it with the premise that one political party, temporarily ascendant, saw fit to pass a law that would shave a percentage point or two off the other side’s votes. The Republicans made a calculation that the voters who would vote in person and not have identification would skew Democratic. That calculus changes if you apply the ID requirements to those who vote absentee. Therefore, the absentee voters weren’t subject to the same level of scrutiny.”

In other words, the judges weren’t the ones playing politics.