Why is the Justice Department doing everything in its power to invalidate Voter ID laws? According to Attorney General Eric Holder, it’s simply a question of voting rights. But lawyers representing the state of Texas, whose voter ID law is being challenged in federal court this week by the federal government, have a different explanation. They say that while Holder claims Republicans have promulgated voter integrity laws to limit the number of blacks and Hispanics casting ballots and increase their chances of winning, that’s looking at the case through the wrong end of the telescope. Instead, it is, as voter ID defenders rightly assert, the result of a Democratic administration trying to alter the outcome of elections in southern, Republican-leaning states.
That charge has the Justice Department outraged as they think the claim of Texas’s attorneys that it is the feds who are practicing a form of discrimination is absurd. The government argues that laws requiring voters to identify themselves when voting are inherently discriminatory because the poor, the elderly, and blacks and Hispanics are less likely to have a photo ID. But the context here is not so much the presumption that these groups are either too stupid or without the will to procure a picture ID. It is the effort of the Justice Department to resurrect the “pre-clearance” provisions of the Voting Rights Act which used to require southern states to get federal permission before changing their voter procedures.
But, as the Supreme Court has ruled, singling out these states for that kind of treatment can no longer be justified by the awful practices that were prevalent more than a half-century ago. Though Holder and the groups who claim to represent the cause of civil rights are acting as if they are still fighting Jim Crow laws, their efforts aren’t so much about fighting discrimination as they are an attempt to convince the country that it is still 1964, not 2014.
The facts about voter ID laws are pretty simple. In an age when you can’t complete virtually any private or public transaction, fly, take a train, or get prescription drugs without a photo ID, the notion that people should be allowed to simply show up and cast a ballot without proving that you are a registered voter boggles the mind. The overwhelming majority of Americans have photo identification and states that require them for voting offer free state ID cards for those who don’t have drivers’ licenses or passports.
The government argues that this makes it impossible for some to vote because they have no ability to get identification. But the witnesses they are bringing forward to back up that assertion don’t seem terribly credible. In the New York Times feature on the issue, we are introduced to one such example, 22-year-old Imani Clark, who resides in rural Texas where there is no public transportation to get her to a state center to get an ID card. But it boggles the mind to think that what appears to be an able-bodied employed young African-American student such as Clark is really unable to come up with any proof of her identity. Indeed, to assume that African Americans or Hispanics are without the wit to do so is itself a discriminatory view that most blacks and Hispanics do not share.
As Texas’s lawyers have pointed out, a report by the Justice Department’s inspector general that said there was no evidence of a discriminatory intent behind voter ID laws but also noted that there was evidence of “deep ideological polarization” among government lawyers pursuing this case.
That report was spot on. The claim that voter fraud is unknown in the United States—thus obviating the need for voter integrity provisions—is a joke. To believe that we would have to forget everything we know about American political history as well as human nature.
But while asserting that voter fraud is unproven, Justice believes it can merely claim discrimination without being required to show either intent during its passage or bias in the law’s implementation. But to do so it they must act as if the Texas of today is no different from the Texas of the past. This is a false charge that one can only hope the courts will eventually reject.
The only thing motivating this case is partisan politics. But rather than it being a function of a prejudiced GOP seeking to hamstring Democrats, the truth is that it is really a matter of a Democratic administration trying to gin up anger among African Americans and Hispanics about a measure that is simply a matter of common sense. Democrats are trying to hype minority turnout not by protecting their rights but by falsely asserting prejudice. This is nothing but a partisan charade and a case that the courts should throw out.