Commentary Magazine


Topic: Voter ID laws

A Powerful Argument for Voter ID Laws

The latest video out by James O’Keefe is a powerful argument for voter ID laws, with a cameo from Eric Holder (actually his would-be voting impersonator). As a requisite disclaimer, O’Keefe has been accused of selectively editing videos in the past, but this one appears to include the full conversation.

New York Magazine says there’s nothing to see here:

The question is whether anyone should really care. Yes, if you wanted to, you could risk five years in prison and a $10,000 fine to vote for someone else, but we’re not sure why you would, since a single vote, or even a few votes, will never make a difference. (Okay, almost never.) Could a group of hundreds or thousands of fraudsters be mobilized to go around to different polling stations on election day and vote for one particular candidate or issue, possibly altering the outcome of an election? It would be difficult to organize surreptitiously, but sure, it’s probably doable. But it has never happened.

That’s like the government saying it’s pointless for bars to check IDs, because underage drinkers will face a hefty fine if they’re caught. The punishment becomes less of a deterrent if there’s a very high probability of getting away with the crime.

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The latest video out by James O’Keefe is a powerful argument for voter ID laws, with a cameo from Eric Holder (actually his would-be voting impersonator). As a requisite disclaimer, O’Keefe has been accused of selectively editing videos in the past, but this one appears to include the full conversation.

New York Magazine says there’s nothing to see here:

The question is whether anyone should really care. Yes, if you wanted to, you could risk five years in prison and a $10,000 fine to vote for someone else, but we’re not sure why you would, since a single vote, or even a few votes, will never make a difference. (Okay, almost never.) Could a group of hundreds or thousands of fraudsters be mobilized to go around to different polling stations on election day and vote for one particular candidate or issue, possibly altering the outcome of an election? It would be difficult to organize surreptitiously, but sure, it’s probably doable. But it has never happened.

That’s like the government saying it’s pointless for bars to check IDs, because underage drinkers will face a hefty fine if they’re caught. The punishment becomes less of a deterrent if there’s a very high probability of getting away with the crime.

Voter fraud, by the way, is notoriously difficult to prosecute. Unless the fraudster sparks the suspicion of a polling official, the incident is unlikely to be reported or investigated. Often a fake name and/or address are used, which means there’s little chance of tracking this person down once he’s left the premises. And even if the suspect is reported and somehow located, it’s difficult to prove intentional fraud – can anyone demonstrate that this was the same individual at the polling location? Was the fraud intentional, or could it have been done in error?

And yes, voting fraud is a big deal, even if, as New York Magazine stipulates, the fraud doesn’t sway the election one way or another. Every false ballot cast for Candidate A undermines the democratic process by canceling out a legitimate ballot cast for Candidate B. Is it an epidemic? Maybe not. But the whole blasé “what’s a little bit of voter fraud anyway?” attitude seems to be the exact opposite of what the media should be espousing. It’s a message that welcomes corruption. Conservatives have proposed voter ID laws; some others may argue these laws are ineffective. That’s a debate to have. But denying that there’s a problem – or at least loopholes that could easily lead to a serious problem – isn’t a constructive way to deal with the issue.

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Integrity Laws Don’t Restrict the Vote

The effort to derail laws intended to prevent voter fraud is under attack from Democrats who allege the whole idea of asking someone to present a photo ID when voting is a Republican plot. But the allegations of voter suppression got a boost today from the New York Times in a story that claims registrations of new voters is way down in Florida where such a law was passed last year. According to the Times, the law hasn’t just scared away those who lack a drivers’ license but also is preventing the League of Women Voters as well as other groups like Rock the Vote from doing their civic duty and getting more people to register.

But while the law may not be applied flawlessly, the idea that holding third party groups liable for fraud is an attempt to disenfranchise the poor is a leap of logic that is not sustained by any evidence. Even more to the point, the seemingly damning evidence that the law is resulting in fewer new voters this year proves nothing. Just as important, one pertinent question continues to go unasked whenever voter integrity laws are challenged: why are liberals so appalled about a reform of the system that is set up only to disenfranchise those attempted to cast fraudulent ballots?

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The effort to derail laws intended to prevent voter fraud is under attack from Democrats who allege the whole idea of asking someone to present a photo ID when voting is a Republican plot. But the allegations of voter suppression got a boost today from the New York Times in a story that claims registrations of new voters is way down in Florida where such a law was passed last year. According to the Times, the law hasn’t just scared away those who lack a drivers’ license but also is preventing the League of Women Voters as well as other groups like Rock the Vote from doing their civic duty and getting more people to register.

But while the law may not be applied flawlessly, the idea that holding third party groups liable for fraud is an attempt to disenfranchise the poor is a leap of logic that is not sustained by any evidence. Even more to the point, the seemingly damning evidence that the law is resulting in fewer new voters this year proves nothing. Just as important, one pertinent question continues to go unasked whenever voter integrity laws are challenged: why are liberals so appalled about a reform of the system that is set up only to disenfranchise those attempted to cast fraudulent ballots?

The Times leads its coverage of the story with the assertion that 81,471 fewer people have registered to vote this year in Florida than in a comparable period four years ago and immediately concludes that this must be the fault of a new voter ID law. But the problem with this assumption is noted further down in the article. The two election years can’t be compared because unlike 2012 in which only Republicans are coming out to vote for a potential president, both parties’ nominations were up for grabs in 2008.

Moreover, the comparison between 2008 with the highly exciting and historic Democratic contest between the potential first African-American and first female major party candidates for president as well as a spirited GOP battle and 2012 falls flat. In the aftermath of the Florida Republican Primary, we were told that the relatively low turnout rates were the fault of negative campaign ads and lack of enthusiasm for the candidates, especially frontrunner and Florida Primary winner Mitt Romney. But now we are asked to believe that it wasn’t the dueling negative ads between the Romney and Newt Gingrich super PACs or the Romney boredom factor but the requirement that new voters present a picture ID?

The comparison also breaks down when it is pointed out that four years ago much of the local registration boom in Florida was driven by interest in a state constitutional amendment on property taxes.

More troubling is the assertion that new rules are forcing groups like the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote to abandon their efforts. But while the task of registering voters is obviously made a bit more cumbersome by the requirement that such persons have some basic proof of their own identity, the groups’ decision to scale back their Florida efforts seems to have more to do with a desire to embarrass the state than any real obstacles in their path.

The only real gripe that is produced is an element of the law that holds third party groups liable if the voters they register are fraudulent or handed in late. But while the $50 fines are presented as if they are a modern day version of Jim Crow laws, such minimal accountability is hardly outrageous. Though the League of Women Voters claim that volunteers now need lawyers’ advice before helping people fill out forms, that is sheer hyperbole. So, too, is the absurd claim repeated in the Times that such rules are restrictions on free speech.

The hypocrisy on the part of those protesting the Florida law is made clear when one considers that state laws that are specifically intended to make it difficult to get candidates on the ballot — and which serve an obvious political purpose in restricting the participation of minorities and strengthening of existing elites and parties — are not considered an issue by these so-called good government groups. Unlike the Florida law, such regulations in New York State and elsewhere are genuine restrictions on democracy. In Florida, volunteers don’t need a lawyer; all they need is honesty.

That Florida, a state where the integrity of the 2000 presidential vote seemed to shake the very foundations of the nation’s political system, would reject voter ID or any other effort aimed at keeping the vote fair is absurd. Though we can expect the drumbeat of incitement against such laws to continue, there is no evidence they are doing anything but keeping elections clean.

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NAACP Turns Voter ID Spat Into Satire

The liberal war on voter integrity has now morphed from partisan hypocrisy to parody. It is bad enough for the Obama administration and its cheerleaders in the media to falsely brand the effort by various states to require citizens to present a picture ID when they go to vote as a revival of Jim Crow laws. But the NAACP has reduced that controversy to satire by asking the United Nations Human Rights Council to weigh in on the matter at an upcoming conference on minority rights in Geneva, Switzerland.

This is the same UN Council that is comprised of some of the worst human rights abusers in the world such as China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia. The idea that Americans would ask a group whose members are countries that not only restrict voting rights but lack even the façade of democratic rule to take a stand on U.S. laws is beyond absurd. It seems never to have occurred to the partisans at the NAACP that there is something humorous about regimes that deny all of their citizens any say in governance standing in judgment on an actual working democracy. The arguments arrayed against voter ID laws by the Obama administration and those seeking to create a race issue where none exists are already weak. But by involving the UN, the NAACP has exposed itself to some well-earned scorn.

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The liberal war on voter integrity has now morphed from partisan hypocrisy to parody. It is bad enough for the Obama administration and its cheerleaders in the media to falsely brand the effort by various states to require citizens to present a picture ID when they go to vote as a revival of Jim Crow laws. But the NAACP has reduced that controversy to satire by asking the United Nations Human Rights Council to weigh in on the matter at an upcoming conference on minority rights in Geneva, Switzerland.

This is the same UN Council that is comprised of some of the worst human rights abusers in the world such as China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia. The idea that Americans would ask a group whose members are countries that not only restrict voting rights but lack even the façade of democratic rule to take a stand on U.S. laws is beyond absurd. It seems never to have occurred to the partisans at the NAACP that there is something humorous about regimes that deny all of their citizens any say in governance standing in judgment on an actual working democracy. The arguments arrayed against voter ID laws by the Obama administration and those seeking to create a race issue where none exists are already weak. But by involving the UN, the NAACP has exposed itself to some well-earned scorn.

The UN Human Rights Council is itself a standing mockery of the entire cause of human rights not just because it is comprised of tyrannies who routinely practice the atrocities the council is supposed to combat, but also because it devotes the vast majority of its time and effort to attacking Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East. The UN’s obsession with delegitimizing Israel has long since crossed the line into anti-Semitism. But the world body’s lack of interest in doing something about China’s abuses in Tibet, the plight of women in the Arab world or the suppression of dissent in Cuba and China is just as outrageous.

The internationalization of the voter ID issue is also particularly inane because most developed countries, including the democracies, require citizens to have ID cards as a matter of law.

It should also be remembered that the argument that voter ID laws disenfranchise minorities is a thinly veiled attempt to incite racial distrust at the expense of a good government measure. The notion that there is something discriminatory about requiring voters to properly identify themselves in a nation when such photo IDS are already required for all airline travel and many other routine measures is absurd. The best that Attorney General Holder could do when overruling Texas’ voter ID law last week was to cite the fact that approximately 94 percent of Hispanics have such documentation as opposed to about 96 percent of non-Hispanics. Interestingly, there was no mention in the complaint about any disparity between African-Americans and other citizens even though we are told voter ID laws target the poor.

In fact, as Rich Lowry noted last week in National Review, the Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that voter ID laws were legal. That 6-3-majority opinion was written by liberal Justice John Paul Stevens who wrote, “there is no question about the legitimacy or importance of the State’s interest in counting only the votes of eligible voters.” Stevens also noted “we cannot conclude that the statute imposes ‘excessively burdensome requirements’ on any class of voters.” That is especially true because the states that have passed or considered voter ID laws have made provisions to give such cards free of charge to the tiny minority of citizens who don’t already have them.

Hillary Shelton, the NAACP’s senior vice president for advocacy, claims that by going to Geneva, “We can learn a lot from those who haven’t gone through as much as we have.” But the only thing that can be learned about democracy from China, Cuba or Saudi Arabia or the United Nations is how to suppress rights, not to protect them. Imagine what imprisoned dissidents in those countries will think about the NAACP granting their torturers this sort of legitimacy.

In bringing their flimsy complaint to such a tainted forum, the NAACP isn’t just illustrating the weak nature of their argument. By going before the council in this manner, the NAACP, which once actually stood for principle in the civil rights struggle, is demonstrating indifference to the real abuses of democratic rights around the globe. That isn’t comical. It’s shameful.

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A GOP War on Voting? More Like an Administration War on Voter Integrity

To no one’s surprise, the Department of Justice has formally blocked the state of Texas from enforcing its law requiring voters to present photo identification at the polls. The Civil Rights Division of the DOJ claims the law will have a disproportionate impact on Hispanics, which allows the federal government to spike the measure before it can be put into effect. The argument is that because Hispanics are 46.5 to 120 percent (depending on which statistics you believe) less likely to have a driver’s license or some other form of photo ID, the law is inherently discriminatory. That sounds pretty bad, but once you read what those numbers actually mean, the argument is not quite as clear cut.

Many of the liberal claims that the push for voter ID laws constitutes a GOP “war on voting” seem to be based on the assumption that the lack of photo ID is quite common. Yet even in Texas, the DOJ acknowledges that 93.7 percent of Hispanics have such documentation as opposed to 95.7 percent of non-Hispanics. That is a not-inconsiderable number, but it is difficult to pretend this amounts to disenfranchising Hispanics or any other sector of the population. Yet rather than seek to aid the state’s offer of a free ID to anyone who wants one, the Obama administration prefers to use its power under the Civil Rights Act to prevent the passage of what is merely a common-sense measure to prevent voter fraud. In doing so, it appears they are not so much defending the disadvantaged but seeking to play politics on a good government measure. The fact that they are not also claiming discrimination against African-Americans raises other questions about both the numbers and the situation on the ground in Texas.

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To no one’s surprise, the Department of Justice has formally blocked the state of Texas from enforcing its law requiring voters to present photo identification at the polls. The Civil Rights Division of the DOJ claims the law will have a disproportionate impact on Hispanics, which allows the federal government to spike the measure before it can be put into effect. The argument is that because Hispanics are 46.5 to 120 percent (depending on which statistics you believe) less likely to have a driver’s license or some other form of photo ID, the law is inherently discriminatory. That sounds pretty bad, but once you read what those numbers actually mean, the argument is not quite as clear cut.

Many of the liberal claims that the push for voter ID laws constitutes a GOP “war on voting” seem to be based on the assumption that the lack of photo ID is quite common. Yet even in Texas, the DOJ acknowledges that 93.7 percent of Hispanics have such documentation as opposed to 95.7 percent of non-Hispanics. That is a not-inconsiderable number, but it is difficult to pretend this amounts to disenfranchising Hispanics or any other sector of the population. Yet rather than seek to aid the state’s offer of a free ID to anyone who wants one, the Obama administration prefers to use its power under the Civil Rights Act to prevent the passage of what is merely a common-sense measure to prevent voter fraud. In doing so, it appears they are not so much defending the disadvantaged but seeking to play politics on a good government measure. The fact that they are not also claiming discrimination against African-Americans raises other questions about both the numbers and the situation on the ground in Texas.

It bears repeating that in an era in which there are few things that one can legally do in this country without a photo ID, asking citizens to credibly identify themselves before voting is hardly unreasonable. Doing so is no more discriminatory than the refusal of the government to allow someone to board an airplane without similar identification. Americans are obsessed (with good reason) with the problem of identity theft. Despite the liberal assertion that election stealing is unheard of in this country (something they weren’t saying in November 2000 when false charges of stealing votes in Florida and other states were being broadcast by liberals), American political parties have a long and dishonorable tradition of voting the graveyards. It is naïve to assume that such practices would not reappear if safeguards were not put in place.

The charge that those who propose such laws ought to be assumed to be seeking to prevent minorities from voting without any proof of motive or intent is inherently unreasonable. Indeed, it is no more fair to claim that advocates of voter ID laws want to prevent people from voting than it is to assume that those who wish to block those laws from being enforced are really seeking to facilitate voter fraud. However, the zeal with which the administration and the Democrats have taken up this cause does make one wonder.

As for the claims of discrimination in Texas, it is significant that, as even the New York Times noticed, the Department of Justice made no mention of a discriminatory impact of the voter ID law on African-Americans. Can it be there is no such impact or that they only seized on the numbers about the Hispanics because they could be portrayed as having a worse impact on minorities or the poor? Their willingness to only make an issue of Hispanic voters raises the possibility that perhaps there are other issues at play among Hispanics, and perhaps the slightly higher number without proper ID may have something to do with the issue of undocumented aliens.

Meanwhile, other states are not being deterred from making similar efforts. The Pennsylvania legislature is set to vote on a voter ID law this week. However, unlike Texas and South Carolina, whose voter ID law was also halted by the Justice Department, Pennsylvania is not covered by the provisions of the Civil Rights Law, meaning that Obama will not be able to prevent that state from acting to ensure the integrity of the electoral process.

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