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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?

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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