Politics & Policy

The Good Sense of Voter ID

It is either the case that African Americans, young people, old people, and poor people labor under some onerous yet curiously undetectable burden that keeps them from obtaining free, government-issued photo IDs, or it is the case that Hillary Clinton, the NAACP, et al. are full of bunk when they claim that voter-ID laws such as the one just adopted in North Carolina amount to “disenfranchisement.”

The evidence strongly suggests the presence of ambient bunk levels approaching toxicity.  In general, Americans are very handy when it comes to acquiring free things issued by the government, and none of the groups that Democrats list as targets for “disenfranchisement” has shown itself disproportionately unskillful in doing so. The oldsters manage to sign themselves up for Social Security and Medicare, and anybody who has observed the effect the word “free” has on a group of young people must look askance at suggestions that they cannot be expected to stand in line a bit for something they want. The truth of the situation was more accurately described by Representative G. K. Butterfield, a North Carolina Democrat who in the course of denouncing the new voter-ID requirement told PBS: “Many people will not do that. They will choose not to vote.”

They will choose not to vote. That is rather a different thing from what transpired under the prefectship of Jim Crow. But even that milder formulation fails to honestly describe Democrats’ objections to the new election rules in North Carolina, which in addition to requiring photo identification reduce the number of early-voting days to ten and disallow the practice of same-day registration. The phrase essential to understanding Democratic objections to clean-election reforms is: “walking-around money.”

It is a time-honored practice in machine-run political jurisdictions — most prevalent in but not limited to Democrat-run cities — to task local political fixers (call them “community organizers”) with delivering the votes of a particular ward to a particular party. Doing so is vexatious and thirsty work, thus the payment of “walking-around money,” which is putatively for operational expenses but is used in effect to purchase votes. Go down to the local homeless shelter, day-labor corner, or wino encampment, pull up with vans, and distribute such benefits as may be motivational in exchange for the effort of the denizens therein to cast their ballots. In the 2000 presidential campaign, the practice was so aggressive that a Milwaukee homeless shelter had to chase away Gore operatives attempting to bribe their wards with cigarettes.

Long early-voting periods and same-day registration facilitate this process. Even the most able political machine can round up only so many people on Election Day, and those who are available for such rounding up often are not registered voters. Under the new rules, North Carolina will reduce the number of days for early voting from 17 to ten, which in our view is ten days too many, and there will be more early-voting locations, which will be open longer hours, resulting in no decrease in the total amount of time available for early voting. But even this non-reduction in early-voting hours is seen as aggression by the Democrats, even more so than the photo-ID rule.

But the photo-ID requirement is important, too, inasmuch as it is a worthwhile thing to be able to ensure that people showing up to vote are who they say they are. Guerrilla filmmaker James O’Keefe famously talked a District of Columbia voting clerk into giving him a ballot for one Eric Holder. As our John Fund has doggedly documented, the voting fraud that Democrats claim is so rare as to be practically exotic in fact happens all the time. Examples abound: A Democratic election volunteer during the hotly contested 2012 Ohio election voted twice. Al Franken very likely sits in the U.S. Senate as the result of votes cast by more than 1,000 ineligible Minnesota voters: In an election decided by 312 votes, 177 people already have been convicted — not just charged, but convicted — of fraud in that election. In Pennsylvania, election engineers were filmed coming out of a prison with boxes of ballots (it is illegal for incarcerated felons to vote in the state). Other examples abound.

Voter-ID laws will help reduce this, but more needs to be done.

Democrats, on the other hand, are inclined to do less, and are engaged in extraordinarily irresponsible rhetoric on this issue. North Carolina’s intentions here seem to be honorable, and a large majority of the state’s voters support the new rules. Which they should: According to state records, 97 percent of those who voted in the 2012 election had DMV-issued identification cards. The very least charitable take on the North Carolina reforms is that Republicans are hoping to block a set of dishonorable election practices exploited more heavily by Democrats. Hillary Clinton will have to wait a bit for her Profile in Courage.

These changes have been made possible in part by a Supreme Court decision that relieved several states of federal oversight of their election rules under the Voting Rights Act, a practice that dates back to the 1960s. The Obama administration already has said that it will seek other avenues by which to impose its will on Texas elections, and North Carolina may yet end up in the crosshairs, too. Given the behavior of Eric Holder’s Justice Department in the matter of the integrity of elections, and given that the administration is still trying to explain away the fact that the IRS has been using its terrifying powers to harass and intimidate the administration’s political enemies, the American people are justified if they are skeptical of President Obama’s intentions in this matter.

The phrase “don’t make a federal case out of it” used to be used as a lighthearted rejoinder to overreaction, but here the literal sense of the phrase is called for. If there are substantial obstacles to securing state-issued photo identification for those 3 percent or so of North Carolina voters who do not have them, then the proper response is to remove those obstacles rather than to block intelligent election reform. Republican legislators in the state already have offered to use their legislative staffs to help voters who might have trouble getting photo IDs, and the state is ready to spend such money as it takes to ensure that inability to pay any related fees will not prevent those without means from getting their IDs—which will also help them to do things like open bank accounts, travel, and visit their elected officials in the public buildings where they work, which generally require identification. Those things may in the long run prove even more important than casting a vote, important as that is.

In North Carolina, voting now will require approximately the same amount of security clearance as purchasing certain cough medicines or, indeed, purchasing the state’s most famous agricultural product. If good sense is bad news for the Democrats, there’s a lesson in that, too.


The Latest