Politics & Policy

John Oliver Eviscerates the Facts on Voter ID

(File photo: Max Whittaker/Getty)

As Shakespeare wrote in King Lear, “Jesters do oft prove prophets.” But this maxim retains the possibility that the best jesters are also sometimes fools.

On Sunday, one of America’s most famous funnymen, Last Week Tonight host John Oliver, ridiculed states that would require voters to show picture identification to cast a ballot. Over the course of his 14-minute bit, Oliver pulled out every predictable talking point against voter ID, including the idea that “studies show” that such laws “disproportionately impact African-American and Latino voters.”

Naturally, Oliver’s frequently funny tirade was hailed by his progressive fans for doing all sorts of violence to an esoteric concept. (“John Oliver decimates public funding for stadiums! John Oliver decapitates patent trolling! John Oliver sets fire to, disembowels, then urinates on the pharmaceutical pricing framework!”)

On Tuesday, however, it was the state of Wisconsin that had the last laugh. Just one business day after Oliver predicted mass disenfranchisement due to voter-ID laws, Wisconsin held its first election with the voter-ID requirement. And according to a study by the University of My Eyeballs, turnout increased 55 percent statewide over the last similar spring-primary election.

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In 2013 — the last contested statewide supreme-court election — around 364,000 voters turned out in Wisconsin. On Tuesday night, that number skyrocketed to about 564,000 voters. Even the 2011 Supreme Court primary, which took place during the electric Wisconsin public-union battle, drew only around 420,000 voters — well short of Tuesday’s total.

And the turnout bump wasn’t due to rural Caucasians flocking to the polls en masse. In the city of Milwaukee, which is 53 percent ethnic minority, the vote nearly doubled, from 34,000 to 65,000. Earlier, local election watchers had predicted a turnout of about 30,000.

#share#Further, there were scant reports of people denied the right to vote on Election Day. One short story in a local Madison progressive paper reported that a college student was unable to vote because the student lacked an in-state driver’s license. What the story did not mention was that the student was entitled to cast a provisional ballot, which would have allowed him to prove his residency by Friday of this week.

The Left’s main problem in predicting the voter-ID apocalypse is that they often rely on unproven, speculative numbers to cry foul. For instance, Oliver complained that 300,000 people in Wisconsin lacked the requisite ID to cast a ballot.

EDITORIAL: Leave the Voting Rights Act Alone

But, as Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens pointed out in upholding Indiana’s voter-ID law, being unwilling to obtain an ID to vote is very different from being unable to do so. And the fact that those people may currently lack a valid ID doesn’t mean they won’t get an ID when the law compels them to do so.

Voter-ID laws are wildly popular not only among Americans generally but also among African Americans specifically.

Oliver’s commentary also left out the indisputable fact that voter-ID laws are wildly popular not only among Americans generally but also among African Americans specifically. In a national poll conducted by the Washington Post in 2012, two-thirds of African Americans said they supported the idea of showing identification at the polls. This tracks with other polls showing the same thing, which may leave some minorities scratching their heads over why a British white man is telling them they’re not being black correctly.

Wisconsin first passed its voter-ID bill in 2011, and the state has faced legal hurdles since it finally took effect this week. Over that time, the law has been called a step toward Jim Crow, a “poll tax,” and a “vote suppression” tool. But given the explosion in voting in Wisconsin this week, consider that myth “demolished!” “destroyed!” and potentially “eviscerated!

— Christian Schneider is a columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

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