Politics & Policy

Obama’s Final Whopper as President

President Obama at his final press conference, January 18, 2017. (Reuters photo: Joshua Roberts)
He claimed that other countries don’t have voter-ID laws, though many do.

President Obama is known for telling some whoppers — “If you like your health-care plan, you can keep it” is perhaps the most infamous – so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that he told a final one as president right before leaving office last week.

At his final press conference, Obama promised that he would continue to fight voter-ID laws and other measures designed to improve voting integrity. The U.S. is “the only country among advanced democracies that makes it harder to vote,” he claimed. “It traces directly back to Jim Crow and the legacy of slavery, and it became sort of acceptable to restrict the franchise. . . . This whole notion of election-voting fraud, this is something that has constantly been disproved. This is fake news.”

The argument over whether or not there is voter fraud will rage on, in part because the Obama administration has spent eight years blocking states from gaining access to federal lists of non-citizen and other possibly illegal voters. Even so, there is abundant evidence that voter fraud is easy to commit. The Heritage Foundation’s website contains hundreds of recent examples of people convicted of stealing votes.

But Obama’s first statement, that the U.S. is unique in trying to enforce ballot integrity, is demonstrably false.

All industrialized democracies — and most that are not — require voters to prove their identity before voting. Britain was a holdout, but last month it announced that persistent examples of voter fraud will require officials to see passports or other documentation from voters in areas prone to corruption.

In 2012, I attended a conference in Washington, D.C., of election officials from more than 60 countries; they convened there to observe the U.S. presidential election. Most were astonished that so many U.S. states don’t require voter ID. Lawyers with whom I spoke are also astonished to see Obama link voter ID with the Jim Crow era. As John Hinderaker of the Powerline blog wrote:

President Obama says the effort to ensure ballot integrity “traces directly back to Jim Crow and the legacy of slavery.” This is idiotic. When Democrats imposed Jim Crow laws across the South in the wake of Reconstruction, they relied on poll taxes and ridiculously difficult or ambiguous tests — administered only, apparently, to African Americans who hadn’t finished a certain grade level — to maintain Democratic Party control. Voter ID had nothing to do with it. But no one ever said that Barack Obama knows anything about history.

And if Obama knew much about geography, he might notice that our neighbors require voter ID. Canada adopted voter-ID requirements in 2007 and saw them reaffirmed in 2010; they have worked smoothly since, with almost no complaints. Mexico’s “Credencial para Votar” has a hologram, a photo, and other information embedded in it, and it is impossible to effectively tamper with it. “Mexico’s paper ballots have a level of sophistication equivalent to legal tender,” Catherine Engelbrecht, of the nonprofit True the Vote organization, told me. “They’ve found a balance between security and access to the polls that has restored confidence in their once tainted elections.”

Britain is painfully learning that it too must take steps to restore confidence in its elections. Sir Eric Pickles, a former Conservative cabinet minister, warned earlier this year, in a government-commissioned report titled “Securing the Ballot,” that voter fraud had been allowed to fester in Muslim communities because of “politically correct over-sensitivities about ethnicity and religion.” Sir Eric said that the authorities were in a “state of denial” and were “turning a blind eye” to fraud cases.

Last month, Theresa May’s government responded to the problem. It announced that “endemic corruption” meant that voters in certain areas will now have to show photo identification. The government may even require people to prove their UK citizenship before granting them the right to vote. It also issued a nationwide ban on political workers handing in large numbers of completed postal ballots on election day. The maximum penalty for voter fraud will be raised from two to ten years. Legislation is being prepared to allow police to block people from “intimidating” voters near polling places.

Chris Skidmore, Britain’s minister for the Constitution, wrote in the Daily Telegraph:

We already ask that people prove who they are in order to rent a car, buy a mortgage, or travel abroad — and I believe we should go further by taking the same approach to protect voting rights.

In many other transactions, ID is an essential requirement — voting for a democratically elected government, your MP, or your councillor is one of the most important transactions someone can make and it is right that in turn their identity and the security of their vote should be protected.

Polls have shown that voter-ID laws and similar measures enjoy great popular support all over the world. In the U.S., a comprehensive Washington Post poll in 2012 found that 74 percent of respondents believed that voters should present a photo ID. Polls since then have confirmed that level of support.

Backing for voter ID in the Washington Post poll crossed all demographic lines.

Backing for voter ID in the Washington Post poll crossed all demographic lines — 66 percent of independents, 60 percent of Democrats, 65 percent of African Americans, and 64 percent of Hispanics. The Post also asked whether respondents thought that the supporters and opponents of voter ID were acting out of genuine concern for fair elections or were instead trying to gain partisan advantage. Respondents replied that voter-ID opponents were acting more out of partisanship than supporters were. “I think that party leaders have tried to make this a Republican-versus-Democrat issue,” former Democratic state representative Jon Brien, who shepherded Rhode Island’s 2011 voter-ID law through a Democratic legislature, told the Pew Center’s Stateline news service. “It’s not. It’s simply a good-government issue.”

Which is precisely why it’s so disappointing to see Barack Obama use it to raise baseless fears that voter ID is a racist form of voter suppression. Even as he leaves office, the president who promised to unify us is continuing his level best to polarize and divide us.

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