The Corner

Elections

Democrats Obscure Their Stand on Voter ID, with Help from the Press

An election worker checks a voter’s drivers license in Charlotte, N.C., March 15, 2016. (Chris Keane/Reuters)

Last week the Democrats pushed a bill they presented as a “voting-rights compromise” designed to get Republican votes. They got none. Twice in recent days the Washington Post has published op-eds arguing that the filibuster needs to be ended or weakened to overcome this unreasonable Republican opposition. What this coverage does not mention is that the supposedly moderate bill would wipe out state voting laws that have strong support from the public.

Those laws require that voters present photo identification. The law that Democrats are pushing would forbid states from requiring photo identification in federal elections. Instead, states would have to accept (for example) utility bills, fishing licenses, and sworn written statements with a witness.

This feature of the bill was the first item that Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell mentioned to justify his rejection of it, saying it had the “same rotten core” as previous Democratic election bills.

Proponents of the legislation have, by contrast, drawn little attention to this provision. The Center for American Progress didn’t mention it in its write-up. The Brennan Center merely alluded to it.

News outlets didn’t shed much light on the identification issue, either. It came up only in vague form in ABC’s report: The bill included “sweeping election law changes, including voter ID requirements.” The New York Times misdescribed the bill, saying it would “mandate that voters provide some form of identification before casting a ballot.” Vanity Fair ran a rant about the Republican opposition to the bill that relied on that false Times account. (Democratic election lawyer Marc Elias, not surprisingly, had a better grasp of the bill, writing that it “permits states to decide whether to require voter identification, but broadens the list of acceptable IDs for states that choose to require them.” Vox also got it right.) The Washington Post didn’t mention it at all. All three of those last outlets quoted McConnell’s “rotten core” statement and so should have been at least aware that Republicans had objected to the voter-ID portion of the bill.

We may infer that Democrats remain dead-set against photo-identification requirements for voters, that they know it is not a winning political stand for them, and that much of the press will help minimize their vulnerability. It would have been exceedingly strange if Republicans had supported a bill that forbade states to adopt a policy that they think is wise and that is also popular. But a lot of consumers of political news wouldn’t have understood that point, either.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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