Rather than backing the partisan election-federalization effort supported by most of his Democratic colleagues, Senator Joe Manchin (D., W. Va.) has put together a framework for a possible bipartisan elections bill. Among the provisions included in his hypothetical — but not yet drafted — legislation is a mandatory voter-ID requirement that would apply to voters in all 50 states.
Manchin’s insistence on its inclusion — as well as an influx of polling indicating widespread support for the election-integrity measure, including among low-income and minority voters — would likely explain some Democrats’ stunning 180-degree turnabout on the issue. Indeed, the For the People Act that congressional Democrats and Biden administration have insisted must be passed to save American democracy would have done the exact opposite of Manchin’s would-be bill, rendering state-imposed voter ID requirements toothless.
Just two months ago, when Georgia’s much-maligned and misrepresented elections bill was still in the news, Stacey Abrams was adamant that its contents concerning voter ID were far too onerous and would suppress the vote. Specifically, Abrams objected to the seemingly commonsense requirement that those taking advantage of absentee, mail-in voting provide their drivers’ license (even if expired) or state-ID-card number. Alternatively, voters would be able to include a copy of another approved document, such as a utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, or passport. It should also be noted that Georgia makes free state-issued IDs available at every county registrar and Department of Driving Services office.
Abrams said the absentee ID requirement was crafted to “make it harder” for “brown and Black people . . . to access these opportunities.” She went on to articulate her view that “when it comes to free ID, the notion of it being free is actually a misnomer. You may not have to pay a fee, (but) you’ve got to pay for the birth certificate, you’ve got to pay for all the documentation that leads up to being able to get that ID. And there is a cost, especially to rural communities, that often do not have transportation or access to the DMVs, which are not on every street corner. So there’s a very real cost to voters to secure this ID.”
In other words, Abrams believes that all documentation of identity —and transportation to and from the offices where they can apply for and receive said documentation — must be provided free of charge in order for it to be fair. She even went so far as to characterize the bill as “Jim Crow in a suit.”
The failed Georgia gubernatorial candidate made a similar point in her 2020 book Our Time Is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America:
Restrictive voter identification is the main weapon to fight the nonexistent wave of voter fraud, but this is not the same as basic voter ID. Basic voter ID has been a part of voting since the beginning, and both Democrats and Republicans agree that people should provide proof of who they are before casting ballots. . . . What has changed in recent years is the type of identification required and the difficulty or expense of securing the necessary documents. Restrictive voter ID severely narrows the list of permitted documents that serve as proof, and these laws typically exclude previously permissible documents.
As an example, Abrams cites a previous Georgia statute that ruled out student IDs, ignoring that these are not necessarily state-issued, and are (typically) only valid for four years. They also often omit important identifying information like address and date of birth.
In any case, while Abrams would surely prefer the more sweeping For the People Act, she suddenly seems enthusiastic about the Manchin proposal.
On CNN, Abrams declared that “what Sen. Manchin is putting forward are some basic building blocks that we need to ensure that democracy is accessible no matter your geography. And those provisions that he is setting forth are strong ones that will create a level playing field, will create standards that do not vary from state to state, and I think will ensure that every American has improved access to the right to vote despite the onslaught of state legislations seeking to restrict access to the right to vote.”
She also, when asked if she’d support a compromise with a voter-ID requirement, argued that it was silly to suggest she wouldn’t.
“That’s one of the fallacies of Republican talking points that have been deeply disturbing. No one has ever objected to having to prove who you are to vote. It’s been part of our nation’s history since the inception of voting,” she responded.
Newly minted Georgia senator Raphael Warnock has also gotten behind the Manchin proposal, asserting that he’s “never been opposed to voter ID. And in fact, I don’t know anybody who is — who believes people shouldn’t have to prove that they are who they say they are. But what has happened over the years is people have played with common sense identification and put into place restrictive measures intended not to preserve the integrity of the outcome, but to select, certain group.”
And yet, Warnock has a long history of criticizing voter ID, even as a concept. In 2016, he decried “all of these voter suppression laws saying we’ve got to have voter ID laws because if we don’t they might vote twice.”
“Are you kidding? Have you been in America these last several years? It’s hard enough to get people to vote once, let alone twice.” He also deemed the new Georgia law “Jim Crow in new clothes.”
Certainly, there exists wiggle room for figures like Warnock and Abrams to support some voter-ID laws and reject others. Yet they’ve never shown sympathy for any of them until this political moment — when supporting some hypothetical measure would help them collect a number of other provisions they desire — even going so far as to compare them to moral atrocities in the past. That nothing specific exists on paper in Congress as of this moment doubtlessly helps them fudge their past positions.
But it nevertheless seems doubtful that Abrams and Warnock will be able to explain how small differences in these respective pieces of legislation can make the difference between the new Jim Crow this spring, and commonsense efforts at preserving the integrity of our elections this summer.