The photo ID issue, a perennial hot topic between Republicans and Democrats, is on the front burner again. It heated up with a package of bills approved in the Michigan Senate in which voters will be required to present picture identification when registering to vote. At best, however, challenges are a form of racial pandering intended to incite paranoia in the black community.
The legislation winding its way through the Legislature strengthens existing laws that already require some recognized photo ID at the time the ballot is actually cast. It would also require volunteers to undergo training before working on voter registration drives. Voter applicants must prove they are U.S. citizens.
Democrats mainly oppose such measures out of fear they disenfranchise a class of potential voters (blacks) who overwhelmingly vote Democrat. Sen. Coleman Young II, D-Detroit, said the requirements will discourage people from organizing voter registration drives and dampen their willingness to vote. The Michigan League of Women voters, AARP Michigan and the American Civil Liberties Union, chimed in with similar mantras.
These fast-and-loose claims are grossly overstated.
Sen. David Robertson, R-Grand Blanc, probably best nailed the actual intent of the legislation: “The aim is to respect the integrity of our elections, and maintain proper means of transparency, all of the things that are at the heart of the public’s trust in the election process,” said the chairman of the Local Government and Elections Committee. Republicans generally favor photo ID laws as a means of preventing fraud, which is not alien to the voting process.
In 2005, The Detroit News found negligence and fraud in Detroit elections. Voter rolls were plagued by duplicate, incorrect or invalid registrations. City employees were discovered coaching nursing home residents on who they should vote for. Ballots were mailed to juvenile detention homes. The voting registration rolls had 300,000 registrants who had moved or died, and people were voting from abandoned homes and vacant lots.
As recently as last year, Crain’s Detroit Business reported that based on the 2010 Census, there are 30,000 more registered voters than the number of people of voting age in the city of Detroit. City officials claimed they are prohibited from purging the rolls of those who have moved, relocated, deceased or just stopped voting until after the federal election that takes place this year.
The nonpartisan Pew Research Center just released a national study that revealed mistakes in voter rolls in the millions. It said the outdated voter registration system lists nearly 2 million dead people as registered “active” voters. Some 24 million voter registrations (one out of every eight), was no longer valid, has the wrong address or people registered in more than one state.
The Legislature is trying to straighten out the voting records, a “preemptive” strike against fraud that has gone unchallenged and ignored. And Michigan isn’t the first to do so.
Indiana’s law, passed in 2005, was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008. The court essentially said the inconvenience of obtaining an ID was not a substantial burden on the right to vote. Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Wisconsin passed similar laws in 2011 Laws already were on the books in Georgia.
Supreme Court approval, however, wasn’t enough to stop the Obama Justice Department from blocking a South Carolina law requiring all voters to have government-issued photo IDs. True to form, administration officials said the state voter ID law violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by imposing a hardship on black voters.
Almost everyone is America has some form of photo identification. Without it, we couldn’t cash a check, make some credit card purchases, buy a gun, buy alcohol, drive a car or board an airplane.
Those who oppose voter ID are trying to artifically maintain racial voting quotas that give the black vote an edge. They do so at the risk of distorting American democracy.