The likely future of Voter ID laws

“Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election; the Voter ID Law does not further this goal”

It’s way too early to forecast the fate of the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014, the federal legislation introduced Thursday in response to the United States Supreme Court’s decision last June in Shelby County v. Holder which struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act. This sensible new measure has bipartisan support. But already there are grumblings on the right that the bill either isn’t necessary or that it too boldly protects the rights of minority citizens to be free from…discriminatory voting practices…

But it’s not too early to know that state voter identification laws will have an exalted place of protection in the Congressional response to Shelby County no matter what the final legislation looks like. In an effort to garner bipartisan support, that is to say in an effort to appease Republican lawmakers, the bill’s sponsors specifically exempted state voter ID laws from the litany of discriminatory voting policies and practices that would count under the new “coverage formula” contemplated by Section 4 of the proposed law. It’s like proposing a law to ban football and then exempting the Super Bowl.

The VRAA tells us that it will be left to state and federal judges around the nation to render their own judgment about the constitutionality of voter ID laws. And right on cue, the day after the federal measure was introduced on Capitol Hill, a judge in Pennsylvania did just that. Following a lengthy trial last summer, and six months of agonizing delay, Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard L. McGinley on Friday struck down Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law as violative of the constitutional rights of state voters…

The ruling is significant on its own terms, of course; it’s a major victory for voting rights advocates and a setback for vote suppressors in the state and everywhere else. As a matter of politics the import is clear. Pennsylvania is an eternal swing state—although it has swung blue most recently in national contests—and it is still considered a must-win for Democratic candidates for president. By blocking a law that would have erected practical impediments to mostly poor, young, old, and minority voters, Friday’s ruling makes it more likely that those likely Democratic voters will have their votes counted in 2014, at least…

But mostly the ruling is significant—and will have ramifications far beyond the Keystone State—because it represents the judicial result of the first, full-blown evidentiary trial to be held in a voter ID case since the Supreme Court triggered the current generation of voter suppression laws with its 2008 ruling in an Indiana case…

It also lays bare the weakness of the evidence that officials in other states have proffered to justify restricting the rights of their citizens to vote. It says to advocates on both sides of this fight that the state’s proof…wasn’t remotely good enough even considering the Supreme Court’s broad deference offered…

I think this is what…Wendy Weiser was getting at when she told The New York Times Friday: “The court really looked at the actual impact of the law…The issue is how they affect people in practice, not in theory. And in practice, it turns out that a significant number of people can’t get the photo ID they need.” It’s one thing to proclaim that these laws are a mere nuisance, in other words, it’s quite another to hear what burdens they impose upon voters who already are well registered to vote…

The takeaway here is inescapable. If they want to see these laws survive, Republicans pushing for them across the nation will have to put their money where their mouths are and properly fund the infrastructure required in each states to actually make it easier for registered voters to get new cards. Never mind the proof of racial animus or partisan effect — the fact that these measures are consistently imposed without such financial support from legislatures tells you how serious their supporters are about actually improving the accuracy of voting. Judge McGinley didn’t even have to write that out in a footnote.

Even if you are one of those who isn’t bothered by the concept of a universal ID for every citizen of voting age in the country, national standards have to come down on the side of reality. As much as ethically-challenged conservatives on the Supreme Court hold ideology superior to updating our Constitution, they must confront the farce that is Republican claims of voter fraud – with no evidence.

In state after state our supposedly frugal GOP wastes taxpayer funds in attempts to push through crap voter ID laws that are designed to restrict voting – not prevent fraud. While they may have succeeded in utilizing our national fear of everyone but old white men to get a number of legislatures to pass such law – they fail and fall apart when it comes to setting aside the bucks to enable access for real voters. Which still manages to be about 100% of us.

Our “moderate” Republican governor here in New Mexico set her secretary of state loose in a witch hunt for undocumentados who were supposedly voting en masse in state elections. The blather was that there was the possibility of as many as 200,000 of these illegal votes in past elections. After wasting time and money for a year, the state came up with about a dozen people who’d registered to vote – illegally – because they weren’t citizens. It also turned out they’d registered because they thought they were required to do so. And once they were told different they never tried to vote.

One more myth of ineligible voters swaying elections turns out to be a lie. And when Election Day rolls around, the mechanisms already in place work as they are intended – and mass voter fraud doesn’t stand a chance. Even in a state where grassroots political corruption is considered a lovable old tradition.

One thought on “The likely future of Voter ID laws

  1. Amandla says:

    “Students Joining Battle to Upend Laws on Voter ID : College Students Claim Voter ID Laws Discriminate Based on Age” (7/5/14) Joining a challenge to a North Carolina state law alongside the N.A.A.C.P., the American Civil Liberties Union and the Justice Department, lawyers for seven college students and three voter-registration advocates are making the novel constitutional argument that the law violates the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18 from 21.

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