Photo IDs Will Clean Up Federal Elections

Before the 108th Congress expires, the Senate should pass, and President Bush should sign, the Federal Election Integrity Act. H.R. 4844, adopted 228 to 196 by the House of Representatives on September 20, would require Americans to present valid, government-issued photo identification to vote in the 2008 presidential election. By the 2010 mid-term congressional elections, voters must show photo ID that demonstrates American citizenship.

Liberals have reacted to this common-sense anti-vote-fraud effort as if it were conceived at a Klan rally.

“I am disgusted,” Rep. John Lewis (D.-Ga.) told the Afro-American News. “I am shocked…People died in the democratic process. We must not turn back the clock.”

“I am deeply troubled by the House of Representatives’ decision yesterday to endorse a new Jim Crow era poll tax,” said Sen. John Kerry (D.-Mass.).

League of Women Voters president Mary Wilson warned of “a return to the dark days of exclusion—such as literacy tests and poll taxes.”

U.S. Civil Rights Commission vice-chairman Abigail Thernstrom, a Manhattan Institute senior fellow, bristles. “It’s so demeaning to equate asking for ID cards with what civil rights activists Goodman, Schwerner, and Cheney gave their lives fighting. It’s obscene.”

Beyond KKK violence—such as the 1964 murders of Freedom Riders Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney in Mississippi—Southern white supremacists disenfranchised blacks through costly poll taxes and literacy tests that would baffle today’s civics students.

After completing a detailed, four-page voter application, blacks (and usually only blacks) had to read aloud and interpret a passage from the U.S. Constitution. Then, they had to answer such questions as, “In what year did the Congress gain the right to prohibit the migration of persons to the states?” (Answer: 1808). Also: “If a person is charged with treason denies his guilt, how many persons must testify against him before he can be convicted?” (Answer: Two.)

If Republicans tried to steer voters through such hoops, the Left’s outrage would be justified. But their ID-phobia suggests that they see today’s lightly watched polling places as attractive venues for beneficial Election Day shenanigans.

“The names of at least 15,000 dead people are on the rolls in Georgia,” U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner Peter Kirsanow wrote September 25 on National Review Online. “While Alaska has 503,000 people on its voter rolls, there are only 437,000 people of voting age in the state.” In St. Louis, 95.6 percent of eligible voters were registered in 2000. Perhaps they are staggeringly civic-minded. But the registration records of Albert Villa and Ritzy Mekler offer another explanation: He had been dead for a decade, and she was a Springer Spaniel.

As it is, government already expects Americans to produce photo ID to board passenger jets, drive cars, and apply for Medicare. Is this a Republican scheme to keep blacks off of planes, Hispanics out of cars, and seniors far from doctors? If so, Democrats should help minorities and seniors stop showing photo ID at airports, on highways, and in medical centers. To guarantee universal entertainment, Congress also should prohibit home-video stores from requiring ID cards.

“By 2010,” said Sen. Teddy Kennedy (D.-Mass.), “this bill would impose a 21st Century poll tax of $97 because American citizens would need to buy a passport to vote.” This, naturally, is free-range nonsense.

Under H.R. 4844, Americans without appropriate photo IDs would have more than two years to acquire them. They also would have double that to produce birth certificates or other documents to demonstrate citizenship. This is ample time to act accordingly.

Most estimates show that those without IDs can obtain them for $10 or less. This bill requires states to reimburse indigent voters for ID expenses. If clean American elections require free voter IDs, I believe even the thriftiest fiscal conservative would accept this as a vital investment in democracy.

Making federal ballots accessible to all registered voters who have earned them—namely living, adult citizens—is not too much to ask, especially from the crowd that cannot outgrow the notion that vote fraud in Florida and Ohio helped Mr. Bush go to Washington.

In short, it should not be harder to rent a political thriller at Blockbuster than to vote for president at the ballot box.