Voter ID and The Diluted Franchise

Last Friday, the Justice Department shot down South Carolina’s voter ID law.  Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act requires that certain states obtain pre-clearance from either DOJ or U.S. District Court for changes to voting qualification, a measure designed to prevent scurrilous attempts to disenfranchise black voters.  Long after this presumption of bad faith on the part of South Carolinans went from insulting to ridiculous, the Justice Department decided that requiring black voters to present photo IDs would unfairly keep them away from the polls. 

This decision was not based on the slightest hint of discriminatory intent, but rather the sheer number of minority voters who would presumably be affected by the new law, measured against what Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez deemed an insufficiently urgent need to prevent voter fraud.  South Carolina must now either take the matter to court, or persuade the Justice Department to reconsider.

South Carolina’s law, duly passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Nikki Haley, was extremely lenient – even more so than voter-ID laws already on the books in some other states.  A driver’s license, passport, military ID, or photographic voter registration card was good enough to pass muster.  According to the South Carolina Election Commission’s filing with the Justice Department, voters could “obtain an Identification Card from DMV, or may obtain a Voter Registration Card with a photo from his county voter registration office, both free of charge.”  Nothing more than a trip to the county voter registration and elections office was necessary to obtain the photo ID.

If a voter turned up at the polls without the proper photo ID card, they could still cast a provisional ballot, with plenty of time to pick up the proper identification and show it to election officials before the ballot results were certified.  Even conscientious objections to photo identification, which have cropped up here and there, were covered by merely asking for an affidavit from the objector.

This was, nonetheless, deemed unacceptable because “minority registered voters were nearly 20% more likely to lack DMV-issued ID than white registered voters, and thus to be effectively disenfranchised,” according to Perez.  In other words, 20% more non-whites lack driver’s licenses, so the minimal imposition of asking for them to obtain free photo ID cards to validate their identities on Election Day was tantamount to barricading them from the polls. 

Even at that, an Associated Press report notes that, out of the 240,000 ostensibly registered voters who currently suffer without appropriate photo ID in South Carolina, the DMV executive director says “207,000 of those voters live in other states, allowed their ID cards to expire, probably have licenses with names that didn’t match their voter records, or were dead.”  The latter categories could include up to 60,000 “deceased people and individuals whose names didn’t match DMV records.”

Governor Haley was angry about the Justice Department decision, which she saw as politically motivated.  “The president and his bullish administration are fighting us every step of the way,” she said in a statement.  “It is outrageous, and we plan to look at every possible option to get this terrible, clearly political decision overturned so we can protect the integrity of our electoral process and our 10th amendment rights.” 

On the other hand, South Carolina ACLU executive director Victoria Middleton said South Carolina’s voter ID law would have been “a dramatic setback to voting rights in our state, and we are pleased to see it stopped in its tracks.”  Given the facts outlined above, which of those statements sounds more in touch with reality?

While we’re talking about “disenfranchisement,” what about the legitimate voters, of every race, disenfranchised by voter fraud?  Every phony ballot cancels out a real one.  Should we do some racial bean-counting in the areas most prone to electoral irregularities, and draw some conclusions about the “discriminatory” effects of failure to require accurate voter identification?

For all the talk of liberal “progressiveness,” the voter-ID wars are a ridiculously antique sideshow for a high-tech society that processes terabytes of data every hour.  Besides offering soapbox time to obsolete organizations that require improbable racist conspiracies and theoretical civil-rights hobgoblins to keep their fundraising letters lively, the war against voter ID is fought to keep voter fraud alive.  A few suspicious ballots can come in mighty handy for turning close elections, the risk of effective prosecution is relatively modest, and it’s highly unlikely that dubious elections will be overturned.  Talking about “documented” cases of voter fraud is somewhat misleading.  How many of them are never caught?

It’s increasingly difficult to bamboozle voters into tolerating ballot-box hijinks, in a world where millions of humdrum transactions requiring accurate identification are completed without fuss, every single day.  The Left deserves a measure of grudging admiration for convincing Information Age America to hold its elections in 1965, even as they conduct their daily affairs with 21st-century speed and accuracy… especially since those elections are, increasingly, the only real control we have over vast swathes of our nationalized, hyper-regulated lives.