The holes in the voter "suppression" argument

You need a government-issued photo ID to vote early in Illinois.

How did liberals ever allow that? After all, isn’t requiring an ID an unvarnished GOP plot against Democratic voters? Isn’t it an undue burden to expect minorities, the poor and students — the party’s “base” — to produce photo identification cards? Isn’t it racist?

That’s the rhetorical shower that soaks us whenever anyone suggests that you have to prove who you are at the polling place. That you’re not some dead guy whose name should have been erased from the voter registration rolls. That your name in the registration rolls has been certified as legitimate. Suggest that the voter registration books be cleansed — as the law requires — of the dead, people who have moved, people who have registered in two places or engaged in other practices that facilitate voter fraud, and you are risking condemnation by MSNBC blockheads.

Voter fraud. For an entire generation of Chicagoans, it’s a relic, like an old streetcar retired to a museum and no longer operating. A nostalgic Election Day joke that few take seriously: “Vote early and often.”

Voter fraud is a fine art: ghost voting and buying votes; voting as a dead guy or from a fictitious address; “helping” supposedly confused voters by entering the voting booth and marking the “right” candidates; wheeling in masses of senile or medicated patients from nursing homes; deploying partisan election judges and precinct captains (read: enforcers) who campaign or intimidate voters in the polling place; and jiggering with the vote count after the polls close. The opportunities are endless.

Yet, Democrats would have us believe that the voting rolls here and across America are as clean as a whistle, so voter IDs and other measures to counter cheating are unnecessary and, indeed, violative of civil rights. Efforts to cleanse thousands of ineligible names from the rolls, most recently in Florida, are compared to the dark days of Jim Crow — as if your right to vote fraudulently is a civil right.

On the other hand, the nonpartisan Pew Center on the States has concluded in a study, “Inaccurate, Costly and Inefficient,” that the voter registration system badly needs a fix. “Voter registration lists are used to assign precincts, send sample ballots, provide polling place information, identify and verify voters at polling places, and determine how resources, such as paper ballots and voting machines, are deployed on Election Day,” the study said.

“However, these systems are plagued with errors and inefficiencies that waste taxpayer dollars, undermine voter confidence and fuel partisan disputes over the integrity of our elections. Voter registration in the United States largely reflects its 19th century origins and has not kept pace with advancing technology and a mobile society. States’ systems must be brought into the 21st century to be more accurate, cost-effective and efficient.”

Pew estimates that in America about 24 million voter registrations are invalid or significantly inaccurate. More than 1.8 million dead people are on the lists, and about 2.75 million people are registered in more than one state.

Ironically, Democrats insist that purging the rolls of invalid registrations works in favor of Republicans, which is an implied admission that Democrats are more likely to be the offenders. As if there were fewer invalid registrations in Republican strongholds likeDuPage County.

In Illinois, you don’t need valid photo identification to vote on Election Day. Just show up and provide a signature that remotely resembles the one in the registration book — a system that invites fraud. Only when you vote early must you provide a voter ID in Illinois.

So if it is reasonable to require a photo ID when voting early, why isn’t it reasonable to require one on Election Day?

At least two dozen states, including Wisconsin and Indiana, require Election Day IDs, and those laws often are enacted with bipartisan support. But not in Illinois, where such legislation (usually introduced by Republicans) doesn’t see the light of day, buried in Democratic-controlled committees.

When it comes down to it, a degrading assumption underlies liberal opposition to voter IDs and the updating of registration rolls. It is the assumption that minorities, the poor and even students are incapable of meeting minimal voting requirements.

This column also appeared in the Chicago Tribune.


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  • Perhaps there is a problem with people who shouldn't be voting casting ballots. But you, Dennis, leave out the most pertinent evidence--estimates of how many people who shouldn't be voting are casting ballots. Wasn't this in the Pew Center report? It's not my job to show this--I didn't write the column--but you have a responsibility to try to include this in your article.

    I would be happy to support balanced legislation addressing problems with voting. But any purging of the ballot should go hand-in-hand with another measure that addresses a problem with voting--people who are voters who don't get to vote. So I would like to see any legislation that requires voter ID's allow for provisional balloting.

    While we're at it, it would be nice if we made it easier for working people to vote. Sure, we have early voting, which is nice. But frankly, some of us are not so organized, even though we are well informed (I am speaking of myself; I'm sure there are others). I doubt that I am the only one that has on occasion had to work twelve hours on a Tuesday. I don't see why we can't have 24 hour, or at least 16 hour voting. Personally, I think we should have a constitutional amendment changing the voting day to Saturday, the practice in some other countries.

    Perhaps these provisions would make elections more expensive, but I think Democracy is worth it.

  • Saturday voting makes a lot of sense. As for 16- or 24-hour voting, it would be impossible to find enough volunteers to act as judges and poll watchers. It's hard enough now to find them.

    I don't know how to weed out people who "shouldn't be voting." I imagine they're already a self-selecting group of the apathetic. Unequally applied literacy tests once were used in the South to filter out African-Americans; they clearly are wrong and unconstitutional.

  • Hi Dennis,

    By "people who shouldn't be voting", I meant people who are casting votes using the names of dead people, or people who were living in one state but casting ballots in another one--in other words, the votes potentially cast that you were worrying about in your column. I understand the confusion. Nobody sane wants literacy tests any more.

    As a practical matter, I favor 16 hour Tuesday voting because Saturday voting would require a constitutional amendment. To address the shortage of poll watchers, we could pay them or pick them out of jury pools--anybody who gets excused would have to do poll watching instead.

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