Editorial: Encourage voting

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

Republicans are racists and Democrats favor criminal acts such as voter fraud. At least that’s the impression you get when reading up on the pros and cons of requiring voters to show photo identification cards, as many state legislatures are now doing, with the U.S. Justice Department fighting them every step of the way. From this vantage, it’s mostly about doing whatever it takes to win an election.

The Republicans who tend to push these laws say it’s all about “preventing fraud” and “protecting the integrity of the ballot box.” Democrats call these “voter suppression” tactics and say it’s really about stopping poor people and minorities - blacks, Hispanics, both far more likely not to have photo ID - from voting, specifically from voting for Democrats, even more specifically from voting for President Barack Obama.

The curious thing about the GOP’s justification is that there hasn’t been any voter fraud to speak of in this country, so arguably this is another one of those solutions in search of a problem. Those on the right had to see the comparisons coming between these laws and the nation’s Jim Crow era, when many states in the South instituted taxes and literacy tests, to their enduring shame, in a transparent attempt to keep blacks out of the voting booth. Of course the latter would be sensitive to that, and should be. Where the political motivations of the GOP are concerned here, its true agenda is arguably betrayed when the majority leader of the Pennsylvania House tells his followers, “Voter ID - which is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania - done” and it gets leaked to the media.

In short, this is not about fraud.

On the other hand, just because there has not been significant fraud of late does not mean there couldn’t be, though the only kind of fraud this would stop - impersonation of another registered voter - seems unlikely to happen on any scale. You need a photo ID to buy booze, to cash a check, to get on an airplane, etc. Are all of those discriminatory practices, too? Should they be eliminated? It’s hard to disagree with the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld Indiana’s voter ID law in 2008, not for the cited reason of fighting fraud but because providing proof that you are whom you say you are just does not constitute that much of a burden.

There is a certain amount of hysteria on this issue on both sides.

What tilts the issue for this page is the coupling of these voter ID measures with other efforts to make it more difficult for certain Americans to vote, such as Ohio and Florida trying to restrict early voting, including on the Sunday before Election Day when black churches traditionally sponsor so-called “souls to the polls” drives. Or fining those who volunteer to register voters if they don’t cross every “i” and dot every “t,” which actually led to the League of Women Voters - upon whom practically no one paints horns - to get out of that business in Florida. If only certain types of photo ID are acceptable, if people have to pay for them - or for the marriage or birth certificate they need to get them - if they have to travel any significant distance to get the ID (many urban dwellers do not drive, and hence do not have a driver’s license, either) at a place with limited hours, well, those behind such will forgive Americans who view these actions with great suspicion.

One appreciates that November promises the tightest of elections, that much is at stake, that the partisans are seeking any and all advantage. But if America is the nation it pretends to be, and with the stated justification for these laws not holding any water, we should err on the side of encouraging citizens to participate in this democracy, not of discouraging them.

-- Journal Star of Peoria, Ill.