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No, Showing Identification is Not a 'Poll Tax'

3:49 PM, Aug 28, 2011 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
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There's an entirely absurd op-ed by Georgia Congressman John Lewis in today's New York Times about voter ID laws. You can probably guess where this is going, but here goes:

Despite decades of progress, this year’s Republican-backed wave of voting restrictions has demonstrated that the fundamental right to vote is still subject to partisan manipulation. The most common new requirement, that citizens obtain and display unexpired government-issued photo identification before entering the voting booth, was advanced in 35 states and passed by Republican legislatures in Alabama, Minnesota, Missouri and nine other states — despite the fact that as many as 25 percent of African-Americans lack acceptable identification.

Having fought for voting rights as a student, I am especially troubled that these laws disproportionately affect young voters. Students at state universities in Wisconsin cannot vote using their current IDs (because the new law requires the cards to have signatures, which those do not). South Carolina prohibits the use of student IDs altogether. Texas also rejects student IDs, but allows voting by those who have a license to carry a concealed handgun. These schemes are clearly crafted to affect not just how we vote, but who votes.

Conservative proponents have argued for photo ID mandates by claiming that widespread voter impersonation exists in America, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. While defending its photo ID law before the Supreme Court, Indiana was unable to cite a single instance of actual voter impersonation at any point in its history. Likewise, in Kansas, there were far more reports of U.F.O. sightings than allegations of voter fraud in the past decade. These theories of systematic fraud are really unfounded fears being exploited to threaten the franchise.

As for Lewis' insistence that voter impersonation is not a concern, let me help him out here. Earlier this year, ACORN plead guilty to voter registration fraud in Nevada. Here's an exhaustive list of ACORN employees who've run afoul of voter registration laws since 1998, resulting in dozens of arrests and convictions. Here's an SEIU-affiliated voter registration group that submitted a huge amount of invalid voter registrations in one Texas county. To say concern over voter registration fraud amounts to "unfounded fears" is abject nonsense.

As for the matter of college students, Doug Mataconis discusses this in depth and makes the relevant point that "Allowing them to use student ID to register to vote would be akin to giving them the opportunity to vote twice in two different locations." (Mataconis also debunks much of what Lewis has to say about early voting, so be sure and read his post in full for more.)

However, just getting to the crux of the debate, almost all of the criticisms of voter ID laws boil down to someone causually throwing around the racism charge. Charges of racism are not only unfounded, but it's a convenient way to cloud the issue by claiming it's a choice between showing ID and disenfranchising minorities. But it's increasingly common that you have to show photo ID even to use a credit card -- I doubt most Americans see this as an unnecessarily burdensome requirement.

What's odd is that Lewis and others constantly criticize voter ID laws without defining what they think would be sufficient proof of identity. Do Lewis and other Democrats simply think showing up at the polls and taking someone's word that they are who they say they are should be sufficient? Do they really think that's a winning argument with the public? Or is the discussion of racism simply a way of avoiding discussing the kind of lax to non-existant voter ID requirements they are actually arguing for?

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