If you have ever cashed a check at the bank, bought cigarettes or alcohol, flown in an airplane, entered a government building, rented a car, watched an R-rated movie at the theater or asked the pharmacist for the real allergy medication and not that pseudoephedrine-free junk, that’s a question that you have heard before. In this day and age, Americans need photo identification for nearly everything.
Except, of course, when it comes to ensuring the integrity of our electoral system in an attempt to preserve our representative republic and deter voter fraud. No I.D. needed there; asking for photo identification in that situation is just plain racist.
At least, that’s the reasoning provided by the Obama administration, which just last Friday blocked legislation signed into law here in South Carolina in May that would require those without either a driver’s license, passport or military identification to obtain a new voter registration card that includes a photo. From MSNBC:
The Justice Department said the requirement could harm the right to vote of tens of thousands of people, noting that just over a third of the state’s minorities who are registered voters did not have a driver’s license needed to cast a ballot.
“The state’s data demonstrate that non-white voters are both significantly burdened” by the law and “disproportionately unlikely to possess the most common types of photo identification” needed, Thomas Perez, head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, said in a letter to the state.
Wait. Isn’t this the same Justice Department which, in May 2009, moved to dismiss all charges of against members of the New Black Panther Party who stood outside a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania polling place in black fatigues, menacingly waving batons in a clear, overt act of coercion and voter intimidation?
I don’t know about you, but I’m getting mixed messages: according to the Justice Department, it is perfectly acceptable for black activists to actively intimidate white voters at a polling place during an election year featuring a black presidential candidate, but a law requiring everyone–black or white or anywhere in between–to present photo identification at the polls is somehow racist?
Here, even aside from the racially-charged hypocrisy that has become less anomaly and more norm in Eric Holder’s Justice Department, the Obama administration’s rationale for blocking the South Carolina voter identification law fails for a number of reasons.
First, while the implementation of poll taxes and literacy tests have historically been deemed unconstitutional and overt voter suppression by the United States Supreme Court, laws similar to the South Carolina law requiring photo identification have passed muster. Consider Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, in which the Supreme Court responded to criticism of Indiana’s voter identification law as unfair to elderly and minorities by not only upholding the law as constitutional, but holding that states have a “valid interest” in improving election procedures and deterring voter fraud.
In the April 2008 6-3 ruling–which MSNBC hilariously described as “splintered”–the majority opinion was written by Justice John Paul Stevens, a very wise man but hardly a distributor conservative jurisprudence. Stevens wrote that the Indiana law “is amply justified by the valid interest in protecting ‘the integrity and reliability of the electoral process.’”
Joined by Justices Roberts and Kennedy, Stevens went on to note that while those who challenged the Indiana law argued that the law was motivated by partisan politics–just as Democratic Party critics of the South Carolina law have done–the Indiana law nonetheless passes constitutional muster because said critics “do not question the legitimacy of the interests the State has identified,” first among those interests being “the interest in deterring and detecting voter fraud.” More from Justice Stevens in his majority opinion in Crawford (citations omitted):
[E]ven rational restrictions on the right to vote are invidious if they are unrelated to voter qualifications…. [H]owever, we [have] confirmed the general rule that “evenhanded restrictions that protect the integrity and reliability of the electoral process itself” are not invidious … Rather than applying any “litmus test” that would neatly separate valid from invalid restrictions, … a court must identify and evaluate the interests put forward by the State as justifications for the burden imposed by its rule, and then make the “hard judgment” that our adversary system demands.
Clearly, even a liberal stalwart like Justice Stevens appreciates the interest of the states in preserving the integrity of our electoral process, and notes that identifying all voters participating in the process is an integral part of protecting against voter fraud. With regard to South Carolina’s voter identification law, however, the Justice Department’s Thomas Perez points out that the Palmetto State contingent failed to specifically delineate any specific instances of fraud. From Friday’s MSNBC piece (emphasis mine):
Democrats have described the law as a “voter suppression” effort against minorities who historically do not always have photo identification cards. Republicans countered that their goal was to prevent voter fraud.
However, Perez said that South Carolina’s submission to the Justice Department did not offer any evidence of voter fraud that was not addressed by existing law and that “arguably could be deterred by requiring voters to present only photo identification at the polls.”
Coincidentally, the same argument was brought up in Justice Souter’s dissenting opinion in Crawford, and it was even addressed by Todd Rokita, Indiana Secretary of State-turned-excellent congressman. In fact, according to CNN on April 28, 2008, Rokita “conceded [that] the state has never presented as case of ‘voter impersonation,’ which the law was designed to safeguard against.” For Justice Stevens and those who concurred, however, Indiana’s lack of such evidence was not a problem. From Stevens’ opinion:
It remains true, however, that flagrant examples of such fraud in other parts of the country have been documented throughout this Nation’s history by respected historians and journalists, that occasional examples have surfaced in recent years, and that Indiana’s own experience with fraudulent voting in the 2003 Democratic primary for East Chicago Mayor – though perpetrated using absentee ballots and not in-person fraud – demonstrate that not only is the risk of voter fraud real but that it could affect the outcome of a close election.
There is no question about the legitimacy or importance of the State’s interest in counting only the votes of eligible voters. Moreover, the interest in orderly administration and accurate recordkeeping provides a sufficient justification for carefully identifying all voters participating in the election process. While the most effective method of preventing election fraud may well be debatable, the propriety of doing so is perfectly clear.
In Crawford, the United States Supreme Court tipped its hand. A substantially similar law enacted under substantially similar circumstances passed constitutional muster, and the Court noted on several occasions how it felt about the interest of the individual states in ensuring the integrity of the electoral process. And, yet, this administration thought it new better.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that the Obama administration has publicly disregarded a Supreme Court decision. At least, this time, the president didn’t decry the Crawford decision before a joint session of Congress during the State of the Union address.
Hardly the Heaviest of Burdens
Second, the burden being placed on Palmetto State residents is certainly not as heavy as it’s being made out to be by Justice Department officials, nor is the state merely standing back and allowing disenfranchisement to occur.
Not only is photo identification required to perform any number of everyday tasks, such as writing a check at the grocery store or cashing a check at the bank, but photo identification is often required by the federal government itself. Want to gain access to a federal courthouse or government building? You need an I.D. Want to file for unemployment benefits? Yep, I.D. please. Heck, in Philadelphia, photo identification has been required to obtain supplemental food stamps, but not for voting.
In August, here in South Carolina, Governor Nikki Haley announced a free-ride program intended to provide free transportation to DMV offices for the purpose of obtaining a free state photo identification card. “We wanted everyone that wanted a state ID to get one,” Haley said. Nobody was excluded.
According to the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles, nearly 700 people called about getting a free ride through the program. Of those 700 or so people, only 25 rides were actually scheduled. According to the DMV, “most of the people who called the DMV were not interested in getting a ride.”
Even aside from valid concerns about voter fraud, simply listening to the rhetoric from the Justice Department, it is as though the state of South Carolina is actively barring minorities from voting. The reality is quite the opposite. Still, pointing out that the state is willing to bend over backwards to protect the integrity of the electoral process while simultaneously ensuring access for all does not fit with the theme being advanced by the Obama administration. Truth and fact have no place in the facilitation of racial and partisan discord.
Disparate Impact? Not Quite.
Finally, the argument that the South Carolina voter identification law is prejudicial and unfairly burdens minorities is complete, utter hogwash. Presuming, of course, that critics insist that minorities are unable to procure proper identification because of socioeconomic conditions (i.e. too poor to obtain identification) rather than because of race (i.e. black people are refused proper identification because of skin color), the numbers speak for themselves.
In Indiana, where the similar law was considered “even-handed” by Justice Stevens, numbers from 2008 and 2009 show that 851,500 white residents lived below the poverty line, compared with 250,300 black Hoosiers. Here in South Carolina, the number of black and white residents living below the poverty line is even more even-handed — 396,800 white and 433,100 black South Carolinians are the living at or below poverty level.
It seems to me that, here in South Carolina, the application of a voter identification law such as that deemed inequitable by the Justice Department would be even more fairly applied than the Indiana law deemed “even-handed” in a 6-3 decision to uphold by the United States Supreme Court.
Unfortunately, with Attorney General Eric Holder and his Justice Department, everything is either politically motivated (i.e. the raid on Gibson Guitars) or racially motivated (i.e. dropping charges against the New Black Panthers). This, frankly, appears to be a little of both. Further, there seems to be more at work here than just racial or political bias — in this, I see a continuation of the left’s longstanding tradition of Chaos-To-Change progressive political reform, of the same variety I wrote about in the context of the Fast And Furious scandal a few weeks ago.
The problem, see, is that liberals have a habit of disregarding common sense and dynamiting entire programs or sensibilities in an effort to provide for a few that either cannot or refuse to provide for themselves. (Consider, for the sake of example, the lackluster response to Gov. Haley’s free-ride program.) It’s not that the effort itself is misguided–we absolutely should help those who cannot help themselves–but the systemic, macro-level fixes generally cause more problems for everyone through increased government involvement and decreased efficiency, all without addressing the original problem.
In health care, for example, we have uninsured Americans and Americans with pre-existing conditions that need to have some sort of coverage. Instead of applying a micr0-level fix by opening up more competition and using the free market to drive down costs in limited-purpose exchanges (catastrophic care plans for those without any insurance, and plans designed for those with pre-existing conditions), the liberal, macro-level fix instead groups everything together, injects government regulation in the insurers’ capacity to assess risk, and thus leads to increased premiums, decreased access, employers that no longer offer coverage plans, and the need for large-scale selective waivers from a plan that depends entirely upon mass enrollment. Eventually, faced with cumbersome premiums getting worse with every year, people will turn to the government; and, from the chaos, a grossly inadequate and across-the-board ineffective single-payer system will emerge.
When it comes to requiring voters to present photo identification at the polls, instead of addressing the limited number of people who truly cannot gain photo identification, the Justice Department blocks the South Carolina law and, in doing so, undermines the entire electoral system, leaving our representative republic open to rampant fraud and abuse that, in itself, assaults the very concept of one-person, one-vote.
Perhaps, if groups like the South Carolina Progressive Network and the NAACP–the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People–are so worried about disenfranchisement and concerned about the ability of their constituency to represent themselves, they would focus on efforts to help gain the identification that could help folks not only with voting but with other aspects of life instead of engaging in divisive rhetoric meant for mass consumption by those who don’t otherwise think these things through.
Every time an instance of voter fraud results in even one additional vote, it dilutes the vote for the rest of us. In this case, the actions of the Obama administration are astonishingly ignorant and nefarious in the sense that fomenting racial discord takes priority over the integrity of our electoral system. If there is a more egregious affront to the very nature of our representative republic, it is something I have yet to witness.